Journey of Hope - 2019 JOH 2019 | Page 18

"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." M 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