The Pond’s Miracle Women movement is unique – every year it recognises 100 exceptional Pakistani women, chosen by 10 Miracle Mentors who are inspirational women themselves. Each one of the 100 Pond’s Miracle Women has a remarkable story and, like last year, we will be posting all of them. We kick off this year’s Pond’s Miracle stories with actress Zeba Bakhtiar’s Pond’s Miracle Women.
Zeba has chosen a fascinating group of women including a social worker, a lawyer, teachers, doctors, a football coach and one of my favourite mummy-bloggers, Drama Mama. Read on to find out more about these brilliant women!
She is a teacher
She is a mother
She is patriotic
“Our country is making atom bombs, meanwhile 25 million Pakistani kids are on the roads. Drawing room discussions comprise of topics limited to politics and complaining about our leaders. But what are we doing on our level?” questions Asma Tughral, the CEO o SAYA Trust School. Since the past 10 years, she has been running her own school in the suburbs of Islamabad. Education was always valuable for her so she made sure she completed hers after her marriage and right after that pursued teaching as a profession. She hasn’t stopped since, even after becoming a mother. She’s taught in schools, colleges, universities and now is running her own school to cater to the needs of underprivileged children.
Starting a school is not an easy job and Asma, too, had her share of difficulties. She started off by teaching poor children under the shadow of a tree. “Gradually we got a ceiling over our heads, then one room, a second, and then a third. First we had to convince the parents to send their daughters to school, then we had to find capable teachers, the likes of those teaching in reputed schools of Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. We had to train those teachers, find volunteers, raise funds and make a proper teaching system.” According to Asma, it is the first step you take that is difficult; then the way forward becomes easier.
With the support of her husband and in laws, Asma managed to give time to her children along with her work. They would go to school to study, while Asma would go to school to teach. The rest of the day, they would be together. However, the one regret she has is not having been able to spend time with her mother, who has by now passed away. Careers can take a back seat but human relationships can’t, parents can’t. “When my mother would call me while I was busy, I would tell her I couldn’t speak to her at that moment. Now I realize, if your parents call, put everything aside, and listen to them, even if they’re talking about things like who won the cricket match, who scored the four. There is nothing more important than your parents,” she advises.
While financial independence is important, Asma feels emotionally it’s good to depend on someone. “Otherwise one would get lonely,” she says. Her work has changed her for the better; she has more humility and she’s more sensitive. “Previously everything I had, seemed like my right. Now I realise that these are all blessings and privileges.” Running her own school has taught her that the key to personal happiness is spreading happiness. Asma’s message to young girls is similar. She says, “All educated girls are responsible for the education and health of their supporting families, maids, servants. Pay back to the society, it doesn’t always have to be just about yourself.”
Asma’s Miracle Moment was the day her school first started functioning. They bought uniforms and shoes for their 20 students. “On Monday when they came they were so happy and so proud. I called my husband and told him to come to the school immediately, because a moment like this will never come again. The way they were looking at each other, they evoked feelings in me which I’ve never felt before. I saw so much pride in their eyes, I’ve never experienced such pride ever”. This is what true happiness looks like, spreading positivity, smiles and hope. And with Miracle Women like Asma Tughral, we cannot help but hope for an educated and moving forward Pakistan.
Dr Farah Bari Khan
She is a doctor
She is a mother
She is zealous
Farah’s journey started back in 1991 after she graduated from Khyber Medical College Peshawar. Today she works as a Senior Manager Administration for Indus Hospital for Gynecology. Farah has seen the worst days of medical care facilities in Pakistan. “Pregnant women used to come to the Civil Hospital and after their delivery they would see stray cats eating the placenta inside the ward. Every day I used to come back home with depression.” Conditions like these made Farah take the road less travelled.
Farah has faced various hurdles along the way. After graduating she got married to her cousin who is not only a doctor but also a social worker and philanthropist. Her husband, studying to become a cardiac surgeon, warned her about his long hours. Farah had always envisioned herself to be more of a family person than a career person so she was fine with this situation. However, after facing three miscarriages and battling with depression, she started working at a hospital. After 2 years of treatment she was able to conceive. Faced with the dilemma of keeping a nanny and continuing with her work, or to become a stay-at-home mother, she decided on the latter. For 7 years, she was focused on raising her 3 children; 2 sons and a daughter. This was a tough period in her life. People told her she was wasting her potential and she felt the same.
