So many wonderful women with so many great stories! This year, Pond’s Miracle Journey campaign features a host of inspirational women, who are proudly breaking boundaries both in and out of the home. The Miracle Women campaign is dedicated to celebrating the achievements of Pakistani women who continue to thrive in the face of challenges and set-backs. Awards are handed out to women from diverse fields such as medicine, fashion, law and social activism. This year’s Miracle Women campaign features ten Miracle Mentors who are all powerhouses in their own right, in their respective fields. Each mentor has chosen a list of diverse and talented women.
Dr. Mahnaz Naveed Shah was a Pond’s Miracle Woman in 2014 and returns this year to the Pond’s journey as a Miracle Mentor. She is a talented eye surgeon in Karachi, both at Aga Khan University Hospital and The Eye Centre at South City Hospital, where she is a member of the board of Directors. Dr. Mahnaz has been working in the field for over 13 years. With her dedication and expertise, she has established herself as one of the leading Opthalmologists working in Pakistan today. She is also part of the faculty at Aga Khan and is committed on using her knowledge to the next generation of Pakistan’s doctors and medical professionals. Her commitment to her work is no less than her devotion to her family, especially her two sons and husbands, making her an inspiration Miracle Mentor for the next generation of Pond’s Miracle Women.
Educationalist, Entrepreneur, Social Worker
Ainee Shahzed’s miracle journey is a reminder to us that we all have knowledge that can benefit others and be the foundation of something amazing. Passionate about helping others, Ainee uses her energy and experience to make the world a better place. ‘It’s good to be busy,’ Ainee says as she counts down all the things she packs into her day. An engineer by training, Ainee is a passionate educationalist, prolific writer, selfless social worker and a unique interior designer, just to name a few!
‘I suppose there are quite few things I do,’ she says with a quizzical smile. ‘What is very dear to me is my teaching and my writing on social issues like education. Then there’s my artistic side, I do interiors and make furniture and also plan events.’ When asked to describe the one thing that defines her, Ainee’s quick reply is, ‘Woman.’
‘God created women to be able to do anything and everything possible,’ she says with great fervour in her voice. Her energy is infectious and the atmosphere around her is charged as she says, ‘I always tell my students — you can either be one of the crowd or stand out for the right reasons. Every human can give back so much. You can either reduce your 24 hours into 24 minutes or stretch it to 48 hours. It’s all about perspective. The stimulus around us is the same for each one of us. You choose to be proactive or not.’
Ainee’s energy is inspirational. ‘Once my mother had told me it is a blessing to be busy and I live by that quotation. If I don’t achieve something in the day, the day has gone by uselessly. In any case, if you love what you are doing tiredness does not set in.’
For Ainee giving is much more important than receiving. ‘I feel strongly about social work. Pakistan has given us so much. It is time we give something back to our homeland. As we say in Urdu, hain log wohi achay jo atay hai kaam doosro kay. (Only those who help others are good). You have to create time to help others.’
Ainee is equally passionate about home as she is about the world beyond it. ‘I feel blessed to be a mother. For me family comes first. Most things are centered around my home. Teaching is in the morning and my office is at home.’ Somehow she even squeezes in that little bit extra for herself. ‘I do an intensive fitness program, the 42-day Challenge, because I believe fitness is a very important part of life.’
Though her miracle moment is still to arrive, Ainee feels she is an achiever. ‘I like to think I have affected a few lives.’ Life for her is a constant learning process. ‘I learn from them and they learn from me,’ she says about her students.
Ainee’s miracle journey is motivational to all those whose lives she touches be it her children, her students, or the charities she works for. Her messages to all those around her are that ‘Life is more than just supporting your family – it’s about supporting hundreds of families. It’s about being ok with giving a little more of your time to others.’ A selfless message that is sure to motivate many others into following her example.
Managing Director at Pak Brunei Investment
Banking success Ayesha Aziz’s miracle journey shows great insight into the everyday life of a busy working mother. Having grown up in a conservative family, where women pursuing a profession was anything but the norm, Ayesha was determined to break the mould. ‘I come from a conservative Pathan background. Growing up, no one expected me to have a career. Having done my MBA no one expected me to work, but if you are determined to do something you are better able to persuade those in charge. My parents were apprehensive initially but over time they saw how happy I was and that convinced them. It also made it easier for my younger sisters to pursue their careers.’
