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First ever Rhodes Scholar from Afghanistan announced

A former refugee from Afghanistan has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship by Oxford University, becoming the first ever person from the country to receive the award.

Summia Tora, 22, who will start a postgraduate course at Oxford University in October 2020, has come a long way since her family had to flee Afghanistan in the 1990s to escape the rise of the Taliban. 

Summia’s family took residence in Pakistan and it was here that she was spotted by international school United World Colleges (UWC). Summia applied for a scholarship after being inspired to do so by the head of UWC’s selection committee, Dr Roshan Thomas.

Tragically, Dr Thomas was killed the day after Summia’s entrance exam in Kabul following an attack by Taliban militants on the hotel in which she was staying. Dr Thomas’s last words to Summia were to come back to Pakistan one day and make a difference to the country that gave her and her family refuge.

Summia said:

I still remember the final words from Dr Thomas and I am eternally grateful for the opportunity that UWC gave to people like me. Through my education there, I got to learn the things in life I was truly passionate about, and was given the support to bring about the change I wanted to see in the world.

Summia was successful in her exam and was awarded a full scholarship to study at UWC-USA, based in New Mexico, where she spent the next couple of years on an International Baccalaureate programme. During her time at UWC-USA, she co-founded an initiative called Dosti, which tackles the stigma of menstruation in Pakistan and Afghanistan through making reusable sanitary pads available to young women. Summia also worked with her fellow students to develop the Mashinani Farmers Initiative, which aims to revolutionise how farming is done in Sub Saharan Africa.

UWC is renowned for supporting young people to go and make the difference that they want to see in the world, and has 18 schools on four continents, with a body of students from more than 150 countries. Any young person who applies is accepted based on their promise and potential, regardless of their financial situation. For more information please visit

Image by Yujeong Lee

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