Once Farah’s children started school she began her training at the hospital, and came face to face with a very different world. Troubled with the extremely poor standards there, she asked her husband to help. He raised funds through donors and renovated the emergency gynaecologist department. Farah soon discovered that maintaining the good standards was the harder task. The donor offered to take care of the finances provided that Farah worked there. She agreed, and after her residency she put her other plans aside and decided to stay and look after the department. “When I started working in January 2004 at the Civil Hospital it was a turning point in my life”. She became a full time administrator, taking care of the labour room which, till today, is comparative to AKU. In 2013 Farah completed her post-graduation in Health Management and 2 years later she joined Indus Hospital as Senior Management Administrator in the obstetrics gynaecology department.
Farah’s secret for work-life balance is hard work, dedication, planning and passion. Being financially stable is also very important. According to her, “once a woman is financially stable, she becomes emotionally stable too”. However she urges girls everywhere to not choose career over family and motherhood. You can have all three simultaneously. Time and responsibilities are manageable. Coming back from work, Farah would want nothing more than to just sleep, but instead she would give time to her children, and teach them herself rather than sending them to tuitions. When her husband’s salary was not enough to send their children to good private schools, her own salary went into paying their tuitions. “This nation needs an educated mother and a young generation brought up by their own mothers,” she claims. Farah herself was best friends with her mother after her marriage. “I want to thank her and tell her that whatever I am today is because of her.” Like they say, behind a successful man is a woman, a strong woman is behind another strong woman.
Now Farah shares the same bond with her children. There were moments of weaknesses for her when her children were very young. Many a time she thought about quitting, but her passion to work for the less privileged and her trust in God kept her going.
As far as her Miracle Moment is concerned, Farah claims she has had several. When her mother took her first steps at the age of 75 after a knee replacement, the time when her husband was awarded Sitara-e- Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan and when her children got admissions in medical colleges are moments which give her immense happiness and pride. Balancing family and work is hard, but Farah shows us how it can be done, without compromising one for the other. That is exactly why she truly is a Miracle Woman.
Dr. Jamal Ara
She is a doctor
She is a mother
She is dependable
“I wanted to reach the top. I really struggled for medical school, did my post graduation at Welsh university and then went on to study at Harvard Medical School.” The beautiful and the ever-smiling Dr. Jamal Ara is not only the head and professor of medicine at United Medical and Dental College, but also works with two schools. Located in a remote area in Korangi, one of them is a special school while the other is a regular school. Her aim is to develop inclusive education. “If I put special children with the ‘normal’ ones, they learn,” explains Dr. Jamal Ara. She believes that with proper education and training, the children in these schools have great potential to become a very important part of society.
When she came back to Pakistan after her studies, Dr. Jamal Ara started working in the public sector. There, she had to work with the masses with very few resources, describing it as a ‘mad house’. “With my personality I wanted to give them the best and that struggle kept me going,” reveals Dr. Jamal Ara. The second portion of her work involves her working as a national coordinator for chemical safety. The powder, soap and other products we use daily include chemicals. These chemicals produce a lot of changes in the body and can be misused. “The National Poison Control Center was under my supervision. I learnt that the youth is so stressed out with emotions they end up attempting suicide and para-suicide. So, at the Poison Control Centre we provide treatment and counseling to ensure that they don’t end up taking poison again”.
