Finding Courage in the Darkness

Her cellphone rang in the middle of the night. Sleepily, she reached to answer it. Her husband’s name was flickering on the screen. He had left the house to pick up medicine for their son. She picked it up and heard a strange man answer. Instantly alert, she asked the man what he wanted. Where was her husband? His next words paralyzed her. She couldn’t bring herself to comprehend his words.

He asked her to come and identify her husband’s body. He had been shot dead in one of Karachi’s seemingly random acts of violence.

Shaheen hung up the cellphone to a new reality. She was now a widow and her five children were suddenly fatherless.

His murder left Shaheen unsure about how to support herself and her children.

That was the beginning of a series of events that led Shaheen to become an astute entrepreneur.

Initially Shaheen worked at a school. She had always been firmly committed to ensuring each and every child had access to education, and her passion was visible to all. She was promoted to higher positions. Finally she became the school’s Principal.

Shaheen’s powerful vision inspired many parents to send their children to school. As a widow who never compromised on her own children’s education, she became an inspirational figure for mothers in the neighborhood.

Life’s challenges continued to follow Shaheen. She got caught in some internal politics at work where her seniors viewed Shaheen as a threat. She was asked to leave. Again, she found herself struggling to support her.

Shaheen realized she couldn’t rely on unstable jobs to sustain a family. She needed something more permanent, and something of her own that she could control and lead.

It was then that she decided to transform her brilliant vision into a reality, and open a school.

Shaheen walked from door to door in the scorching heat of Sindh, convincing parents to send their children to school, and selecting students who had potential but could not afford to attend school. Shaheen was not just a businesswoman but a strong advocate of educating children, so she waived the fee for many children just so they could grow up to be educated individuals.

As happy as her idea made her, many challenges came her way – finances being the biggest one. She had placed everything she owned at stake – her entire savings, her earnings from selling her flat. Everything. Still she needed more capital.

Just when she was looking for lenders, a representative from Khushhalibank visited her school and offered a loan of 150,000 rupees for expansion. A partner in the USAID funded U.S.-Pakistan Partnership for Access to Credit; Khushhalibank is a part of Pakistan’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and its Microfinance Sector Development Program.

The loan not only financially enabled her to expand, but it also renewed her faith and commitment towards enthusiastically educating students. Today, a few years later, Shaheen has acquired her own land worth 60 lakh rupees for the school and has provided a learning haven to over three hundred children. Having hired twelve teachers, Shaheen is also increasing employment and setting an example for women in her town to work hard and lead their families towards prosperity.

The spark in Shaheen’s eyes shows her enthusiasm and dedication for a better tomorrow. Shaheen said that she couldn’t be more thankful to God and Khushhalibank for helping her turn her dream into a reality.

“This is my first achievement; I still have a long way to go. I want to see branches of Wisdom Grammar School in every city of Pakistan and ensure that children in Pakistan have the right to education regardless of their economic background”, she added.

In a country like Pakistan where according to UNESCO only 65 percent of girls attend primary school and 29 percent go to secondary school, Shaheen’s story shows a laudable achievement.

Shaheen mentioned that her late husband had always encouraged her to become independent. “He facilitated me to continue to learn and participate in regular trainings. He was a very hardworking person who instilled immense confidence and determination in me to work hard in life. Through him that I learnt there is no substitute for hard work and sincerity towards your work”, said Shaheen.

Today a distinct pride reflects in Shaheen’s voice as she mentions that her school has enrolled over 300 students. “We started off with one student who paid a mere 300 rupees but my enthusiasm to educate was no less than it is today. Nothing makes me happier than seeing all those children from our locality walking in the gates of Wisdom Grammar School at 8 AM every morning”, she added.

This article is submitted by Hafsa Sarfaraz

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