Ronak Lakhani, the chairperson of Special Olympics Pakistan is one of the pioneers of social service. She was recently awarded the honourable Sitara-e-Imtiaz, the fourth-highest decoration given to any civilian in the country based on one’s extraordinary achievement for her selfless service to the disabled community of her country. She has successfully struggled to help individuals with intellectual disabilities to comfortably be a part of conventional society through the ‘Power of Sports’. In January 2016,she was also elected on the Board of Special Olympics International, which is a major achievement for SOP. She first joined Special Olympics Pakistan in 1990 as a volunteer but her efforts eventually made her the secretary of the board in 2003. Ronak works for the greater cause of humanity and proves that nothing in life in unachievable.
Ronak has chosen women that have broken conventional barriers and have a special place for social work in their hearts. There is a gemologist, a yoga instructor, an architect, a corporate marketeer suffering from cerebral paralysis, an interior decorator, a designer, a popular hairstylist and entrepreneur, the co-founder of The Candle Company, and Rabia Aziz Rizvi a beautiful aspiring mother and pioneer for creating a voice and place for special needs children in Pakistan.
She is a gemologist
She is a mother
She is lively
“I recently had a very big moment of weakness and couldn’t overcome it. I walked past my favorite ice cream shop, thought I wouldn’t eat it, but I ended up having 2 scoops instead,” chuckles Atiqa Habib. She is a woman who is high on life and knows how to live each moment despite going through various difficult periods in her life. In addition to being a gemologist and designer by profession, she is also on the board of Habib University. She’s also involved with various charities, soup kitchens and funding educational institutions.
It was her love for clothes and jewelry that compelled Atiqa to study fashion. With her children now grown up, she can pursue her passions and focus on her own career with full steam. “I started my first business when I was 25 with only six people for women wear in a small garage. It grew to 209 in two years.” Such is the dedication and hard work with which she pursues her passions.
Atiqa believes in promoting the Pakistani economy but unfortunately when she started off, the technological skills required to make her jewelry were not available here. As a result, she had to move her workshops to Hong Kong and Bangkok. “Traveling, long distance communicating and managing the expense – it was all very difficult,” says Atiqa, but “I was set to cater to the gap in the market.” According to her, the jewelry available in Pakistan is either too expensive or the designs of the cheaper ranges are not appealing. “I want to give people a product which is good and valuable at a decent price.” Things will take a turn soon, she hopes, since she’s working on getting the latest machinery and trained staff to Pakistan.
While Atiqa believes every human being, man or woman, needs to be financial independent, emotional independence is something far more difficult to achieve. “We are emotional creatures. We can strive to be emotionally balanced but not independent.”
Atiqa believes that every woman needs to take some time out for herself and that ‘me’ time is very necessary for her to be able to strike the critical balance between her professional and personal life. “To unwind, I like to watch a lot of HUM TV dramas!” she admits with a laugh.
The larger than life Atiqa chooses her children as her Miracle Moments. Though she loves her work very much, she decided to take some time off just be able to focus on her son and daughter when they were young. “I had to because I don’t believe in tuitions and leaving them like that and that’s why they are where they are. It’s a cliché, but my Miracle Moments are my kids and I love them more than anyone and anything else in the world.” Atiqa Habib is a vision of elegance and we’re hoping to see more of her fabulous jewelry and apparel designs soon!
Erum Irshad Mowjee
She is a yogi
She is an entrepreneur
She is selcouth
Erum Irshad Mowjee believes everyone should follow their passion whenever they find it and wherever they find it. Her mantra in life has been to follow her instincts and do whatever feels good. “I have been super lucky with my decisions. I went for a free Pilates class and just fell in love with it. It’s the best exercise you can do at any stage of life”, she says. She is now a yogilates instructor which is a combination of yoga and Pilates. She also runs a store by the name of ‘The Seed Company’ that sells seeds to be taken as part of a healthy diet. It is visible on Erum’s face how dedicated she is to her work as she talks about it with happiness prominent on her glowing face.
