Our next mentor for the The Pond’s Miracle Women series is Safinaz Muneer. She is the co-owner of the internationally acclaimed fashion brand, Sana Safinaz. Safinaz started working at the age of nineteen and hasn’t stopped working since. Her passion is fashion, she wears fashion and she talks fashion. From a small studio in Clifton, the brand now has 15 shops all over Pakistan including their online retail. Safinaz defines what glamour is; her journey to success has been a roller coaster ride that she’s navigated with panache. She is one of a kind style icon for every Pakistani woman.
Safinaz has chosen 10 women of substance, who are part of so many miracles happening around us. All these women exemplify passion and resilience and are catalysts for change. The line up includes a designer, a social worker, a humanitarian, a corporate banker and lawyer, and a revolutionary plastic surgeon who has changed the fate of so many by developing the Burns Centre at Civil Hospital in Karachi.
She is an artist
She is selfless
She is reliable
“We were always very sheltered. But we, for the first time, had to come out of the shadow when my mother passed away. There were so many people, so many lives intertwined with her school. Everybody was looking up to me, expecting things from me,” says Faiza Kasim, Director, Karachi High School. Faiza’s mother started Karachi High School back in 1985 and her school was her baby, as important as her four other children. That is where she imparted quality education to middle class children. Faiza and her sisters too, were always very closely connected with the school which is a non-profit organization and where the students are charged very nominal fees. After her mother passed away in 2012, Faiza decided to continue her mother’s legacy and started running the school with the help of the teachers, coordinators and friends.
Now, all of Faiza’s days are dedicated to the school. “I am doing all those things I used to tell my mother not to do,” she laughs, “and I am doing them with the same passion, if not more.” Looking back, she wishes how, instead of arguing, she had supported her mother when she used to go beyond measures to do something for the school. She attributes her success to her mother. “I don’t even know when I got prepared to take over such a big responsibility. I think she just let me be till she was there but when she wasn’t, that responsibility was on me and I had to stand up and take it on.”
Faiza believes everybody, man or woman, should be financially independent. She advises young girls to fight for their rights and hold their ground. Our society really is in same light as before, a man’s money is a woman’s money and the woman’s money also remains to be her money! However, when a woman has a career, she has double the responsibility. “Women are home makers so even when they come back from work, they’re supposed to keep a balance with home chores as well.”
Faiza is an artist, yet her last show was back in 2007 in New York. When her mother passed away, she had to let her art go. It’s been four years since she let art take the backseat but now she feels it’s time to revive the artist in her and give time to her artwork too. It’s something she’s passionate about but more often than not, she barely gets time for herself. “I deal with a lot of lives. Starting from the guard, the carpenter, parents, students – it had been a long time since I’ve associated myself with the school. Now every day is the same.” Regardless, Faiza is content and joyous. She asked the people in school about how they would describe her. “They say I’m reliable, somebody you can count on 24 hours. Even for the children in school and the parents. Literally if I get a call at 2 am I will be there for them.”
“Every moment in my life has been a miracle moment, every moment I live is a miracle moment. Every day I find something or the other, intertwined with other lives and my life.” Faiza is almost poetic as she marvels at her journey, with each day filled with moments to celebrate. Faiza Kasim is a woman who sets a high benchmark for selflessness, and shows us precisely how to achieve it.
She is a fashion designer
She is a single mother
She is fierce
A firm believer in the fact that talent isn’t something that dissolves, it only gets better with time, Farah Leghari has been a fashion designer since she was just 18. At the time of her marriage, she chose to give up her work, focusing instead on her home and 3 children. It was after her divorce that she decided to return to her passion and what she loved doing so much. “I feel that if you don’t lose your self-confidence and you’re very sure about where you want to go in your life then you can pick up from where you left whenever you want.” It has been a long but rewarding journey and Farah has come a long way. “I have matured as a designer but there is still room for improvement,” she says. She is smart, she is resilient and knows how to make it happen for herself. Through the ups and downs of life she stands resolute and stronger than ever.