Her area of interest, investment banking, is mostly a man’s world but Ayesha was undaunted and went ahead to prove herself. ‘Back then there wasn’t much choice available in terms of higher education. The standard of business education was much higher in the 80s and early 90s so I chose IBA. Banking, particularly in foreign banks, was generally considered safer for women at the time but my interest was investment banking. A very male dominated area.’ Even now she there are times when she goes for meetings to the State Bank and is the only woman in the room.
Ayesha’s miracle journey has been a constant push against the glass ceiling. As she recalls, ‘I gave my first CFA exam when I was 9 months pregnant. I was the only woman in the hall. People kept staring at me. The next year I had a newborn baby in my arms as I gave the 6-hour exam, because I was nursing. It would have been easier not to do it but as a woman whether you are pregnant or nursing you have to work harder to prove yourself.’
Along the way Ayesha had her fair share of compromises too but she always found a way to get back on her feet. ‘I had my compromises. I had two little boys and I had to take a year off when we moved to a new place. Luckily in Pakistan, we have a very accommodating and enabling environment as family members chip in to form a support system. Without it, you end up choosing between the two. The choice is being a good professional and a good mother. You can be both but the enabling ingredient is having a support system.’
A great advocate for working mothers, Ayesha says, ‘Women are very smart. I think it’s incredible that we are called the weaker sex because we are not. If my husband had to give birth to two children and go through physical difficulties throughout, and to be the managing director at a company then come home to see if the laundry’s been picked up, or if the cook has taken off, or whether kids have done their homework, he can’t do it. I can do it easily – and happily.’
For Ayesha every woman is a working woman. ‘The difference is that some of us get paid for it. The rest are working at home. They are constantly budgeting, multitasking, dealing with in-laws which comes under communication – all of those are managerial skills. Put the same things in a work environment and you get paid for it!’
As the youngest CEO of any Pakistani financial institution, Ayesha has stayed true to her principle of dreaming big professionally while staying grounded domestically. Her balancing act is sure to motivate other aspirants!
Dr. Marie Andrades
Dr. Marie Andrades’ miracle journey shows that an ordinary woman’s life can be extraordinary for within her is the power to create, nurture and transform. Working as a family physician for more than 15 years, Dr. Andrades has touched many lives, helped numerous patients and also raised a fine family.
She completed her medical education after her marriage and, from the very beginning, learned how to juggle the demands of a pressing profession with family life. ‘I completed my studies after my son was born. He was just eight months old when I joined medical residency which was very tough because I would be on 36 hour calls at a time.’ Despite her hectic schedule she persevered.
‘It was very difficult when kids were small. Seeing patients all day, I’d come home tired and feel guilty that I wasn’t giving enough time at home. But as the kids grew older it got a lot easier.’
It wasn’t just the physical demands that were challenging but also the emotional ones. ‘My son was only two years old, when during my residency I had to go away to Gilgit for two months to work in a camp. I had to leave my son behind and that was a very tough decision. It was heart wrenching but I knew I had to do this to get long time gain for myself, my family and my country. At the time it seemed like a big sacrifice but today I can see how important we as family doctors are for our country.’
In her practice, she always encourages women to be both emotionally and financially independent. ‘Financial and emotional independence is linked. To be able to earn and give to others without relying on someone gives a sense of ownership and confidence to women. I meet so many patients, primarily homemakers who do much work at home but because they are not earning they don’t feel valued. One lady, who came to see me, started crying because she was so unhappy. She said, “I feel I’ve done all this education and where has it all gone? I cannot work because my husband doesn’t want our kids growing up on hired help.” I could see her self-worth was deeply affected. That’s why I always encourage my patients to work. We have to give something back. There are so many opportunities nowadays for flexible working. Women have to find a way to self-worth by working in whatever way they can.’
Dr. Andrades practices what she preaches for as she says, ‘ All my trainees 90% of whom are women, see me as role model, they can see that one can work out a balance between home and profession rather than sacrifice one for another.’ Selfless and generous in spirit, Dr. Andrades is indeed a role model for women the world over.
Ever since she was a young schoolgirl, Saniya Moraj carried a dream with her. Her dream was to don a white coat and be a dentist. Today she has achieved this and much more through her international dental practice and other entrepreneurial ventures. Flashing her pearly whites, Saniya recalls, ‘I decided on the profession when I was in class 5- so you can certainly say I’m a very committed dentist! And then a host of things happened which made me the person I am. I couldn’t get admission in a dental college in Karachi because there were none here (at the time). So I went to Peshawar and that was an interesting experience!’ Not one to give up on her dreams easily, Saniya learned Pushto, adapted herself to the local culture and did all that she could to achieve her goal. She then went abroad for her masters. ‘After that I thought this is it. Dentistry would be my world. But then I got married and had to follow my husband’s career.’ She moved abroad and, once her children were born, Saniya set up a dental practice there.