Erum has been a successful yoga instructor for fifteen years now and is in a position to guide young women about how to make good life choices. Being a working woman herself, Erum believes in financial independence for women. “A woman truly comes into her own when she is financially and emotionally independent. It is a luxury to have these both in our society and that is why I think so many women lack confidence. The independence gives you a chance to be yourself rather than suppressing who you are. For example, a woman who is financially independent will be less likely to stay in an abusive relationship just for monetary security.”
Erum believes that life is a journey. It is not about what you have achieved today but rather how you have arrived here and where you are going next. Being a yoga instructor, it is not surprising that Erum has found contentment in her journey so far. “I am very pleased with my journey,” she says. “It has not been the easiest one but I have been very blessed and have managed to overcome all obstacles that came my way.” The highlight of her life so far, and her miracle moment, has been witnessing the success of her children. Erum says that she has been lucky to have been able to participate in the success of her children and now life has brought her the opportunity to take care of her mother. Erum’s mother has grown a beautiful and successful daughter. Like every mother, Erum talks about the zest her mother worked with to ensure that Erum always had the best but now it is time that Erum returns all that kindness to her. “Put your feet up mom, relax, and have a good time. It is your time now,” she says with a smile.
Having lost friends to Breast Cancer, Erum wishes for more awareness about the topic and for women to open up about it more. Breast cancer is a sensitive topic in society as it effects a physical part of a woman that is constantly sexualized. According to Erum, a woman feels like she has lost her dignity when she goes through this emotionally and physically draining disease. Cancer doesn’t affect an individual only, but the whole family so it is essential that people are given awareness on how to check and test themselves and are also advised on how to provide support to their loved ones.
Erum reminisces about her younger self and wishes she hadn’t stressed out as much about things back in the days that don’t matter now. If she could, she’d tell her younger self to train her mind to see the good things and body to feel the good things. Given what she has achieved in life, we believe that Erum may not need to time travel to give any message to her younger self. Her life has brought her here today as a Miracle Women and she stands as an example for young women to follow.
Farah A Sheikh
She is a mother
She is an architect
She is spirited
Farah Shaikh had worked in the Netherlands for sixteen years before moving to Pakistan. It was her personal circumstances that brought her to Pakistan but that didn’t stop her from starting her career afresh with a bang. She has been in Pakistan for four years now and already has several luxury homes in the city to her credit. To top that she is currently working on the second talent project of the city which will be a pair of twin towers housing luxury apartments. She is working on projects like universities, hospitals, and mosques in the rest of the country as well.
The biggest challenge Farah has faced since moving back has been to assert her position as a competent female architect. “In the Netherlands everybody is equal. The fact that you are a woman never even comes up. Here, however, architecture is dominated by men and it takes time for clients to accept your competence, especially with high rise projects.” There are several hurdles to cross in the logistical aspect of the work as well. Lack of materials and skilled labour means that the translation of a dream project from paper to land is very difficult. Farah talks about the difference in approach she feels between Holland and Pakistan by saying “Amsterdam has some of the best architects in the world. Over there everybody works for the sake of the profession because they just want to create beautiful things. In Holland I could design absolutely anything and there would be a way to bring it to life. That is not the case in Pakistan.”
Farah brings her own unique flavor to her designs. Being a fan of eco-architecture she has taken up some urban projects that consist of sustainable and eco-friendly elements. “I feel that there are no trees in the city so we are designing new projects in Karachi and Islamabad that have a lot of green architecture.”
Farah recalls how she was a completely devoted mother to her son and then her circumstances forced her to leave him in The Netherlands when he was just twelve and move to Pakistan. “I can’t change the circumstances of my life. I couldn’t have stopped my ex-husband from leaving. If I could tell my younger self to do something differently, I would tell her to be a lot stronger and believe in herself because people forget how amazing they are. Each person is a miracle and there are so many things they can do. We are assets to any place we get to. The potential of a human being is endless. We don’t tap into it and we don’t believe in ourselves.”
She continues how financial independence enabled her to overcome several challenges. “I think money is one of the most important things for any woman to have. It gives her complete independence. Because then every other factor in her life; her husband, her home, her children are there because of love. You’re not staying together because of money. You can make your own decisions and create your own life. Imagine all the possibilities.”