“One of the biggest struggles was having to deal with the divorce, having to understand where I stood in life, how I would start afresh and find my own identity. But I have no regrets, I moved on, and I believe given the circumstances, I made a wise decision.” 15 years ago divorce wasn’t as common and was considered a taboo in the Pakistani society. But Farah realized it doesn’t matter what people say and “after a while they’ll find something else to talk about, they always do.” Other than worrying about how people will take her divorce, Farah had another challenge: to face her responsibility as a mother had been quadrupled since she was now a single mom and her children depended on her. She wondered whether she would be able to manage it all or would she lose herself in being a mother. “Divorce was the first big hurdle and the second about how would I draw that balance, give my kids and myself some time.”
Coming back to work after almost a decade was itself a big challenge. Farah’s mother was her backbone and her father her confidante and with this family support Farah continued to trudge forward. “My mother’s innate beauty and unconditional love has empowered me today to be the woman I am,” states Farah. Once Farah jumped back into her career, there was no looking back. “I started working from home. My daughter used to be doing her homework on the same table I’d be doing my drawings. So I was able to give my children and myself time.” Many years down this road, Farah claims to never have had to choose between motherhood and work, and she hopes it never comes to that either. The biggest driving force has been her want to become financially independent. Her parents could provide for her, but she needed to manage on her own. Knowing she was able to provide for her children and that she doesn’t have to always ask was very empowering for Farah. According to her, when you work in front of your children, they learn to respect you as a person, not just because dad is not there, but because their mother has a life too and is able to provide. “By being a working mother, I have been able to teach my kids many things about the realities of life.”
Farah implores girls to know what career path they want to choose, to believe in themselves and their potential and to stick to it. “Indecisiveness is not very appealing; it can be a big deterrent. Set your ego aside and go with an open mind but be prepared for a lot of failures in life,” she advises. She believes that when a young girls steps into the workforce, she is a blank page and that there are no short cuts to success. It is hard work that helps you reach the heights you dream of. However, working hard to attaining success must not mean that a woman does not pay attention to herself. “If you don’t take good care of yourself how will you take good care of the ones you love?” she questions. For her, it’s as simple as that. “If I’m not keeping good health or I’m in a depressive mode, what will I give out to my kids? Hit the gym, eat healthy, sleep early. And yes, start at an earlier age.”
Farah Leghari’s Miracle Moment, motherhood, is not exactly a moment. It is an on-going journey which nothing can beat. She’s a caring mother, a loving daughter and a passionate entrepreneur. Challenges are a part and parcel of life but what defines you as a person is how well you rise after falling. With positivity and determination, Farah has risen, stronger than ever.
Kamyla Marvi Tapal
She is a Social Worker
She is a mother
She is Empathetic
“The nature of my work is such that if I talk about challenges it will be like a doctor saying that patients are a challenge,” says Kamyla when asked about the difficulties she faces at work. With a background in women’s reproductive and sexual health, Kamyla has worked extensively in the NGO sector including the Agha Khan University and is a founding member of ‘Aahaang’. The work she does is related to improving healthcare systems in the country.
On a personal front Kamyla talks about the difficulties of managing kids and work. Even though her children are now in their teens she still struggles with striking that balance. However Kamyla emphasizes that it has been easier for her. It becomes extremely tough for women who don’t have the kind of support system that Kamyla has been fortunate enough to have. She goes on to talk about how financial independence is a key enabler for women. “I can’t emphasize that enough. A woman should know that she can earn her own money and doesn’t have to put up with things she doesn’t have to put up with. It can be an extreme situation where she’s in a violent relationship and facing abuse or smaller things where the house needs double financing from both the spouses to be able to run it smoothly. A woman should have choices and those choices are promoted when she has the ability to earn money and the emotional independence to walk out if something is not working.”
Kamyla advices young women to start thinking about their personal futures early on. “Often young girls will get into a marriage and will want to give it their all. They are taught from a young age about how they have to be good wives, good mothers, take care of the house etc. It’s important that girls are taught the importance of being confident and building relationships based on equality.” She says that men have it easier in positions of power because being assertive is easier for them. Even women don’t accept other powerful women easily.