Apart from her struggles as a doctor, Dr. Jamal Ara has an additional set of challenges at home. Her only child, Maryam, is special. She has not developed speech and has Down syndrome. When she was diagnosed with this condition, Dr. Jamal Ara had a decision to make. She asked herself whether she should give up her career to care for her child. “But at that time I gained strength from God. I thought I’ll grow with my baby. So I juggled the needs of my child and my work together. I think it’s difficult for me, and also for Maryam. Society has to understand and learn how to behave with special children or special people and have to make their own children understand as well. Special children need certain assistance. If someone has grandparents, you have to assist them, they become special people too.” As if her problems were not any less, Maryam was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and it became very difficult for Dr. Jamal Ara to handle. She failed to understand how she’d manage her sugar in school and faced uncertainty regarding the future. Maryam’s school, however, has so far been very cooperative and even makes her exercise with other children. Dr. Jamal Ara herself makes a planner for her daughter every morning, labeling her meal time, regulating her exercise time, time to give her insulin injections and blood testing. She has trained a nanny who has been with her for last 18 years. “She’s so trained she knows Maryam better than me. I kept my timing of work and her schooling and extracurricular activity along with my timings. I made time management a norm of my life,” says Dr. Jamal Ara
Maryam gives her mother much to be proud of. In fact, Dr. Jamal Ara’s Miracle Moment was when Maryam was recognized as a national and international painter. She has had an exhibition at Munich, with the name of ‘Very Special Art’ and one at Washington, D.C. It goes on to show how every cloud has a silver lining. Difficult times will lead to better days and Dr. Jamal Ara’s life is living proof.
She is a media person
She is a mother
She is empowered
Content and successful, Miracle Woman Eram Masood is living the dream life of any professional woman, not just in Pakistan but anywhere else in the world. Currently, she holds 3 official designations – She is an advisor for Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network , with 13 counties to look after in Asia; She one of the directors at a PR and Consultancy firm and last but not the least, she is the only Pakistani woman to be part of the British Fashion Council which works under the London Fashion Week. She is also a mother of two and holds the empowerment of women as a subject that is very close to her heart.
Eram did not have it easy but she is a firm believer of the fact that when you know what you want to achieve, difficulties become possibilities and for each problem there exists a solution. “The only challenge is that I have a lot of turbulence in my life in terms of staying in one point. In the last 14 years I have travelled between the UK and Pakistan at least 6 times in a year. When I come to Pakistan things get disturbed in London and vice versa. Staying away from my kids for work, especially when they were young was pretty tough but we have a very strong bonding. I became a mother when I was very young so they have grown up with me. A new struggle is developing for me now because of the age factor. I sometimes feel tired and weak, and the constant travelling gets to me,” explains Eram when talking about her struggles throughout her career. For this very reason, she advises young girls to think about themselves too. “Things are always important, people are always important but some people are special and you, too, come in that category.” To unwind and relax, Eram makes sure she spends some of her time watching television, listening to music and cooking.
As far as emotional independence is concerned, Eram proclaims to not show her emotions when she is working. She also believes that financial independence is very important. “If you have a good remuneration package to take care of things, emotions are at least subsided.” Eram also cautions that gender inequality is prevalent not just in Asia but in developed countries such as the UK or USA as well. “If there are 10 things to do, women manage to do 7 with their own might but with 3, they will always need a man to put his pressure down,” she says. So, she suggests that “when you go out and work and get an appointment letter, you must make sure whatever you are getting, whether it’s the salary or the number of holidays or maternity benefits, it is all equal to that of the men working in that firm.”
For all those women suffering from domestic violence, Eram urges them to do something about it. She advises women to seek someone’s help, a parent, a neighbour or a friend whom they trust and look for a solution. Women in our country are always ready to compromise but Eram believes by compromising, women are being unfair to themselves.
For the very dynamic and enterprising Eram, her first emotional Miracle Monet was the birth of her son after 22 hours of labour. The second Miracle Moment which comes from her professional sphere was her being nominated in top 200 women in the world for Who’s Who in New York. “I got the shield for that in 2011. After that I was also in top 20 British Asian women in the UK and top 10 women in Pakistan in 2001. Erum knew she was destined for greatness, the way she conquered each difficulty that came her way. Without a doubt, the journey of Eram Masood is sheer inspiration and calls to show that mums too can have it all!
She is a writer
She is an educator
She is delightful
‘Agar pyasa kunway ke paas nahi ja sakta tou kunwa aye ga pyasay ke paas’ (If the thirsty can’t go to the well, the well will itself come to the thirsty). This is the mantra around which Hiba Masood has designed her life. She describes herself as a delightful person; someone who is interesting, creative, dynamic, and a fighter to the core. But her feelings couldn’t be further from delight after the rejection she faced from the world because her son was a special child. Countless schools, both in Pakistan and abroad, refused to admit her son. One school went to the extent of admitting him and then, after observing him behaving differently in a subsequent meeting, proceeding to return the fee and telling Hiba and her husband that they don’t want their son. That is when the parable about the thirsty person and the well, spoken by her mother, took over Hiba’s life and changed it completely.