Farah urges women to put themselves first. If women don’t take care of themselves, their health, their priorities, then they will not be in a position to be good caregivers. Farah draws her strength from focusing on her wellbeing and that truly makes her a Miracle Woman.
She is a Marketeer
She is a Social Worker
She is driven
Farhat Rasheed was born with Cerebral Palsy, a disease that has left her bound to a wheelchair and allows very limited movement of the limbs. Instead of bowing under the pressure of such intense physical limitations, Farhat has proven time and again that the human spirit is capable of rising above all obstacles. She has excelled in every field she chose to pursue. Obtaining a Gold Medal in MBA, working as Brand Manager at one of the most prestigious multinationals in Pakistan, heading Marketing and Operations at the Westbury Group of Companies, and creating the SYC platform that works for making Pakistan wheelchair accessible; Farhat has shone brightly in each role. “The attitude in Pakistan towards people in wheelchairs is that they cannot do anything,” laments Farhat. “Special children are not disabled; they are differently abled. They bring their own unique flavor to work. People think that they won’t be able to deliver at work or they won’t be able to take normal school classes but that is not true.”
Farhat feels very strongly about accessibility. “Restaurants, universities, schools, cinemas, wherever you go there are no arrangements made for wheelchairs. Has anyone seen a wheelchair sign anywhere to indicate that there is arrangement for physically handicapped people? Why should I be carried around by others? I only go to places where I am able to move around myself because it is a basic human right. I don’t need to be dependent on the sympathy of someone else.” Farhat believes that people are not aware about the numbers affected by this issue. The reason we don’t see people in wheelchairs is not that there are very few of them, but because they are trapped in their homes. Farhat narrates the story of a women she met who had a son with leg braces. The child had no cognitive disabilities but no schools were giving admission to him because it would have meant making special arrangements for the child and doing anything extra is considered a hassle. At the behest of Farhat, the child’s therapist went to a school herself to fight the case for the child and eventually he got admission. Stories like these are around us everywhere but people are only willing to give their sympathy, not their support.
After education, Farhat believes that employers have a huge role to play in the life of physically handicapped people. “I was fortunate enough to get into Unilever which was my dream. The good thing was that people treated me like anyone else. If I had to travel for work I travelled, there were no excuses. It made me more confident. My teams were supportive of the fact that I had to leave early for daily physiotherapy. So there was support for my problems but no discrimination when it came to merit.”
Farhat talks about her mother and how it would have been easier to hire two maids instead than invest extra time to care for her special child. “She was the one who was up at nights. There was not a single day when she didn’t drop me to school herself. She gave me the most attention out of all my siblings. Even today there are times when I get low but she gives me the courage to keep going.” For Farhat, her mother is the Miracle Woman. When Farhat couldn’t participate in outdoor activities during P.E. period, her mother would drives Farhat’s wheelchair around, pushing it from behind to make her feel like she is outside in the sun playing just like the other children.
Farhat’s Miracle moment was definitely getting into Unilever, especially after her university career office kept telling her to come and work for IoBM in admin as it would be extremely difficult for her to get a job with her condition elsewhere. “In other interviews I was told I wasn’t compatible for the jobs because I couldn’t travel on trains or couldn’t relocate to other cities considering my ongoing treatments. Unilever was open about letting me make my own path. Pakistan needs more companies like this.”
Farhat is a true inspiration to everyone. Not just people who are physically handicapped but any woman who is struggling with obstacles in life. We need to look up to women like Farhat who aren’t afraid of fighting for their own rights and are confident enough to raise their voice when society is shushing them down. Her life and her ongoing journey are everyday miracles that need to be celebrated.
She is an interior decorator
She is a mother
She is blessed
Leelu Usman didn’t have years of professional experience when she decided to become partners with a friend for an Interior Decoration and Home Solutions business. For the longest time she had always thought of herself as a daughter, wife, and mother. She took pride in being the best homemaker that she knew. With her children stepping into adulthood and finally getting time to give priority to her own interests, she took the plunge into the challenging waters of entrepreneurship. Now she is the Director and Partner at SRS Interior Architectural Design.