Kamyla recalls with a hint of sadness the time when she started working for an organization that was not doing well and she sincerely wanted to bring about change. “There was constant conflict. I wasn’t allowed to bring in change by people who didn’t understand the need for it. Eventually I realized that there is no use flogging a dead horse. That experience gave me immense learning but the moment when I realized that I will have to accept defeat and move on was a very difficult moment for me.”
Kamyla has met many women during her work who were victims of domestic abuse. She sees women blaming themselves all the time and not having the right support system to lean on. “I used to work in a low income community called Essa Nagri. I remember knocking on this woman’s door and going in and she narrated how her husband beat her up, often twice a day. Any small excuse before leaving for work and coming back home would result in a beating. I was quite young and my immediate response was why don’t you just leave? She looked at me and said where would I go? My parents don’t want me back. I have 4 children, where would I go? And I really didn’t have an answer for her. Where would she go?”
Kamyla continues her struggle for the betterment of women and her work is tougher than many would imagine. But with her sense of empathy and the strength to face difficulties, she powers on. “Women are dying every day. They don’t receive quality care. There are taboos around their health issues. There are immense difficulties in terms of cost and accessibility. Is that my personal challenge? Maybe not. But it is the challenge I work with.”
Kamyla is an example of a great woman who stands for other fellow women. Without such empowered, educated and strong headed women in our society, females cannot progress. With Kamyla we have hope and a future for the young women of our country who not only want to survive but also live.
She is a banker
She is a go-getter
She is solid
Strong, self reliant, yet, well grounded, Miracle Woman Maya Ismail is currently working as the Head of Strategic Investments at Habib Bank Limited. She draws her strength from various people and experiences in her life. Her father bringing her up as an independent woman, her 4 years at Smith College in USA which is known for churning out leaders and her first job at the Karachi Stock Exchange where she had to fight for it at the floor as the only woman, prepared Maya for the difficult playing field life is. Even her grandmothers served as role models for Maya from an impressionable age. “They were always very clear that the girls in the family need to have properties and investments in their names. We all had our own bank accounts from a young age,” she explains. “Now, I preach the same to all my friends, which makes me very unpopular with their husbands,” she says with a laugh.
Maya landed her first set of professional challenges when she joined Karachi Stock Exchange after returning to Pakistan from USA . “At KSE, they had recently turned to automated training, the carryover market was still open outcry so you had to go to the floor. There were around 1500-2000 men and about 3-4 women majority of whom were in secretarial or administrative roles. There had been other female stock brokers but at that time I was one in the market”. Being there, fighting it out on the floor in a man’s world and earning respect from peers and clients was certainly tough for Maya. After years of investing time, patience and hard work in her career, she is content yet striving for greater heights.
Through her work, Maya also aims to empower other women. “At HBL, we are very keen on increasing women within the bank as well as within customers, hence all the new recruitment in the past 12 years, has been 50 % are women. We now have women cashiers all over the country even in rural areas. Our head of retail banking who is, in fact, a fellow Miracle Woman, heads retail banking. We have just launched a women initiative where women in our focus group said they don’t want separate branches, they just want to be treated with respect so that’s what we are doing.”
Maya strongly feels that employers in Pakistan need to follow global standards in today’s evolving world when it comes to women. Female employers should be seen as an active part of the team and treated as equals to their male counterparts. “If they are mothers, employers can make their lives easier by providing daycares. Being a mother is not a hindrance. They just need a bit of support,” says Maya. “Women are more dedicated and focused and have the fantastic ability to manage time as well as demands of the workplace. They earn, take part in committees, and manage finances of the houses.” A little support by the organizations they work in can help them go a long way. Maya also feels that banks can provide the much needed platform for women whereby they become financially and emotionally independent.