Instead of running after schools and institutions she decided to become part of the solution. She started home-schooling her son and opened up ‘Veritas Learning Circle’, Karachi’s first alternative progressive learning space, and an after school enrichment center for children called ‘Happy Place’. The writer in her rose again with a passion and she started blogging under the pseudonym ‘Drama Mama’. So amazing was her experience of home-schooling her son that she decided to continue doing the same with her two younger daughters as well. Now, with more than 20 thousand followers on her ‘Drama Mama’ page, home-schooling three kids under the ages of 7, running ‘Happy Place’, and being a consultant for Liberty Books, Hiba Masood is living what most of us can only dream of – a self-actualized life.
Hiba speaks about her challenges as part and parcel of her successes. Her son, while being a challenge, is the light of her life and has been the inspiration behind her truly finding her purpose. “My challenges have been pertaining to raising him but at the same time wherever I am today is because of that. Getting rejected from schools made me open Happy Place and VLC. And trying to understand him and raise him is what made me a writer. Writing is my art and he is my heart so they kind of both came together and are the two biggest gifts of my life.”
Hiba, while qualifying that home-schooling may not be for everyone, is a big proponent of breaking the shackles of a rigid syllabus. “I didn’t send my other two children to regular school because it has been one of the best decisions I have made. It’s liberating, child-led – the kind of education that anyone, if they tried it, would want to give to their kids. The day my kids are interested in space we are exploring galaxies. The day they are interested in how much things weigh, we spend the week weighing everyone and everything we can find. This kind of immersive learning is not possible in schools today. The curriculum is top down. It doesn’t matter what your child is interested in, you have to study what you are being told to study. Why would I leave this kind of freedom for that rigidity? My kids are learning, reading, writing, and it doesn’t matter at what age they do it. It’s not an accomplishment that my son was reading at 2 and daughter is doing addition at 4. I’m just happy they are exploring their love for learning – something that schools talk about but miss out on.”
“It’s the difference between lying in bed at night surrounded by family you love but feeling suffocated and trapped because you don’t know who you are, and the feeling of absolute freedom because you have yourself figured out,” says Hiba when asked what independence means to her. She speaks about how she struggled with her writing, her relationships, and her life in general because she was letting other people validate what she does. “I gave too much power to other people. Approval or validation was what made me happy and I really suffered consequences. Now I have decided that no one else makes me happy, I make me happy and that is what emotional independence is. Don’t give anyone else the power to approve of who you are and how you feel. That has been my biggest lesson in my 30s and I would advise it to anyone. If they have power to make you happy, they have power to make you unhappy. I don’t want to be influenced manipulated or lovingly controlled by anyone anymore.” And with the passion and determination Hiba exudes, we have no doubt that anyone will ever stand in the way of her happiness and success.
She is a football coach
She is a sportswoman
She is empowered
“My aim in life is women’s empowerment in Pakistan and I plan to do it through football,” says Sadia Sheikh, the football pioneer in Pakistan and coach for Diya Women’s Football club. She is also the only FIFA administrator in the country.
Being a sportsman in Pakistan is not easy but being a sportswoman creates a whole new battlefield for anyone who wants to play a sport for a living. According to Sadia, one of the struggles of being a female sportsperson is that “males don’t like it if a female comes up. They get so scared that they start telling stories about you which are not true.” But it all gets worse when women turn against fellow women. That really hurts her. She feels that women need the support of other women to be successful. Sadia trains in Lyari in Karachi, where she has already coached about 2000 girls to date. “Fighting people’s cultural beliefs is hard. When I go to Lyari to train, the families feel that I am going to ‘spoil’ their girls or make them tread a wrong path. But I have realised that when someone comes from outside, the family is apprehensive and are uncomfortable. Once they get to know and trust me, they stop creating issues. They know I am there to help,” explains Sadia. To help create this trust, Sadia urges female family members to accompany their daughters to where Sadia coaches, so they can see for themselves what exactly she has to offer to their daughters and what kind of an environment they will be playing in. In these coaching sessions, girls are not just taught football; they also learn how to speak English, how to eat at a table and how to communicate with other people gracefully. So, what is offered to them is complete grooming along with acquiring the skill to play a sport professionally.
