I was born in the sixth most dangerous country for women in the world called Pakistan
Its population is currently 225,199,937
32% children in the country never get a chance to in role in a school
59% girls never get chance to in role in a school
87% of the schools going girls drop off of school before reaching to 9th standard
According to UNICEF, 21 percent of Pakistani girls are married by the age of 18, and 3 percent before 15
Child labor is so common that you can hardly find a family in the rural and poor community who do not feel proud for their children who start earning as early as possible
Honor killing of women is a gesture to feel proud for the family’s honor
In such a country after facing persecution from my teacher at the age of 13 in 7th standard I decided to teach the girls and to empower the women.
It is a common practice to beat the children in schools (which is against law after 2016) that sometimes children die of this beating even today (you can have so many videos of such incidents on YouTube)
I decided I will never go back to a school and will teach myself and other children with love, respect and equality. This was August 1997.I made my play mates agree to come to my school, I kept teaching myself at home and in 2000 I did my matriculation.
At that time I found a job for Rs:800 a month which is equal to $06. This was the amount I started using to run my free school. I would visit door to door to recruit students; it has not been easy to convince the families to educate their daughters, but I have learnt from my life to keep struggling if I need to transform lives therefor I never give up. In 2004 I was having 100 students in my free open air school, but it was not easy because as the number of students were increasing the opposition was also increasing.
I am a single woman,
I belong to the 1.6% minority of Pakistan.( Christian)
And I am an education activist.
You can imagine my life, I would work 20 hours a day for years and year, I had to face discrimination, failure, abuse, insult, threats and attacks for teaching girls and there was only my pillow which would know of my tears, my parents are old and I have no brother, in a society where men treat women like slaves I am a big threat for those men therefor they do everything they can to make me give up on my mission. I got sick with stress and doctor said you will die soon, reduce your stress and work load but I decided that I will plant a seed of education and empowerment in hearts of girls until I have a last beat in my heart.
In 2006 on Christmas night I was sleeping in my home with my family when we heard some people shooting with guns on our roof and shouting against me and my work. Thank God it was winter and we were sleeping inside the house, we do not have air condition at home therefore in summer we sleep in open air on the roof to take some air, if this incident would happen in summer we would not be alive today. That night luckily my brother-in-law was also at my home who had a mobile phone which was rare in my village at that time, he called the police, the police came in a few minutes because they were nearby, by some reason, the shooters ran from there, the police men kept sitting at our home all night and in the morning they suggested that we should not live in the village any more. All of us left the village and went to Islamabad at my sister’s home.
It was like all was over, the school was closed. There was no hope to come back. But my heart and mind was back in the village. I would keep praying, keep thinking and would keep trying to convince my parents to go back in the village. After six months my father was agreed so we came back but my three sisters decided to not to come back, my youngest sister never came back in the village but my elder sister came back after a few years, she has joined the mission with me.
I had to start over again; it was even more difficult because this time people did not want to trust me and they were also scared that may be next time their children will also be in danger. I knew I had to bring them back to school so I did it.
In 2008 I got a really good job with a good salary and access to free internet connection at my home. I would work 8 hours a day in my office, in the evening I would teach for four hours in my free school and in the nights I would teach myself. After getting access to internet I joined social media and started posting about my work on Facebook. People started noticing and supporting my work.
I hired teachers for the school who I would pay from the salary I was earning from my full time job. I hired another teacher and opened a stitching center in the courtyard to empower women in the village.
In 2012 I joined the World Pulse at this time my courtyard school was full of students with the number of 120 and there was no more space to have new students. I kept teaching myself and in 2011 I started doing my Masters in Political science as a private student (Without taking classes physically) from University of Punjab Pakistan, I also did Masters in History, now I am doing my Masters in Education from Allama Iqbal Open university.
In 2013 some people attacked at my home and made my mother and sister Injured and left with threats, I was in my office at that time.
But I decided to work even harder so that these mind sets can be changed, I bought a small piece of land with the prize money from the world Pulse’s Lynn syms global prize and started a vocational training center for women where from 20 villages women come to learn free skills and become financially empowered.