‘I have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit in me. I still have my practice abroad as well one in Karachi. When I moved back here I thought what else can I do, so the dentist in me set up a nail bar.’ Using her skills as a dentist, she ensured proper hygiene procedures were practised thus securing a loyal clientele. ‘My mother was horrified as it took a long time to become a dentist and cost a lot too,’ she says with a laugh about her switch or rather addition of careers.
Saniya’s sunny demeanour hides the chaos of running a busy household and three businesses here and overseas. ‘Every day is a choice. Every day is a new decision but I draw very clear lines because raising children, you need to have clear boundaries yourself. I have to make tough decisions but I try to make the right ones.’
It’s tough but worth it for as she says, ‘It’s wonderful to have the ability to be financially independent and not be a burden on the one person who signed on the dotted line and now has to take care of you for the rest of his life.’
Saniya realizes the importance of looking the part as well as walking it. ‘It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how successful you are. As a woman you’ll always be faced with double standards. I’m not saying that it’s all about looks but you don’t want someone feeling sorry for you either. Whether it’s looks or life, women should present a strong front.’ She stresses the importance of looking groomed and having an impeccable appearance, undeterred by age. Infact Saniya relishes the joys that maturing brings.
‘Forty is the most liberating time of a woman’s life. When I turned forty all of a sudden people started listening to me. I never found people taking me as seriously as they did then. With that comes a lot of confidence and with the confidence comes the wish to look the part.’
Saniya’s words are sure to inspire others but for her, inspiration comes from those who disappoint her. ‘My whole take on role models is a bit different. I feel that those who let you down, who didn’t meet your expectations are the ones who teach you the most. That’s where all the learning comes from.’
That may be so for Saniya Moraj, but for many others dreaming of becoming successful mum-trepreneurs she is an example to emulate.
Dr. Zehra Fadoo
Paediatric Oncologist & Medical School Faculty
A hero is somebody who is selfless, generous in spirit, and tries to give back as much as possible. In that sense, Dr. Zehra Fadoo is a hero in every sense of the word. Truly a miracle woman, Dr. Fadoo, runs the children’s cancer ward at AKU and has been continuously building it up with the latest research and techniques for the past 17 years.
Her miracle journey has been an emotionally perilous one for she looks pain and heartbreak in the eye every day. ‘I see a lot of pain in my job—it’s not just the children who are in pain but their family suffers too. When an adult is diagnosed with cancer you can still convince yourself to accept it but with a child it’s really difficult for the family to accept the diagnosis and the treatment.’
Despite the pain, Dr. Fadoo sees miracles every day. ‘The children themselves are very resilient and that’s what keeps you going. They bounce back, they start smiling, they respond to you and that’s the inspiration behind our work.’
However, her fight is still a tough one. ‘It’s an 80% chance of survival. Out of 10, eight may get better but it’s the ones who don’t make it that get you down. We try to be there for the family, holding their hands through the treatment and supporting them through their loss. Sometimes teenage patients, who are old enough to know they won’t make it, leave behind little notes asking you to take care of their parents when they are gone. So we keep in touch; sometimes we exchange messages on the day the child passed away.’
Despite her physically demanding and emotionally draining work, Dr. Fadoo has set an example for the colleagues around her on how to balance life with a demanding profession.
‘We have a team so we share our calls. At least the weekends, I try to spend with my family.’ Although there have been times when she has had to prioritize one over the other. ‘Once my son was just a year old and I was breastfeeding him when an urgent call came. A patient had become serious at the hospital so I had to leave my hungry child and rush off. There have been other times when I have had to cancel parent-teacher meetings because of my patient commitments but my kids understand. They are proud of me and want me to apply for professorship!’
As we all are, for Dr. Fadoo’s miracle journey is an inspiration for doctors the world-over to embrace a life of healing.
Executive Director, Transworld Multipurpose Industry
Business woman Farnaz Ahmed’s miracle journey shows great insight into the everyday life of an entrepreneur. Having grown up in a family of entrepreneurs, she’s able to see that the constant ups and downs of owning a business are completely normal and that new opportunities are always on their way. ‘I’m an IBA graduate, a mother of three and a businesswoman, born, raised and married into a business family!’ Business to her is second nature. ‘I think I have a natural flair for it as I grew up internalizing it,’ she says.