For Maya, there have been many Miracle Moments. “The best moments would be when I’d prove all the naysayers wrong, pick up the phone and call my boss to tell him it’s done. Getting those assignments done with all the odds stacked against me would bring me a lot of satisfaction and I look forward to such opportunities still!”
As is true for every person, where there have been highs there have been some lows as well for Maya. Professionally, she would be taken aback by instances where she would sometimes not be treated well by a client but was lucky to have bosses and mentors which always had her back. On the personal front, however, she felt the weakest when she lost her father. “I had to pull myself up quickly since I knew I have to take care of not just my mother but my grandmothers as well.” It is this very sense of responsibility and the strength to move forward no matter what that makes Maya Ismail a Pond’s Miracle Woman.
She is a social worker
She is a humanitarian
She is committed
“My parents have always been telling me since my childhood that every night before sleeping, think whether you have done something good for someone. I held on to this little piece of advice by them and this has been the stimulating factor for many of the things that I have done in life,” says Mehnaz Nadeem. She started off her career as an educationist and worked as a kindergarten and primary teacher for almost 20 years. Today, she is doing great work as a humanitarian in the capacity of the president of the OAKS Karachi chapter, the alumni group of Kinnaird College, Lahore. “There are two main projects we have been undertaking. Our main project is National Institute of Child Healthcare. We have also been working to upgrade their laboratory and recently we adopted their neo natal ward as well. Our second project is saving Thar. We are not only constructing new wells with partnership with Hisar foundation but we also rehabilitate wells. In Thar, we have also started ‘gift a goat project’ which aims to facilitate the people of Thar by providing them with livelihood,” Mehnaz explains.
Of course serving such great causes comes with various challenges, beginning with raising the funds to their disbursement on the right projects. Mehnaz adds that as far as the Saving Thar project is concerned, travelling all the way to Thar from Karachi was not easy and that was not an easy decision for OAKS, Karachi chapter. Once they had decided that is indeed the cause they want to work for, they opted for a particular district called Chachrho which has not received any attention or aid as it is a ‘difficult’ district as far as wells are concerned, since the wells in the area are very deep. “We did not get any support from the government, which led us to making a partnership with Hisar Foundation. Over a span of 2.5 years we have rehabilitated almost 90 wells and constructed 46 new wells. Under our gift a goat project in the same area, 500 goats have been distributed among the families in Chachrho,” says Mehnaz. With the help of donors, friends and some private sector sponsors, the OAKS Karachi chapter has been doing all this for the underprivileged communities and more. “You’ll be surprised that some of the donors have even adopted villages,” says Mehnaz with excitement in her eyes “that means going even bigger – we have done some work in areas of education and installed solar panels as well and hope to do more on these lines. I’m glad that we have at least brought the plight and negligence in those areas under the limelight and hope that other donors and sponsors will join hands with us to uplift the forgotten and ignored parts of the country.”
Mehnaz’s inspiration lies in her mother, who she grew up watching work voluntarily for the Behbud Association in Lahore. “I always thought if she can do it, managing kids and everything, why can’t I?” she says. With the support, guidance and valuable advice from her husband at every step, Mehnaz continued to pursue her aspirations. “When I started my career, my kids were small and I thought that teaching was the best way to satisfy my thirst to do something, yet not neglect my home and children. Now that all my children are either working or are college going, I have the time and this is the best way of channelling my time in a positive direction. It’s so rewarding giving back to society because we are all the privileged and blessed ones. If you show people the right path and if you are able to deliver, there are so many people who want to contribute, either monetarily or by chipping in their physical effort. Especially when it comes to providing water, people consider it sadqa-e-jaariah and never hesitate to help,” explains Mehnaz with a sense of gratefulness.
