Social work gives me relief and mental peace. Sometimes listening to other people’s sorrows helps you forget yours.
My project in Baldia Town is the result of a long quest on my life’s journey. My life, and the aims I work towards, have been moulded by facing some of the harsher realities of life.
My mother died when I was just 5 years old. Being the eldest of my siblings, I felt all their responsibilities land on my shoulders. Especially because my father remarried two years after my mother’s death.
Life was tough. I wished I could be carefree and have the little luxuries other children with mothers in could enjoy. I wished it could be someone else’s job to wake me up for sehri in Ramadan. These are little things, but the absence of them leaves a shadow on childhood.
The turning point of my life was being selected in Youth Exchange Student program (YES) in 2004. This event acted as catalyst – it groomed me and pushed me towards self-development. It was a golden opportunity for girls like me to refine the hidden skills in ourselves.
Childhood didn’t last long. I wasn’t even 18 when, due to some issues with my stepmom, I was called back home from the US. The end result was I got married to someone in my relatives. This was how I was introduced to Baldia Town.
My husband and in-laws are conservative and strict. During my early days in Baldia Town I got to know of how women are not allowed to step out of their homes, and that they couldn’t attend college. All avenues of empowerment were so far out of their reach. There were too many obstacles, both in people’s mindsets and also regarding location and resources.
My situation took me deep into the dark valleys of depression. I attempted to kill myself. During this turmoil, I was the mother of my first child only a year after marriage. I was only 18.
It took me two years to come out of that depression phase. By then I was again pregnant with my second son.
In 2009 another catalyst of an event happened. I got to meet my mentor, Farah S. Kamal. She has always been one of the most powerful women I know.
At first sight she didn’t recognize me; I was not the same person she knew three years back.
She asked me, “What you want to do with your life?”
I told her how women are suffering in the area I’m living in. How I wanted to start a home school for them. A place where I can teach them English language, basic literacy, and computer studies. In my mind this was the only way to empower them.
By then I already had bought my first computer by selling my wedding ring for 5K.
Farah asked me if I had some space in mind for this particular center. I then told her I had emptied my bedroom and was going to use it for this.
Thus, with the help of my mentor, I began my journey to empower women.
I faced so many hurdles. I wasn’t just battling to change minds of people in my society, I had to fight with my own people at home. The burden was immense. I was responsible for all home chores in my joint family system, and had to figure out a way to devote time for the women I wanted to help.
I used to conduct all classes myself because I wasn’t able to afford staff. Bills were paid with great difficulty, but my aims were high. I never stopped.
I am still struggling to make my own vocational center. I learned foil work, jewelry making, textile designing, interior designing, and have completed beautician courses. I added these conducted by myself to my center just because I wasn’t able to afford a teacher’s salary!
I began to teach women at different timings. I then took a daring step and moved the classes out of my house to a place on rent, just because the number of women at my centre were increasing every day.
After moving to the bigger place the challenge was to pay the rent. For this a very good friend stepped forward and did the fundraising. She devised a warm-hearted plan that touched me to my core. On my birthday, she gifted me an entire year’s rent for my center. This helped me save money and so I was able to hire staff for my center.
I was a panelist at the Youth Leaders session at Karachi Literacy Session last year. I got to meet the chairperson of WDFP. She told me my work inspired her, and she mentioned she wants to do some projects in Maripur.
I asked her to consider starting some good projects in Baldia Town as well. I explained my vision of starting a Community Center for peace and harmony. We would offer indoor games to the youth and the women, and when they come to play we can also teach them life skills.
In places like Baldia Town it’s commonplace to see teenagers pushed towards the easy money in criminal activities. Their favorite places are dabbu where they are offered games of carom and snooker, as well as video games. Here they meet many criminal minded people who manipulate them into helping with their illegal activities.
My center is especially made for the purpose of engaging this age group towards some positive activities and to motivate them towards positive opportunities. We haven’t faced any safety problems, and have successfully changed minds. People have now accepted our way of working. Most of them appreciate our efforts towards society.
I am still running my vocational center and I spend most of my salary from my post of project coordinator at WDFP on my center. Within a few years, more than 400 women have graduated from my center in sections
Community Peace and Harmony Center is all about understanding each other’s perspectives and points of view. It is a platform where a diversity of people can gather.
The most exciting thing I have learned in my work is this recipe to bring harmony and peace to our fractured society – the more people spend time around one other, the more they understand each other.