But no journey is easy and even though entrepreneurship was the wallpaper to her upbringing, Farnaz admits that she faced a lot of resistance when she decided to join IBA. Undaunted, she stood steadfast and refused to let go of her dream. ‘I did stand up for myself, and I was supported by my mother and my cousins. But the elders felt it was not necessary.’ Their exact words as she recalls were, ‘What is the use when in the end you just have to get married and raise kids.’ But Farnaz withstood the pressure and today is a successful entrepreneur.
And it is to her credit and to other miracle women like her that more and more women are now standing up for themselves and following their dreams. ‘I have seen a change in last few years. Nowadays parents encourage their daughters to have a profession.’
Business however still remains male-dominated and Farnaz admits that there is no other woman in her line of business. ‘The business world is male-dominated and for women to reach anywhere they have to be twice as smart. My advice is just work in a very immaculate way. Don’t give anyone a reason to make distinctions in your work on the basis of your gender.’
Like all other working mothers, Farnaz, too feels like she has one too many balls in the air. ‘One has to juggle things, find ways to work around [a problem]. But I’m a firm believer that where there is a will there a way. Plus if we do a good balancing act – it gives motivation to others. They are inspired to follow.’
Fiercely independent herself, Farnaz feels, ‘Women must be independent because you can’t depend on your men for your needs always. You have to be strong and develop your own identity. Not just a Mrs. Someone all your life.’ Her articulate manner and her motivating words are an inspiration to the modern Pakistani woman who, like Farnaz, is a miracle in every sense of the word.
Pianist, Music/French Teacher
‘I believe in helping others,’ says multi-talented Reshna Gazdar – a linguist, pianist, embroiderer and social entrepreneur. Added to that, she is a mother of two and a devoted wife who has seen her family through the most challenging of times. Though Reshna had many opportunities to pursue a full time profession, she opted instead to work from home offering French and piano lessons so she could be close to her family. ‘I didn’t want my children growing up on maids,’ she says, as having moved to Karachi from India she lacked a support system. She went on to raise two brilliant children and gain a reputation as one of Karachi’s finest teachers. But Reshna’s warm smile hides a major tragedy that nearly tore her world apart. Calamity struck her happy family when her diabetic husband was diagnosed with sudden blindness. ‘My whole world shook. I thought this is it. I would have to raise my boys alone. Manage my husband’s work, take over all his responsibilities.’
Anyone else would have crumpled under the pressure but Reshna took it as a challenge to help others.
‘That was the moment I realized I’m not just a teacher, I can use my talents to help others. I held a public concert and we collected 52 lakhs for the Layton Rehmatullah Blind Trust (LRBT) hospital in Korangi. I never thought I would raise such a huge amount.’ The experience gave her the confidence to work even harder to help those not fortunate enough to afford surgeries that helped her husband gain some of his vision back. ‘Now I’m determined to hold more fund raising concerts to help medical charities. I want to bring poor people out of darkness.’
Other than raising funds for the blind, Reshna also runs an embroidery business to help the less privileged. A great believer in giving, Reshna thinks it is also important for women to take out some time for themselves. ‘I walk those few minutes for myself – that’s what keeps me going.’ Her other guilty pleasure, incidentally, is Pond’s Age Miracle cream! ‘I believe in miracles,’ she says with a smile that is sure to inspire many others to achieve.
Caterer Reema Sharif spent much of her formative years in the land of culinary delights- Paris, yet remained immune to its gastronomic charms. However, when she moved back to Pakistan after marriage, she found herself donning the apron.
‘My husband encouraged me to learn cooking as he was a foodie.’ Recalling how she did not know her way around the kitchen at all back then she says, ‘Food never interested me. When I got married I did not know how to cook. My husband would not eat my cooking. Push came to shove so I decided to win him over through his stomach. And eventually I did. In fact I ended up feeding all of Karachi and feeding abroad as well.
A well-known caterer in her own right, Reema still feels her first and foremost identity is that of a homemaker. ‘First of all I’m a housewife, which is my main profession.’ Catering for her comes second. It is not so much a matter of priority as it is of balancing the two aspects of her life. ‘I’ve always tried to make sure both go side by side, as it’s important for me to keep a good relationship with my kids and with my work. I don’t try to separate the two. The day I don’t work, is the day I feel useless. But then that lack of creativity is compensated by spending time with my children. Beauty of it is I work out of my house. I can take on as much as I want to and refuse when I don’t want to.’
