"It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover
the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves
that can never, ever, be dimmed."
y mother was pregnant when
my father died, and she suffered
terribly with the loss of her life
partner and supporter. Making it even worse,
members of our family regarded her as a sign
of bad luck. She was criticized for losing her
husband and for not bearing a male child.
She prayed that the baby in her womb would
be a boy so the criticism would stop. Seven
months later, another girl was born, her
fifth daughter. That child was me and with
my arrival, my mother lost her last glimmer
of hope for a son. My grandparents were
convinced she brought bad luck to the family.
Because I had been born a girl and not
the boy the family had prayed for, I was not
given a name. Four months passed before my
aunt finally named me, but the arguments
and criticism continued until my mother was
forced to take her daughters and leave the
house. My grandparents said that because
my father didn’t have a male child, they
weren’t responsible to support his heirs. My
mother started sewing clothes to buy food.
Somehow we managed.
Despite her lack of education, my mother
valued schooling for her daughters. My four
Photo by Sa’adia Khan
16 | JOURNEY OF HOPE
older sisters studied at Diamond Jubilee
School in our village. I joined them at the age
of 4. From the earliest grades, I was good at
school. Every year, from first grade to 10th
grade, I was the top student in my class.
My mother was earning an income and
things were going well. The year my elder
sister completed her primary education, my
mother decided to fulfill my father’s dream
and move us to Gilgit. She bought a home
with the money my father had saved for our
higher education. We girls went to the Army
Public School in Gilgit. With her income and
my father’s pension, she could cover our ex-
penses. Our lives were becoming full of joy.
I studied in Gilgit from third grade to
eighth grade and held onto my position as
top student. After passing my eighth grade
exam, I wanted to attend a well-known,
prestigious high school. I felt that going to
that school would make me more confident.
I shared this dream with my mother. When
she explained our financial situation, I chose
to put my dream on hold in favor of my
family’s happiness. I applied the following
year, passed the qualifying test and inter-
view, but financial obstacles once again
threatened my dream. With money bor-
rowed from a relative, I moved to Ghakuch
where the school is located. My mother gave
me her blessing and reminded me that the
Almighty is there to find solutions to our
problems. “You are going to show the people
that girls can do much better than boys,” she
said. “You are my hope.”
Even though my mother had encouraged
me, I was deeply aware of the burden my
schooling expenses were to the family.
I was able to get half of my school fees and
my living expenses covered by the local
social welfare board. I sought financial help
from other organizations for the rest of the
costs but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, my
mother’s health was declining after years
of hard work. This was unbearable for me.
I was confused and depressed and
considered quitting my studies. I was losing
confidence in myself yet tried to remain
optimistic. A quote from Doe Zantamata
was helpful: “It is only in our darkest hours
that we may discover the true strength of
the brilliant light within ourselves that can
never, ever, be dimmed.”
I passed the 10th grade exam, but with my
mother’s health steadily declining, I offered
to quit school. But her love for education was
unconditional, and she was adamant that
I continue. Sadly, our financial situation
made that impossible.
I then heard from a friend about a
scholarship opportunity with Central Asia
Institute Gilgit (CAIG). CAIG was offering
scholarships to poor and needy students,
especially females. My mother and I visited
the CAIG office and met with the CEO, a kind
and humble man named Saidullah Baig. My
mother wept as she told him our story. He
asked that I complete an application. I went
back for a second interview and was selected
for a scholarship.
With this news, my life changed. A huge
burden was lifted, and my mother was
thrilled. I continued my studies at the Aga
Khan Higher Secondary School, with CAIG
covering my expenses.
I am deeply thankful to Central Asia
Institute for supporting poor girls like me.
A favorite Urdu quote gives me strength
to continue: “Nothing can defeat you until
you accept defeat.” The future is uncertain.
My hope is for support from Central Asia
Institute to continue going forward. l
The name of the author has been changed
to protect her identity. The article was lightly
edited for length and clarity.
CENTRAL ASIA INSTITUTE