She has immense support from her husband and family and that, according to Leelu, is one of the main reasons why she has been able to make such a huge transition in her life at such a late stage. The biggest challenge for her at the moment is competing with people who have been in the industry for far longer than her. “When you enter a field so late in life, several people already know you as a homemaker and a certain amount of skepticism is to be expected. While I am thoroughly enjoying this new facet of life it remains a challenge to be taken seriously,” she says.
Leelu is a firm believer in financial independence for women. Whether one comes from an affluent household or marries into one is irrelevant. “This is advice that I give to my daughter as well. No matter how life is, no matter what challenges life throws at you, financial independence is one thing that will improve your relationships, give you peace of mind about the future and help you rest peacefully at night. It is about the feel good factor that you get when you achieve something completely of your own accord.”
Leelu married very young and leads a happily married life with a husband who supports her in every step. However, she still advises young women to think more about their careers and life choices and not give up on things like higher education just to get married. Not all women are as lucky as Leelu is and Leelu believes that marriage shouldn’t be considered a destination to land at; like a goal completed and nothing more lies ahead. Balance between work and life comes naturally to Leelu who made the choice of not working to devote herself to her home and kids for several years. Leelu feels it is important to focus at various areas of your life at various moments, so when your children are young, your priority needs to be them. Every growing child needs his mother, just as Leelu needed her own. Even now she makes sure that she leaves all thoughts and stresses of work at office before she comes home for the day.
Leelu breaks many stereotypes with her success at work. Starting a career at a later stage, transitioning from a homemaker to a professional, going from full time mom to working mom are just a few things that give hope to many women across Pakistan who feel that it may be too late for them to follow their passions. Leelu is an example of women who can go miles to achieve their dreams and are determined to establish themselves as unique individuals in society. Your personality is more than just being someone’s mother and someone’s wife, it is who you are for yourself and that is what makes Leelu Usman a Miracle Woman.
She is a designer
She is an entrepreneur
She is tenacious
When talking to Mahjabeen Obaid, it is difficult to distinguish when she’s talking about her work and when about her home. The fact that she is in love with what she does is apparent because one never gets the feeling that she considers her work a burden in any sense. “I don’t consider my work as work. I consider it an extension of myself. I don’t even feel like I’m working. My work is me and I am my work whether it’s at ‘Towellers’ or at ‘Mahj Designs’. It’s who I am”.
She continues by explaining how time management and prioritization have played a key part in bringing a sense of balance to her life. “I’ve said this a couple of times and I’ll say it again. Working moms make the best moms because they focus on spending quality time with their children. Mums who wake up at two in the afternoon are not able to do that. I’m up really early and super focused in the morning. My husband and I take turns dropping the kids to school. Then I prioritize by the hour and make sure I’m home at a time that my kids see me enough.” Mahjabeen also talks about the virtues of taking time out to bond as a family. For her it comes from frequent getaways with her husband and kids and ensuring that the full two days of her weekend are dedicated to the family.
Mahjabeen is a big believer in emotional independence for women. “Working provides the emotional independence and in my opinion getting paid is the added bonus. While money is very important I believe that emotional independence is the most critical. You cannot equate happiness to finances but you can equate it to emotional wellbeing.” Mahjabeen is the Creative Director of her father’s towel business but in her heart she is a designer. And that, she feels, has taught her major life skills. “I’m a designer with degrees in graphic and textile designing. Being a designer encompasses everything. Interiors, textiles, designing towels. My work teaches me a lot of patience because being a designer you don’t always get it right the first time. You constantly have to make edits and play with design. What I think looks nice on the computer doesn’t necessarily look nice once the towel has been woven.” Just as you are supposed to be patient with life, Mahjabeen is patient with her work. When one thing doesn’t work, she gives another thing a try. Till you find the perfect pattern to go with the fabric, she keeps trying. In the end, one thing or the other always works even if it takes time.