Where helping people is her true passion, Mehnaz is a firm believer in the fact that a woman must give herself some time as well. She is regular with her exercise and finds spending time with family and friends very relaxing. “I love to read books and watch a movie occasionally,” she says. As far as her Miracle Moment is concerned she says every time she, with her organisation, is able to construct an additional well it brings immense joy to her. She relates an incident which mirrors the philanthropic spirit of the people of our country. “A friend of mine visited Chachrho and when she saw the living conditions and people without even a pair of slippers under their possession, she sent a WhatsApp message to a couple of friends that said ‘Donate a Slipper’ – and within 2 days, she received 2000 pairs of slippers for the people of Thar!” Indeed, the Miracle Journey of Mehnaz Nadeem makes us pause and think for a moment – if we are blessed with so many bounties, it is incumbent upon us to use what we have to bring a smile on someone else’s face. Without a doubt, true satisfaction lies in helping others.
She is a social worker
She is a mother
She is resilient
Rafia Khan, who has been in the business of education for the past 36 years, is driven, goal-oriented and has set high standards for herself. She is sometimes disappointed when things don’t pan out the way she had hoped but she marches on and continues to hope to make a difference. She started her career in teaching from Karachi and also had the opportunity to teach at elitist schools in USA and Dubai. On her return to Pakistan, however, she realized that it is volunteer work where her real passion lies and decided to join Shahzad Roy in his mission to adopt government schools and then transforming them. That was the beginning of something exciting for Rafia.
Rafia spent a few years trying to turn around government schools and is proud of her work in converting SMB Fatimah Jinnah School into a flagship institution. Earlier on, she believed that when the government will see the changes made there they will take upon themselves to change the fate of other public schools but she was left disappointed. “Things didn’t work out between the NGO and the government and the school was just used as a show piece to attract American and European aid, unfortunately.” Rafia continues to work with various other public sector schools and currently is also running her own business where she teaches phonics using an American program. “It is great to see the children enjoying reading with comprehension,” she says.
A little dissatisfied with the efforts of the government, Rafia feels it is their jobs to look after schools and provide quality education for the youth of Pakistan. “It is not the responsibility of the NGOs to get infrastructure ready and the curriculum prepared. I have tried my best to deliver but I feel I have failed. Government schools are in thousands and NGOs are a handful. I’ve spoken to ministers, I have spoken to the top officials but they have done nothing.” Putting in so much effort and still not making it is very disappointing, of course. Rafia does not like seeing things that are half done. ”When projects are half-baked, it’s actually worse than not doing anything at all.” She faced this situation once when she went to conduct a 6-day training session in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “Everything was supposed to be done in English, but how is that possible when most of the children do not know how to speak the language? The people were lovely, I enjoyed the sessions and I was paid well too but at the end of the day, nothing substantial happened. That bothers me. There’s no follow up in this country,” she explains. She adds that “life is not easy but nothing that’s worthwhile ever is. Allah says work, Quaid-e-Azam says work, work and work. It’s something that human beings do if they want to see their dreams take shape so I guess that’s what I will continue doing.”
With 4 children of her own, it has been nothing short of difficult to manage a career and a home. “When my children were born, I used to take my two month daughter to school! They have seen my passion to work and have seen me grow. I wasn’t the type to take a 6-month maternity leave but I don’t think any of my kids today can say that I wasn’t there for their PTMs, to see what they were doing. It’s doable and all my kids are sturdy, emotionally and health wise,” Rafia proclaims. Family has always been very important for her but so has her financial independence, which she believes is becoming more and more crucial with time. However, one should be ready to make sacrifices for the family if need be. In fact, her decision to come back to Pakistan was because of her mother’s health, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s at that time.
When talking about her mother, Rafia says “whatever patience and patriotism I have is because of my mother. I learnt so much from her and I want to be that role model for my girls.” Rafia has lived her life on her terms and her only regret is taking her health for granted. “Right now, I’m not at the best of health. I could’ve stretched a few more years had I invested in myself when I was younger,” she exclaims.
Rafia still hasn’t had her Miracle Moment but she has a good idea of what it will be like. She would like to see every Pakistani child to be able to read and comprehend. “I want universal education in the country and when I’m able to do that, that’s when I want to get the Miracle Woman status.” Though Rafia Khan feels she still has a long way to go, she certainly deserves to be one of the 100 Pond’s Miracle Women 2016 for her immense contributions to the field of education.