Raising funds to run a football coaching centre is yet another challenge faced by Sadia. As it is, very few organisations in Pakistan want to support sports but when it comes to supporting female clubs financially, that is rather unheard of. “It is still easier to get money for males. I want to have tournaments for girls. I want their capabilities to be displayed in front of the whole country, but it is difficult to find support. What pains me a lot is when some of the men sitting in big companies ask me if my girls would go out with them for dinner. For them, women are commodities. They can never see them as sportspersons.” Because of such setbacks, Sadia has to do with the support she gets from her family and friends – to have her girls play more internationally is a dream that for now, is far from becoming a reality.
At home, Sadia faced the same hurdles that any typical girl in Pakistan wanting to play sports professionally would face. “My mum comes from an Iranian background and has been very supportive of me and my ambitions but my father’s upbringing was very different. He came from a feudal background and he didn’t like females playing sports. He wanted me to do something more regular like getting a job in a bank.” Sadia’s father did not approve of the fact that to play football, she would have to play in front of men wearing sports attire. “My mother said you married me and my daughters are different just like me. You should have thought about all this when we got married!” says Sadia as she tells us about how her mother dealt with her father to safeguard her dreams. However, Sadia believes that deep down inside, her father is very proud of her but he has never said it and he never will. “Now when he sees my work and what I have been able to achieve, he appreciates it. He is happy that I help poor people’s daughters get training and then eventually jobs,” explains Sadia with a satisfied smile. She does understand where her father is coming from. “I work in areas such as Lyari, Korangi, SITE area and he worries whether I’ll get out of those areas alive!” Sadia laughs.
For Sadia Sheikh, her Miracle Moment is when her girls end up getting a job. “It really makes me happy because these girls were rejected by their parents and throughout their brothers were given preference since the day they were born. But when these girls go home with salaries and buy not just groceries but cars for their families, it brings tears to my eyes. This is what I strive for, to empower women and to bring their status to the level of their brothers in the eyes of their families,” says Sadia, with tears rolling down her face. Sadia’s Miracle Journey is surely inspirational. We talk about gender inequality in our drawing rooms but do little to wipe this menace off the face of our society. With women like Sadia leading the way, the day is not far when Pakistan’s female football team will bring the world cup back home amidst cheers.
She is a designer
She is an artist
She is out of the box
“I always look at the good. I never think bad will happen and this positivity has really worked for me.” Indeed, the extremely talented and eager to learn Shafaq Habib has come a long way as a jewelry designer from where she started 35 years ago. She graduated with a degree in arts and textile designing but had no experience in jewelry making nor did she have formal training. However, her quest to learn about this technical art took her to various places in New York. “I used to go to diamond exchange in New York and would spend the whole day questioning the people there. They used to teach me techniques, tricks of the trade, that’s how I came to join classes there and learnt how to make jewelry.”
Back in 1981 when she formally started working on her first collection, there was no concept of jewelry designers. Her first exhibition was a complete sell-out, encouraging her to hold exhibitions all over America and once a year in Pakistan. People would look forward to her arrival because with her, would come an array of beautiful jewelry with unique pearls and designs. “Before I left America for good, I had the experience of designing for Lord and Taylor there,” she says with pride.
When Shafaq returned to Pakistan in the 90s, she had established a name for herself and had a strong client base. She started reviving the old techniques, using kundan and other ethnic designs. “Uncut stones in Pakistan were never used here before. I was the pioneer of using such pieces that too in bog sizes. I wanted to create abstract pieces that were different and were able to stand out. That changed the whole scene in Pakistan. I was the pioneer in Pakistan for jewelry designing I would say and began the concept of statement jewelry pieces.” With the help of her mother, she didn’t face trouble finding skilled workers who translated her ideas into reality. Over the years, other various competitors have joined this industry yet Shafaq continues to have successful exhibitions all over Pakistan and also has a flagship store in Lahore.