Positivity about everything in life drives Mahjabeen every day. She hates self-pity and urges women never to feel sorry for themselves. According to her, one learns the most during the lowest points of one’s life. “It’s a process you have to go through. Nobody can turn around and say their life has been a hundred percent amazing. That is never true. Bringing yourself out of that low point in life teaches a person how to survive. It has taught me to be self-reliant.”
Mahjabeen works hard throughout the year and sees her hard work come to life in a textile show called Heimtex that takes place every January. For her, it caps up her year wonderfully and showcases mental and physical energy that has gone behind designing the towels. For her, every year when she puts out her company’s stall at the textile show is a miracle year.
She is an entrepreneur
She is a mother
She is hard working
Despite being married off at a very young age, the talented and the very creative Meher Najeeb never let anything come in the way of her dreams. She persevered and is currently among the top hair stylists and colour technicians in Karachi. She is the owner of two successful salons, where one offers makeup, spa, facials and regular salon treatments while the other is a special hair-care facility. She calls this a ‘family business’ as her daughters are also makeup artists at her salon. At this point in life, Meher is very content and very grateful to God that He gave her the strength to take her passion forward and allowed her to earn so much respect in this industry.
Though this started off as a hobby for her, deep down inside she always had the desire to pursue being a stylist as her full time career. “I got married very early and became a mother soon after. But I was always aware of my creative streak which I get from my mother! I’d see people and wonder how I could re-create their look and make them look even better. I’d practice on my cousins and friends,” reminisces Meher. This desire finally took her to London for her first training at Toni and Guy as a professional stylist. “It was difficult leaving my children behind for such long trainings. The first time I went, I remember calling up my father, crying, and with my hands shaking, telling him I can’t do this. It was difficult dealing with new people in a foreign culture and an alien environment. But I knew I had to do this; there are no short cuts in life.” Eventually, with the unconditional support of her family, Meher learnt the ropes and overcame her fears. The hard work began reaping the fruits soon and that got her to pursue various other trainings in the United States, France and Dubai. “Now I travel frequently, twice or thrice a year, to keep polishing my skills.”
Running her own business has given Meher a lot of emotional and financial independence. “When you earn and spend your own money, you get a sense of confidence which is impossible to have if you are dependent on anyone else. It makes you strong from the core,” believes Meher. “It is difficult in the beginning, no doubt, but slowly you learn how to create that critical work-life balance. As more things get added to your plate, you learn how to adjust. You manage your work hours around your children’s requirements. My elder daughters helped me out with my youngest. So it works out,” she says with a confident smile. She advises, however, that in trying to achieve her goals, a woman must not forget to love herself and to learn how to prioritise. If she is happy, she will be able to make those around her happy.
Though Meher wishes she had started out even earlier in her life, there are no regrets. There is much to be proud of. “Sometimes people come and tell me that I am like a hair doctor. When they come to me with their hair problems after not finding a solution anywhere else, and they trust me, it makes me very proud and very thankful. When I am able to fix dandruff, a bad colour or burnt hair, that is my Miracle Moment!” The belief that her clients have in her surely keeps her going.
Is the path to success free of obstacles? Definitely not. “There have been times when I have felt tired, when I wanted to just leave all of it. Sometimes an unfortunate incident takes place in the family; sometimes your staff leaves you high and dry. Sometimes, a client ends up saying something demotivating. But soon, you come to realise that those moments of weaknesses are temporary.” Meher’s journey shows when a woman is determined, her fears finally crumble. When answering her true calling, she must not leave any stone unturned and success will follow automatically.
She is an entrepreneur
She is energetic
She is a hustler
“My mother is a working woman. She started from our drawing room with a 3 man team. Now, she’s got 40 or 50 projects going on at one time. A lot of working women have this feeling that they have not had the opportunity to do the things a non-working mother does for her children. But I’ve grown up seeing her doing incredible things and I want to tell her that she did it right,” says Neha, the co-founder of the Karachi Candle Company. “I am proud to be following in her footsteps.”
