August Issue 2015

By | People | Society | Published 4 years ago

This is the story of Shama Khatoon, 34, who could not have proved her worth had she cowered before the patriarchal system that characterises Pakistani society. I discovered her at one of Infaq Foundation’s numerous projects that are rendering yeoman services to the underprivileged.

Shama’s early life was no different from that of thousands of girls in Pakistan who are not sent to school. Born in an ultra-conservative Pathan family in a katchi abadi of Karachi, the male refrain she heard since birth was, “Baitiyan parh kar kiya karein gi?” (what use is education for girls?). Shama’s dream was to show her father and two brothers what educated daughters could achieve. Thus began her journey in education. Paradoxically, her mother proved to be her staunchest ally.

When Shama’s brothers were old enough to begin their studies, their father proudly took them to the neighbourhood school for enrolment, leaving a weeping  Shama behind. Two days later her mother, whose assigned duty was to take the sons to school every morning, decided to call it a day. When questioned by her infuriated husband, she declared nonchalantly, “I refuse to take  my sons  to school when  my daughter cannot  go.” That clinched the issue. Shama was also enrolled in school the very next day.

When Shama reached the age when she could “argue” — in her teens as she puts it — she began to fend for herself and her two younger sisters. After passing her Matric, she took up a teaching job to facilitate her own and her sisters’ education.

The list of her educational qualifications today is a long one. Intermediate, B.Com, B.Ed. and now she is working for her Masters. Apart from that, she has done a series of short courses in computers, personal development and teaching. Along the way she joined language institutes to learn English, which she speaks fluently.

Today, Shama is the coordinator of  the three-year Foundation Course at the Infaq Education and Training Centre

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(IETC). This is an innovative project to give teenage drop-outs a chance to catch up with their schooling through a crash course of three years that prepares them for the matriculation exam.

Shama describes dramatically how she got the job. She had approached the Infaq’s Centre for Development of Social Services (CDSS) once, but she was informed that there was no vacancy. A few months later, she received a call from IETC offering her a job. “It was on September 1, 2003 at 11:45 a.m. when the call came and I went crazy with joy,” she recalls so vividly as though this had happened yesterday. Uncharacteristically, she dropped her work immediately and rushed off to Korangi, where Infaq’s CDSS is located.

Today, Shama has 13 teachers working under her and 82 students appeared for their Matric exam this year. What’s more, she now owns a second-hand car which she drives herself. Now her goal is to empower all women in her community.

The secret of her success? “Dedication, devotion and mobilisation,” Shama says confidently.

Interestingly, her father became her best friend later in life.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2015 issue.

Zubeida Mustafa is a senior journalist. She writes on a variety of subjects but her interest has mainly been in the social sector which she has covered extensively. She has investigated in-depth issues such as education, health care, women’s empowerment, children’s rights and the lives of ordinary people.