Maintaining a work life balance was extremely tough for Shafaq in USA, where she had no family support and had to run the complete show herself. She would work for long hours while she was at Lord and Taylor and soon realized her children are being neglected. That’s when she decided to choose between motherhood and work, where she gave preference to the former and curtailed her work. Many years down the road, she had no regrets about her decisions and her children have given her much to be proud of. “My eldest daughter Misha is a graduate from LSE London. She has also done a degree in jewelry designing from GIA institute and is working as a designer with me. My second daughter, Sahar, is a journalist, she went to University of Michigan and is now working in San Francisco. My son has done film making from University of San Francisco. I’m very glad they’re all artists. They’re into making the world a better place,” she says with a smile.
According to Shafaq, financial independence is very important. “Before my marriage my father used to give me money without me having to ask him ever. After I got married, I felt terribly embarrassed about asking my husband for money although he was very loving and supportive,” she says. “It’s very important that you never have to ask anyone to fulfill your personal needs and requirements.” She also adds that in addition to striving to earn financial independence, all young women should spend some time taking care of themselves and their skin. “Ever since my childhood, I have been using Pond’s cold cream. There’s barely any effort involved and it makes my skin look great!” she chuckles.
One year after she started working, Shafaq held her first exhibition at a doctor’s convention in Washington. Despite many people discouraging her and telling her no one will buy her jewelry, Shafaq went ahead with her instincts with faith in her talents. “One hour into the convention, no one came. My husband and I were a mixture of nerves and embarrassment,” she laughs. After a while, “people started coming and within a few hours I was sold out. People loved my pieces! The next morning everyone was after me for more stuff. That moment was great, I can’t forget that success.” This was her Miracle Moment and it motivated her to never let go of her dreams. Let’s take a leaf out of her books and not fall prey to discouragement. Shafaq Habib’s Miracle journey bears testament to the fact that faith is the key to success.
She is a lawyer
She is an artist
She is emotional
A lawyer by training and an artist at heart, Shanal Kazi returned to Pakistan to connect with her roots and her people after living abroad for many years. “Development in Pakistan happens through industrialisation and different organisations are coming in to make that happen but the communities who are the rightful recipients don’t prosper from that,” she says and to make sure that happens, she is currently working as Assistant Manager CSR at Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company. Her primary job is to ensure that the communities of Thar are prosperous and their lives are enriched by the development that is taking place in their part of the world.
On moving back to Pakistan and pursuing her dreams to create a better future for the people of this country, Shanal saw many of her idealistic views about working in Pakistan shatter, but she still went on trying to do what she could. The first challenge she had to face was overcoming the cultural gap between the East and West and to adjust to the social and cultural norms of this country. “While I felt very connected to my soil, I saw a lot of ethnic and racial disparity which made me realise we are not as united as we should be. That was certainly an awakening for me,” explains Shanal. In addition to that, she also saw the society in Pakistan deeply plagued by gender inequality. “It was very hard for me to start working in a very remote location in Sindh where I’d be the only woman working alongside a team of men. It is very difficult for a man to accept the fact that a woman is reaching a position where she’s successful and she’s making a difference.” Since her job is to be the bridge between the company and the community, she often found herself at crossroads where she have certain commercial interests to take care of and community interests too.
However, the strong and brave Shanal is ready to face these challenges and not let them come in the way of her aspirations. “The most cherished part of all this is that my background also dates back to Tharparkar and it has been touching to go back to the soil and the very people that my grandfather helped,” she says. To date, Shanal’s organization has been able to help 3000 plus women. With a certified gynaecologist and a paediatrician on-board they have opened up a 3-room clinic in the area. She hopes that with her and her team’s determination she can help fight the high infant and maternal mortality rates in Thar. In addition to taking care of the health indicators, Shanal is personally looking after the technical skills training for the project. “About 2000 people are required for this project and we’ve made sure all of these people will be employed from Tharparkar by providing them with special training skills,” proclaims Shanal. Through her passionate work, Shanal hasn’t only founded a health facility for an entire community but has also provided employment.
Just like any other person, there often come moments when Shanal feels weak. She feels that the decision to travel all the way to Tharparkar for days and weeks on end and finding herself to be the only working woman there in a group of men who make her feel weak just because of her gender is what is really disappointing. However, she finds her comfort in her community and interacting with the women there. She also tries to express herself through writing, painting and reading when work gets too stressful. Sometimes, she meditates which brings her a sense of peace.