Answering your true calling is not easy and Neha has struggled to finally be able to do what she really wants to do. For a start-up, it is a major challenge to transition from the testing-waters to the expansion stage. “We worked for 2 years before even launching the brand with full time jobs on the side just to make sure that we were really happy with what we were doing. So there were a lot of failures along the way. Sometimes I’d feel I am not being taken seriously because I am a woman. Sometimes, our shipment would get delayed and at other times, we’d simply run out of money!” explains Neha. She was a project manager at a reputable firm and was making fantastic progress in her career. But taking that leap from a safe job and a promising financial future to a candle making business that did not have any direction in the beginning but was an idea she loved was a challenge. “After quitting, I saw my team continue to do incredible projects whereas at my end, I was running out of all my savings. The shift from a 9-5 job to working from home meant I had to be my own disciplinarian. There were countless times when my partner and I gave up but eventually optimism would take over and we persevered and those who did not have faith in us at that time finally take us seriously now,” says Neha with pride. She adds that when they started off, they got rejected by all local suppliers and they had to resort to importing their raw materials. Neha realized that was mostly because she is a woman and was instantly considered incompetent. “There was a time when I happened to go with my father and the difference in service was astounding. We never had the problem of being taken seriously by foreign manufacturers because they consider gender less of a factor and quality more when it comes to selling a product. Now that we are doing well, the local producers are coming back to us.”
Neha thinks it’s critical for a woman to be able to stand on your own two feet. This was the very path she had decided to take from her early years, coming from a strong family led by women. She stresses the importance of dual income in this day and age and advises young women to find mentors. “As women, we tend to be shy and undervalue ourselves. We must reach out and ask for help, ask for advice from senior people in our fields.” But, while striving for success, a woman must not forget to take care of herself and pursue hobbies to unwind. “I have a lot of pets, I write on the side, I enjoy my crafts, I like spending time with PS3 and I do childish things to keep myself from getting consumed by intense work demands.” She is certainly correct in believing that sometimes one needs to switch off and then start again the next day.
It is not surprising that the Miracle Moment for the very positive and energetic Neha was the first perfect candle she made. “We called it the alpha and at that moment we felt beyond excited. We knew this little candle could lead the way to brighter ideas,” she says. She had a great time when she was an employee but the gratification you get from doing something of your own is a lot higher. “The joy of making something with your own hands and then seeing people burn those candles that I made in their homes is an indescribable feeling.” It is indeed a beautiful thing when your career and your passion come together. Neha Mashooqullah’s journey shows that when you engage in work that taps your talent and fuels your passion, you are at your best.
Nida Adnan Tapal
She is an entrepreneur
She is a mother
She is unswervable
“Moving from a salaried job and comfort of getting a pay cheque at the end of the month versus giving out that pay cheque at the first of the month has been a tough ride.”
Miracle woman Nida, holds a Masters degree in Business Administration from LUMS and worked for Shell Pakistan for about 8 years in HR and Corporate Branding before moving towards doing something of her own. It was motherhood that made her quit her full time job and mull over what to do next. Currently, she is the Creative Director at Delphi.
“For me, my home and children always came first. ”
After quitting her job at Shell, Nida realised she had the opportunity to pick up her family business and apply her experience and education to turn it into something exceptional. Nida would have to be patient for about 3-4 years and smooth out all the issues any business has in its stages of infancy. In a moment of weakness, she considered going back to working for a multinational. However, she was quick to push those thoughts aside and went on to revive the brand. The hard work paid off and she successfully relaunched it in 2010. She attributes her success to her husband and supportive friends and family, as she believes that every woman needs a good support system to succeed in life.
At Delphi, Nida caters to a niche market and produces crochet based clothing. Nida has put in a lot of effort streamlining a business which is based on the talents and crafts of women. There have been highs and lows, a lot of times she has to take her work home, there is a considerable amount of stress, but so far she has managed to balance her work and family. How does she do it? “By switching off, and compartmentalising. I’ve divided my day. I give some time to working out every day because if you feel good mentally and physically then you are able to give 100% to what you do. Managing kids has also become easier since I’m the master of my own time.” Her friends who work in banks shut their computers off at 6 O’ clock, till the next morning, but handling a business is different and you need to work for it round the clock. “The challenge was really to focus my time and learn to stop thinking about work when I’m at home as a mother and wife,” she explains. According to Nida, women who are financially independent do not only have self respect but are also respected by their families and children.