Dr. Shaista Effendi
She is a doctor
She is compassionate
She is accomplished
“The first toy which was presented to me by my mother on my request was a doctors’ set when I was quite young. And that’s where it all began,” says Dr.Shaista, a Consultant, Reconstructive, Aesthetic and Burns Surgeon in Karachi. Trained at the DOW Medical College in Pakistan and then in the United Kingdom and the United States, Dr.Shaista was very clear about her aims and objectives since she was a young girl. It was in her third year at DOW Medical College when a little boy with a bite on his hand visited the hospital but there was no plastic surgeon to help him and from there she knew plastic surgery is what she wants to specialise in.
Trained under the guidance of some of the best consultants from across the world for reconstruction, Dr. Shaista returned to Pakistan to help her own people. She joined DOW University and helped to revamp and renovate the system there from the hiring and training of teachers to the examination systems for students. She also helped to develop the Burns Centre in Civil Hospital, Karachi. “The Burns Centre is the largest in Pakistan and we treat a variety of patients including acid and flame burn victims. It is very difficult to turn a poor patient away who is in such desperate need of help,” explains Dr.Shaista. Therefore, she worked hard to enlarge the facility and help as many patients as possible. “Our country is like heaven, filled with good people. Once they know they are contributing to the good and honest cause, they do not hesitate to give. And this public-private sector partnership still continues.” While supporting many causes, Dr.Shaista continued her research and training and the kind of training required for such a field is no doubt, strenuous, and she finds this to be a constant battle. She did, at times, feel weak when she found the lack of support from the people she considered her mentors. “There’s a constant male grouping that happens. They’re like armed forces standing against you,” she says, but one has to realise that each such instance is something to learn from and must be considered a stepping stone towards the ladder of success.
“Looking back I do wonder how I did it all,” Dr.Shaista says with a smile. “Before I was married, I had no lateral worries and all I had to concentrate on was my work, my passion. My parents would visit me every 6 months and it was would work out perfectly. But when I returned to Pakistan and got married, it was a whole new ball game where I had to juggle so much simultaneously. When I’d be at work, I’d worry about home and vice versa. Sometimes, I did feel guilty that I wasn’t giving enough time to my children but thankfully, my mother chipped in a lot with them. After all, 24 hours in a day are a lot, and I pulled through those difficult days,” she reminisces.
The very passionate and empathetic Dr.Shaista has a very different take on beauty. “A woman is very strong and her beauty is something that is reflected from within her. The features of a woman’s face and her skin colour are immaterial,” she believes. Therefore, when she receives burns or acid victims, their complete rehabilitation does not only include their own counselling but also the counselling of theie near and dear ones. They have to understand where the patient’s real beauty lies, support them by acceptance and reassurance to help the patient become comfortable in their own skin. Dr.Shaista did a special diploma in counselling in the later years of her career to make this possible for her patients and their families.
Considering her personal life, this highly accomplished plastic surgeon feels her children are her miracles but when looking at her professional sphere, each time a patient leaves after being treated is her Miracle Moment. Also, every time Dr.Shaista acquires new qualification, it is a very pleasant moment for her. Indeed, there is no age limit to learning and when we have doctors such as Dr.Shaista in Pakistan leading the field of medicine, the poor health conditions of the country are sure to improve soon. People say that doctors develop thick skin and patients are a mere product for them on which they have to work, without any feelings attached, but the Miracle Journey of Dr.Shaista Effendi proves them wrong at so many levels.
Shehnaz Basit Ikram
She is a textile designer
She is a mother
She is a strong
An advocate of women’s empowerment and with a successful career in textiles for almost 2.5 decades, Shehnaz Basit Ikram, the COO at Gul Ahmed, is a source of sheer inspiration for women in Pakistan. She began her journey right after her graduation from the National College of Arts in Lahore and has been with Gul Ahmed since then. “When I started at Gul Ahmed, I wanted to bring about a change in the history of the textile industry in Pakistan. 25 years down this road, I am very glad and satisfied about the fact that we were the spinners of the change that has allowed our textile industry to reach this level of recognition and respect today,” says Shehnaz. “The textile industry is big, we dictate fashion patterns as the seasons change. New technology helps a great deal and female textile designers are in demand. I am very proud to be a part of this industry and its’ achievements.” The vivacious Shehnaz is, of course, very happy with where she is at this point in her life and the dreams that she had as a college student have all been realised through her hard work.