Currently, 64 percent of the nation is younger than 30 and 29 percent of Pakistanis are between 15 and 29, Majority of them do not have jobs and no hope for a better future, they keep sitting on the roads and harass women passing by, which is a main reason most people do not send their daughters to schools or to work. To tackle with this issue we teach self-defense techniques to our students.
Our friends from USA, Germany, India and other parts of the world teach many skills to our students online through Skype.
In 2017 with the help of Inspired women paying it forward and the Theresa Gattung we were able to make a proper school with separate classrooms for our students and for the first time our students have chairs to sit on, fans to tackle with the really hot summer, a safe building, security cameras, access to internet, a computer lab and their own van donated by the Theresa Gattung.
Today we have 200 underprivileged students who we give ten years free education and annually 300 young women learn skills like IT course, English language, Art, self-defense techniques, stitching, makeup and hairdressing.
We also help burn victim girls and women to have free treatment.
We teach our students to be open minded, to challenge the stereotypes, to learn about different culture, languages, countries and much more so they can learn to live a healthy life by playing their role to make a healthy society.
My students are now college and university students, they are professional tailors, beauticians, nurses, teachers, and Educated mothers, strong and fearless women.
During this journey of 25 years I have taught hundreds of girls and boys, empowered even more women, saved countless lives from child marriage, honor killing, child labor and taught them to learn with dignity and to dream big
For my work and writing in 2014 I won Lynn Syms Global prize from the World Pulse
In 2015 Bioneers change makers awarded me with an award
In 2015 Channel News Asia Singapore made a documentary (Flight of the Falcons) on my life and work
This film won a Gold medal from New York film festival in 2016
In 2018 Eternal life Ministry of Pakistan international awarded me with Out Standing Performance award
In 2021 I am First Pakistani among minorities who has been selected to be a fellow at the Kaiciid a network that is working to bring peace in the world.
In 2021 I have been nominated for the Women building Peace award of the Peace Institute of America.
Recently something has happened, Since majority of my students and team members are Muslims the cleric in the nearby Mosque started doing this propaganda against me that I am teaching Christianity (which is my faith) to the Muslim students.
I did not notice it much because it keeps happening, just two years before some women and children attacked on me and my team while we were visiting door to door, they were saying we teach Christianity to the student which is not true therefor I was silent on this, but just a few weeks before he made this announcement in the Mosque during Friday Prayer that they should not send their children to my school because majority of them have already been converted to Christianity.
Some men whose sisters or daughters come to my school they told at their homes that some young men are planning that they will kidnap me and will kill me because according them it is a sin to get an education from a school which is being run by a Christian
My students told me this news immediately, first I thought I should go to police but then I thought to wait , when more people brought this news to me, I started meeting the mothers of my students and told them about this situation, I spread the news in the village as much as possible.
A local assembly was called; the mothers spoke in my favor but the man who is a decision maker he said’’ I offer my prayers or not but I am a Muslim and I will stand with the cleric, the cleric is building his own Islamic school and he wants all the children to go to his school which is good because in that case all the children will go to heaven’’ the cleric was not called in the assembly.
He also said that these are the clerics who brain wash young men to do suicide bombing, infect indirectly he was giving me threats, the other day and for next few days someone kept throwing condoms in our school, home and skills center to proof that we are doing some bad stuff here I got new security cameras and placed the notes on the walls of our buildings that the cameras are looking at everything so no one threw condoms after that
Even my Muslim team members are concerned for my security because it is so easy to accuse someone against Islam in the country and people kill, stone to death or burn alive such people without even making an investigation because they feel proud in doing so in a hope to go to heaven.
I do not know what will happen to me for my mission to educate and empower women and children in rural Pakistan, but I want to make one thing very clear that, Yes, I am a Christian, but I was not born to preach the religion I was born to educate people, to uplift those who do not have a hope otherwise. Pakistan needs science, IT specialists, Doctors, Engineers, educationists and connections with the people around the world. I want my people to have the opportunity to do it all and much more. I want my country to be known as a peaceful country. This is my only mission, I live for this and I will die for this.