Growing up, Nida wanted to be many things: Architect, Interior Designer etc. She took a career counselling test when she turned 16, which helped her get an understanding of where her skills lie. She owes it to her mother for always keeping her focused and giving her the strength to be independent. Nida’s advice for young girls is “perseverance, perseverance and perseverance. Don’t give up because hard work always pays off and try to help people as much as one can. Good karma comes back. There is no such thing as a coincidence. Look for opportunities always. Never shut a door. It’s helped me in whatever I’ve done as a mother, entrepreneur and as a wife. Don’t give up and don’t say no, try everything.”
Nida has had a series of highlights in her life. Graduating from LUMS, getting into Shell and becoming a mother are just a few of them. Her ‘eureka moment’, as she describes it, was when she quit her 9-5 job. She didn’t want to stay idle and waste her talent and education. Looking back, she recalls what her trigger was. She says “I remember my mother was meeting a client and I thought, why don’t I sell this and take on this particular thing in my life and take it forward. That has to be the Miracle Moment for me because that changed the course of my life.” Nida Tapal’s journey bears testimony to the fact that when one door closes, several others open. One only needs to have the courage for pulling those doors open and creating something incredible out of what they may have to offer.
She is a social worker
She is a mother to a special child
She is vigorous
Three and a half years ago something happened in Rabia’s life that, for a while, turned her life upside down. She was blessed with a beautiful baby girl who she named Alia. Soon after Alia’s birth it was discovered she suffers from an extremely rare form of genetic mutation called Apert Syndrome. The syndrome causes fusion of some skull bones and prevents the skull from growing normally which affects the shape of the head and face.
“Within twenty four hours of my baby being born I knew that she is going to have no one to support her. Within forty eight hours I had told myself that my daughter will have to fight a battle in life and I will fight it for her and with her.” Rabia soon found out that there is no medical, physical, or emotional support available in Pakistan for parents in her situation. Rabia’s commitment to herself that she will raise Alia to be an independent and emotionally stable member of society is what eventually gave birth to ‘Special Needs Pakistan’, an online support group for families and mothers who are raising children with extra needs, and invisible or visible disabilities. The one biggest challenge that Rabia says parents needs to overcome is the self-pity they put themselves in. “The day you pull yourself out of pity, guilt, and emotional distress is the day you start to get strength. You realize that those feelings come when you are putting yourself ahead of the needs of the child. The needs of your child come first. You are the only advocate they have in life and they are the ones who have to deal with their disability for their entire life. Once you pull yourself out of that zone you understand that there is nothing that you cannot achieve.”
That, however, doesn’t mean that the parent doesn’t take care of themselves. Rabia is a big advocate of knowing yourself and understanding your own needs first. According to her, if you are not able to keep yourself happy then you will never be able to keep anyone else happy. One of the biggest hurdles to that happiness, which is deep rooted in our culture, is what everyone else has to say about you and your child. “How do you take your child out of the house? Did you do some gunah? Did you go out during solar eclipse? Do you have a cousin marriage? And the list of questions goes on and on. Even with healthy children people are constantly questioning. If my son, who is seven, is doing well at school they will ask why he isn’t doing well in sports etc. The point is to take yourself out of the equation. Understand that it’s not about you. It’s not about something you did. It’s about your child and her needs. People will always talk. Let them talk and continue on with your work.”
Rabia’s work involves going to schools and communities to raise awareness about these issues. She knows that parents try to keep their children away from children with special needs. So it is of utmost importance that both parents and children are educated on this topic. It is her mission to ensure that all children are able to walk the corridors of society as strong and free willed human beings and not worry about hiding behind walls.
Rabia is waiting for the day when as a nation and as a society we are able to raise compassionate children who will in turn become compassionate adults, giving everyone an equal opportunity to shine. And with the resilience we sense in her voice there is no doubt in our mind that this Miracle Woman will one day make her dream a reality.