Thanks to the support of her family, Shehnaz was able to put up a brave front before the ups and downs of life. “Everyone was very supportive, from my father to my mother to my husband and children. It is because of them that I was able to pull off the dual roles of a mother and a career woman,” Shehnaz recollects. She has a lot of respect for all the female staff working under her and says “they have it harder. Their shift starts much earlier. In the morning, they send off their children to school and bring their own meals to last them through the working hours. When they go back, they have their home duties to fulfil. I am privileged and realise that even more when I see them. I love to be their mentor and encourage them to pursue their dreams. We support them in every way we can, whether it is the provision of day care facilities or taking care of their safety and working environment.” Shehnaz advises women to step out into the workforce since it is the need of the hour. A woman’s income can contribute to the education of her children. At work, a woman also learns management skills which further help her in life, allowing her to be a better spouse and mother. “When she understands the problems her husband faces at work, she is able to create a better marital relationship. She can also warn her children about the demands and hardships of life and prepare them,” explains Shehnaz.
Shehnaz believes that she owes all her achievements to her mother. “She was widowed at a very young age and she is the reason behind all her children’s successes.” She taught Shehnaz how to be strong and manage her time. When looking back, she cannot recall even a single moment of weakness professionally. “Every day in the morning I am excited to go to work and do lots of things. I manage my routine – exercise, family, children, husband and my mother. If you are determined, everything becomes easy. I have had struggles in life but I have learnt how to deal with them and emerge victorious.”
Shehnaz Basit Ikram has had plenty of Miracle Moments and exclaims that they keep coming. “This is also a Miracle Moment, giving my first interview ever and being one of the 100 Ponds Miracle Women for 2016,” she says with a smile. “Each achievement has brought a lot of fulfilment.” She is candid, she is smart and she knows she can do it. She is someone who looks at each challenge dead in the eye and gives it a wink! And that is exactly why she is a Miracle Woman.
Shomaila Loan Maker
She is a lawyer
She is a mother
She is complete
A mother of 2 teenage boys, Shomaila Loan Maker is currently working as the Chief Legal Counsel at Habib Bank Limited. At this point in her life, she claims to be very content. Picking the birth of her children to be her Miracle Moment, she feels if given the chance to do anything differently in life, she wouldn’t. From every experience, good or bad, Shomaila tries to learn and constantly improve herself.
Shomaila identifies 2 main challenges that she has had to face over the course of her life. The first one came about when she lost her father at the age of 20 while she was still studying at a university abroad. She had to come back to take over the family business of hand knotted carpets. “They had bets I wouldn’t last more than 3 months and I am glad they lost that bet. I lasted a good 15 years. I did my duty and after that we wrapped up the business,” says Shomaila, looking back. Once the business was wrapped up, she faced yet another challenge – the challenge to reinvent herself. “It was time to reinvent myself. That was another challenge at that age because I had two young kids. I went back to law school to complete my degree and returned to Pakistan as a qualified lawyer to find myself a job. A lot of people didn’t take me seriously as they thought I was from an affluent background, a begum, looking for a job. No matter how well I did or how many prizes I got, it made no difference to people. I even worked for free for a while to prove my metal and then started right at the bottom from a meagre salary. However, I always considered rejection as a step to climb up and its always been a step to success,” explains Shomaila.