Whatever she is, Shanal owes it all to her mother who taught her children to think of someone else first irrespective of their social status. Respect comes by giving respect to others. When speaking about her Miracle Moment she relates that “there was this time I was working to do a health camp in Tharparkar and it was late in the evening. We had lost our way with the driver and we were trying to find a road to get on. We found 2-3 houses in the middle of nowhere and I decided to stop there because I needed some water and rest. And in those homes I met these girls who were poorly educated but literate. While chatting with them I felt so happy and inspired because in the main village there were hardly any educated girls and here they were, in the wilderness, speaking English. When we hired one of those girls at Engro as a social mobiliser for women; that was my Miracle Moment.” Indeed, it is the education of women which will help them weave into society as an equal to their male counterparts and with girls like Shanal Kazi leading the way, the day is not far when the underprivileged of this country will rise up and not just be the generators but the recipients of the growth of Pakistan as well.
She is a psychologist
She is a social worker
She is a traveler
Though her profession requires a great deal of serious, unsettling and tiresome work, this nomad of a young girl knows how to lighten up a moment with her smile and candid jokes. Sharmeen Khan is someone who decided to always follow her heart from very early on in life. “My life is very unconventional because I can’t commit to a city for too long. It’s all about balancing family, actual work in the city and requirements in rural areas. It took me time, I was being torn in different directions, but eventually you find a method to strike a balance.” As a clinical psychologist, Sharmeen Khan has two professions; she has her own private practice in Karachi and she’s a board member of an organization called ‘Resettling the Indus’.Her private practice keeps things going, but the voluntary aspect of her work is extremely rewarding. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says. Her goal is to resettle the Indus Valley Civilization to its former glory.
It seems Sharmeen has inherited this spirit of volunteerism and travel from her parents. Both her parents have been major sources of inspiration for her and she attributes whatever she has achieved to her parents. She has been visiting medical camps with her mother since she was seven years old. When the earthquake struck Pakistan in 2005, Sharmeen and her parents left home and went to meet and help the affected. Travelling to and staying in rural areas is no mean feat but Sharmeen is comfortable with it. “My comfort in such settings stems from my father’s love for outdoors and his charitable predisposition as well as my mother’s. My father is a businessman but we would go camping, find a place which needs help and go back to help that place.”
Funding is one of the primary challenges ‘Resettling the Indus’ has to face. Sometimes, lots of money pours in and at other times it’s a small trickle. Sharmeen has been working on emergency disaster relief for six years now and says that the real work begins once the emergencies are over. In 2010, 20 million lives were impacted by the floods and six years later, people are still working for the rehabilitation of these lives. “In the acute phase, it’s just a bandage. Restoration of life starts after the wound has healed. Therefore the need for money continues even after the passage of so many years,” Sharmeen proclaims.
Being a woman and working in rural areas surprisingly isn’t a challenge at all. Shangla for example, where Sharmeen is currently working, is very patriarchal yet so welcoming. “I’ve been leading teams there, they’ve been so respectful, and there haven’t been any closed doors for us. Saying our gender is a challenge is an excuse. We can do anything we set our minds to.” Sharmeen goes on to advice girls to follow their dreams. “If anyone tells you there are limitations or boundaries, don’t believe it. You are what you want to be. Yes, there might be challenges, but challenges are simply an opportunity to learn.” She reveals here that there are organizations like the Rural Support Program Network (RSPN), which work for women across Pakistan and every year they get testimonials from women admitting how they’re more respected at home after becoming earning members of the house. Financial independence leads to higher self-esteem, and that in turn leads to a more fulfilling life.
Taking out time for herself is difficult for Sharmeen. One of the primary reasons she quit her earlier job was to pursue her PhD. Ever since the heatwave, floods and earthquake last year, her PhD has been put on hold. “Sometimes finding that balance becomes difficult and you have to shelf projects for others. It gets overwhelming when there’s no real structure to your life.” But then again, there are beautiful moments which make all the hardship worth it.