Though Reema’s miracle journey seems like an overnight success story, there is a lot of slow and steady hard work that went into it. Reema, initially, was part of the restaurant business. However, at that time, she could not invest in the time and energy needed for a full-on business.
‘My kids were too young. I couldn’t sacrifice that time to a restaurant.’ Later however, friends and family again encouraged her to try again. ‘As I became more creative at home with my cooking, friends pushed me into it. So I made a menu and cooked for family and friends. That was biggest highlight of my life – the suspense – not knowing what the outcome would be. When I found out it was a success I was overwhelmed. Then I decided to take baby steps and go slowly into it. My Thai food fusion is my signature dish. I use all my own recipes. Not ones you’d find in books. My recipes are similar to Thai food but adapted to our desi pallete. I want people to enjoying eating new flavours but still get a taste of the Far East. It’s 11 years in this business now.’
A great believer in miracles, Reema says, ‘Miracles happen all the time. But you have to make them happen. If you don’t do it nobody will. You have to stand up, work hard, make a name for yourself but do it gracefully.’ Her words are sure to go far in inspiring many other miracle women like her.
Educationalist Saima Bukhari grew up in Lahore then went abroad for higher education. Armed with a degree in Political Science, she came back to Pakistan and worked for a number of years for Raasta, a well-known development consultancy. Having gained experience, she worked her way upto teaching and continues to do so even today. As she puts it, ‘By profession I am an educationist and work within a prominent school system. Apart from that, I enjoy music, time with friends and travelling. And not to forget my cup of tea!’
Marriage and motherhood brought her to Karachi and although Saima had to embrace the challenge of starting over from scratch she did so with grace. ‘Like all jobs it has its challenges, Karachi is an exceptionally competitive market for schools. However, I aim and hope to give even more time to my work once my children are more independent. Not to say that I have had to make any major choices between parenting and profession but one has to balance the two on a day – to – day basis, almost like walking a tight rope.’ Her equilibrium is the unconditional support of her husband, and her father especially as he lives across cities but is only a phone call away in times of crisis.
A role model herself for other working mothers, Saima feels it paramount to have strong female examples to look upto although the drive has to come from oneself. As she says, ‘I feel that even though one may have role models, eventually one has to make one’s own choices in life based upon one’s unique circumstances and the cards that are dealt out by life. And that is what makes you strong.’
Her own personality was moulded by the strong character of her mother. ‘Whatever I am,’ she says, ‘is principally because of the way my mother brought me up which was a combination of ambition, support and apprehension.’
Change is in the air and Saima feels that more and more Paksitani women are making their mark today. ‘In my opinion, there’s a visible improvement and change in women establishing themselves very well in almost every perceivable career. I feel there is nothing more important than pursuing one’s dreams and ambitions but without compromising one’s family.’ Combining the best of both worlds, Saima’s miracle journey shows that women can have it all!
Managing Director, Sukkur Beverages (Pepsi Bottlers)
Ace entrepreneur Saeeda Leghari’s miracle journey shows that if you want to bring about change, you have to be the change. The granddaughter of pioneering female industrialist, Razia Ghulam Ali, Saeeda grew up with the self-belief that anything men could do, women could do better.
‘My grandma started her business in 1947 and she was one of the pioneering female entrepreneurs of the country,’ recalls Saeeda proudly. ‘I grew up with her and most of my business training comes from her. A lot of times when I’m stumped, I apply her sayings to my life. She used to say, tough times don’t last but tough people do.’ Building on her words, Saeeda has charged through life like an unstoppable force. ‘Currently I am managing director of a Pepsi Cola bottling plant in Sukkur.’
No mean feat, as Saeeda is also a mother of two. ‘I’m a working parent,’ she says. ‘But I’ve always worked. I worked through my wedding day, through my pregnancies, through all stages of my life. My children don’t know what a stay-at-home mum is because they’ve never seen me stay still.’ And that is how she wants it to be for as she says, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I wasn’t working and had nothing to do, I’d be pretty depressed; though parenting has always taken precedence.’
Saeeda is a great role model for other female entrepreneurs who aspire to expand their business while keeping the home-life balanced. Although, the journey to ‘having it all’, Saeeda warns, is never easy. ‘Working women have a tougher route than men because at least men stop working at the end of the office day but a working mother goes on working when she gets home.’ But the gains far outweigh the pains. Saeeda Leghari has shown that women can have it all!