With the support of her husband, Shomaila was finally able to reinvent herself but did not find it easy at the work place. She does claim to witness underlying gender bias in the field of law as there are very few women in senior positions at law firms in Pakistan. She also admits that women do, in fact, find it very hard to maintain careers as tough as being lawyers. Working for long hours is difficult for them as they have left their children behind at home who they have to care for no matter what. They have to keep in mind the societal pressures and expectations. Therefore, the environment in which women in Pakistan operate is not the most amenable. Shomaila feels you have to have good working ethics, you have to deliver on time, and prove that you are indispensible for your employer. Then only will they be willing to work for you. “With my previous employer, I worked on the weekends. I had to be available always and I simultaneously had to be available for my children too,” she says. Of course, she is multi-tasked but there are, after all, only 24 hours in a day. Then how did she manage? “Normally, I’d give up on my social life and honestly, I was happy to do that.”
Back in the early 80s, it was not common for women in Pakistan to go abroad for higher education but Shomaila did and she has her mother to thank for that. The one thing her mother taught her 5 children was to stand on their feet and be financially independent. Indeed, her mother lay the foundation on which Shomaila was able to build so much more – she grew up to be a strong woman who knows not just how to take care of her family but also of herself and show the world that when a woman sets her goals, the first step towards turning the invisible to visible has already been taken.
Zareena Asghar Khan
She is a humanitarian
She is a mother
She is tolerant
“My grandfather was instrumental in setting up National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases so when I was approached for a position on the board, I thought it’s something he started and that I should carry it forward. I felt it to be my purpose that I have to give back to the society that God has so kindly given me.” Today Zareena Asghar Khan is a founder trustee of this foundation which treats patients free of cost and helps them to get back on their feet. She is also a demonstrator in the line of floral art history and very involved in horticulture.
While her children were young, Zareena entered the field of floral art and learnt quite a bit. During her travels with her family, she would go see flower shows. “I had to juggle In-laws, family, 3 children and then grandchildren. All that was a struggle”. As far as National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases is concerned, initially it was slightly difficult to raise funds and it took time to develop a good reputation. However, soon people were convinced that they are contributing to a good cause. Now that Zareena has established the trust, people are always ready to help.
Zareena’s mother always helped her surmount the challenges. She passed away a couple of years ago and according to Zareena, she was a very elegant and artistic lady. “That breed now isn’t there anymore. I would thank her for all she did, for her encouragement and support. She believed in me wholeheartedly. “While Zareena managed to pull through her own health issues and a surgery, with the support of her husband, she feels helpless when it comes to her little grandchild, who, because of the doctor’s negligence, became a special child. “That delightful little child went into coma and suffered brain damage,” explains Zareena with tears in her eyes. “Even now I get a little emotional when I think about it.” Having a tight knit family can help overcome so many obstacles and Zareena has been blessed with just that.
According to Zareena, emotional independence allows a woman to be internally strong but by no means should it make you detached. You should seek family support and be there for all those who may need you in turn. She advices younger girls to not be reluctant in asking for help and to be confident about their decisions. But at the same time, they must not be afraid to admit their mistakes, if any. It’s important to be financially independent as well and she believes “a lot of things you want to do, your husband may not feel he can afford it or be too enthusiastic about it. Don’t let that set you back, live your dreams and fulfill them with your own hard work.”
NICVD is Zareena’s Miracle. Recently, an elderly couple came to the foundation. The husband had been a vegetable vendor all his life. He managed to set up his children and only managed to save about Rs.30000 for himself, whereas he needed a bypass which costs Rs.120,000. Zareena and her colleagues agreed to help him. The moment they told the couple they would pay most of the money, their faces lit up. “The joy on their face and the way he stood up and went to thank Almighty that we’ve done this for him, it was a very emotional thing to behold.” There have been a lot of such instances for Zareena and she relates another incident by saying “we were desperately in need of funds some time back and owed the hospital a tremendous amount. Friends and God came through when I asked for help. That, too, was a very big Miracle Moment.” At institutions such as NICVD the need for funds is constant. To support such a foundation so selflessly is a great act of charity and as long as humanitarian people like Zareena Asghar Khan continue to exist in Pakistan, who love changing lives, our country will always remain to be a warm, beautiful place.