In 2010, after the great flood in Pakistan, Sharmeen and her team identified Muzaffargarh as the third most hit region. They worked there and by spring they had a dispensary up and running. They built about 50 houses and right now, there are almost a 1000 houses in that area. During her work there a lady approached Sharmeen and put her newborn granddaughter in her lap, saying that they have named the baby Sharmeen. This was her Miracle Moment which made her understand the scale of impact she had on someone’s life. Similarly, Sharmeen was around Shangla last December and stopped at a chai dhaba for some tea. The chai wala told her he recognized her from the previous earthquake camp, even 10 years later, where Sharmeen and her team had set up a hospital. The fact that the man met her in the middle of nowhere, remembered her from 10 years ago and acknowledged her efforts was heartening. In times like these, Sharmeen is there, day and night, helping people who she has never met before. Indeed, Sharmeen Khan’s Miracle Journey is awe inspiring and the fact that people remember her even after a decade for the work she did for their community is of no surprise.
Syeda Anfas Ali Shah Zaidi
She is a social worker
She is compassionate
She is positive
“There is no higher religion than human service,” says Anfas Anfas Ali Shah Zaidi. Coming from a family of social workers and people motivated to uplift the human welfare in this country, she is determined and very committed to her goals. “My family has done a lot of social work. Even my grandmother worked in interior Sindh as a doctor to help those who lacked access to basic health,” explains Anfas when giving an insight as to how she ended up in the welfare sector, currently presiding over the Ocean Welfare Organization in Karachi. “That is just the kind of the childhood I have had. I have grown up witnessing that sharing and helping makes a difference. I run my own construction-related business as well, which generates the means to help others,” she says. Therefore, from the platform of her education she aims to improve the health standards in Pakistan, educate street children and empower women. She also engages in countering environmental issues such as cleaning beaches.
Working in the construction industry, Anfas faced greater challenges than her male counterparts. According to her, this is a problem in the whole world, but is more deep rooted in Pakistan. “I have to give in fifty percent more to prove myself compared to men. I would get discouraged by men even if my work was good. However, my faith in God is very strong and that kept me going”. She believes in continuing to take tiny steps forward and with time and hard work, challenges start to dwindle.
Social work, too, is by no means easy. The children on the streets include orphans, children who have run away from their homes, those who beg, and to top it all, there are mafias who don’t allow these kids to study. “You have to fight a war to educate these children but if the road to my goals is not difficult, I don’t enjoy it. That is just my nature. I like to be challenged which drives me to do more.” Before Anfas is able to begin educating these children, she has to gain their trust and become friends with them, which also means spending a lot of time on the roads. “I’ve gone to streets with empty plots to make them study and I pay them to study, Rs.50 per child, and give them food and groceries. I also give them clothes for events. That way, I can compensate their loss in income when they come to me to study.” To run this organization, Anfas seeks only the help of her family, her friends and God. Asking the government for help is out of the question since “if they can’t manage the public schools, what help can they extend to me and my cause?”
Financially, independence is extremely important according to Anfas, and without it there cannot be emotional independence. “You will be restricted to certain boundaries since you will have to depend on others and their moods,” she says. However, she does caution young girls that things do not happen overnight. One needs to be strong as well as practical. One also needs to prepare to fight and prove his or her capabilities.
The very motivated Anfas works 16 hours a day and if she works less than that, then she isn’t satisfied. Working for such long hours can take a toll on a person’s skin, especially spending endless hours on the roads under the harsh sunlight and amidst pollution. To counter these negative effects, she takes special care of her skin. “I make sure I cleanse my skin, keep it clean and give myself time.”
Given the law and order situation of the city, her mother often gets nervous about the nature of the work that Anfas undertakes but knows that her daughter is out on the streets for a good cause. Education is valued in her family. Anfas has much to thank her mother for, not just for her support but also the virtues she has instilled in her children. “Whatever I am today and everything that I am doing, I owe it completely to my mother. She has taught us that all genders are equal.”
Starting with 2 children, Anfas’s Miracle Moment was when within 2 months of the beginning of her project, she had 450 street children to teach. There is no doubt that she has encountered several setbacks on the way but with the determination she is holding her ground is truly miraculous. Her journey shows that successful people keep taking action – they make mistakes, but they don’t quit. And with this motto, she is indeed leading Pakistan to a brighter future.
These stories were written by the Pond’s Miracle Journey Team