Continuing our series on this year’s Pond’s Miracle Women, we introduce the miracle women chosen by Pond’s Miracle Mentor Hadiqa Kiani, one of the most well-known Pakistani musicians of our generation. As a child, Hadiqa was chosen by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts to be trained as a musician and went on to represent Pakistan internationally at festivals all over the world. Since then, her rise to fame has been steady and undeterred.
Over the years, Hadiqa has released countless albums in several languages, including Pakistan’s regional languages and foreign languages such as Turkish, Malaysian and Bulgarian. She has released numerous singles that have gone on to become instant hits and is also a judge on Pakistan Idol, a hugely popular talent show. Hadiqa has been awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, a prestigious civil award, by the Government of Pakistan for her contributions towards the music industry. But her accomplishments are not limited to musical ones.
Hadiqa’s efforts towards the rehabilitation of flood victims in 2010 led the United Nations to appoint her as a National Goodwill Ambassador for Pakistan. Since then, she has worked with the UNDP to create awareness regarding the issue of water shortage in Pakistan. Due to her efforts, the Government of Pakistan’s Ministry of Environment has appointed Hadiqa a Goodwill Ambassador of Environment.
Hadiqa has chosen an inspiring set of women for this year’s Pond’s Miracle Journey, including designers, social workers, and educationalists. These are their stories…
Designer Asifa Imran has had an amazing miracle journey which shows that where there is a will, there is always a way! As a young mother Asifa wanted to be a stay-at-home mum for her children, yet she wanted a way to channel her creativity. She found an outlet for her creativity through designing for herself, her family, and friends. Given the successful response to her creations, she took steps to transform her passion into a profession.
Asifa worked hard to build a brand that makes other women feel fabulous and connects them to their authentic selves through her unique luxury designer clothes. Now she’s free to live life on her own terms and be with her family while she and her team develop her brand and create more freedom in their own lives as well.
Born in a relatively conservative family and the youngest of five siblings, Asifa married soon after graduation. She continued to pursue her Masters after marriage. ‘I was due any minute during my exams and I used to pray everyday that I could finish my exams before the baby came. God was kind and I delivered the very next day they ended.’ She took a break from studies after motherhood as both were equally demanding.
Hoping to find something engaging she started designing clothes with a cousin and soon launched her own label. Though success came easy, balancing work with motherhood did not. ‘Choosing between parenting and profession came up very early in my career when I gave up further studies to be with my new born. I wanted to avoid long tedious hours of university but still wanted to be productive. So instead I diverted myself to my design career which had flexible hours, and I could also work from home.’
Though her educational background had nothing to do with fashion and design, she found herself a natural at it. ‘My design sense was totally talent based as I had no professional degree in this field; although I always had a flare for designing and experimenting. The appreciation I got encouraged me to expand. It gave me the confidence to jump into this field with a seriousness that was not there before.’
Although today a successful brand, a lot of heartbreak went into it. ‘It wasn’t a very easy journey right from the beginning as I started with very little investment and had no in-house labour or work unit either. Out sourcing was very challenging especially when deadlines had to be met. Plus, I was a mother of three.’ She credits her family for helping her get through. ‘I definitely had a support system of grand parents and aunts ready to help. It helped a lot in achieving a work-life balance.’
These days, she feels there are a lot more opportunities for women who want to work although there is a long way to go. ‘The worse off in Pakistani society is the female population with lowest literacy rates. Girl’s education is need of the hour. It is essential for those of us who are educated to come into professional fields and raise the socio economic status of their own sex, and to raise their voice against injustice and female discrimination, which is arising because men feel threatened.’
Along with work, Asifa’s advice to Pakistani women is to look after themselves, mentally and physically. ‘Age management is no doubt very important and I believe in ageing gracefully. I work out, eat healthy, drink a lot of water and of course apply the miracle creams!’
Designer & Owner of A.H Couture Wear
Designer Ayesha Hamza overcame the tragic demise of her mother by setting up a fashion tribute to her. Armed with a degree in Early Years Development from the United States, Ayesha could have set up her own school on return but the death of her mother changed the way she viewed her goals.
‘I picked up the inspiration for fashion after my mum’s death. She had her own order-based brand in Karachi. I learnt a lot from her. It was a hobby for her but I wanted to take it forward. I didn’t realise how tough that would be. Helping your mum is something but setting up a fashion brand is a totally different challenge. But I just put one and one together and met the challenges as they came.’
Her inspiration remains her mother whom she saw pursue her passion for fashion against all odds. ‘Back when my mum used to work she had to juggle everything at once. She had to be outside the door at five when my father would come home. Nowadays husbands are much more accommodating,’ she says about the acceptance that working mothers have gained in today’s Pakistan.
A mother of three, Ayesha aspires to follow her mother’s balancing act when it comes to juggling home and work. ‘Parenting is my responsibility and fashion is my passion so I try to fulfill both to the most. My mum is my biggest inspiration in the way she managed her home and set an example. I did not understand it at the time but after her death I realised how much she did. And how she made it look so easy.’
Along the way Ayesha has had to make some tough decisions, the biggest of which was moving to a new city. ‘We lived in a remote area. My husband was posted there but I moved to Lahore for my children’s education and also to grow my business. That was a big decision. Lots of people discouraged me, saying that staying away from your husband would be a bad idea. That was one difficult decision because it needed lot of self-belief.’
But Ayesha persisted and through sheer hard work and faith she has established the Designer’s Lounge, a place where she exhibits her own and other upcoming designers’ work for free. ‘I don’t charge a commission because I want to encourage new comers. Lots of women are stepping out of their homes to make ends meet. And I want to support them.’
Calm yet full of quiet energy, Ayesha’s miracle journey will give many others the boost to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. As she says, ‘Life is there to live, not just to spend. Take each day as it comes!’
Cristina Von Sperling Afridi
Founder and Chairperson of Karim Khan Afridi Welfare Foundation
Miracle Woman Christina Von Sperling Afridi took the greatest tragedy in her life and turned it into an elixir of happiness for others. ‘When my only son died in a drug overdose accident, I had two choices before me. Either to bury my head or to face it head on and prevent others from such a tragedy.’ Today Christina runs the Mothers Against Drugs foundation, which helps to engage teenagers so as to prevent them from dangerous pursuits like drugs.
Originally from Brazil, Christina has been living in Pakistan for the past 16 years. ‘I run a drug awareness foundation under Karim Khan Welfare foundation. The tragedy in my family made me take this decision. When my 19-year-old son died of drug overuse, I decided to create awareness so others would not suffer the same loss, because here drugs are a great danger to youngsters.’
Though Christina’s courage is commendable, her troubles did not end there. She faced much resistance throughout her journey for drugs are a taboo issue in our society. ‘People keep telling me not to say that my son died due to drugs because it is not something we talk about here. But being a hypocrite has never been a solution for me. After his death, I had two choices- either to run from myself or do something for others. I decided to use this tragedy to help other kids.’
Her philosophy is prevention rather than cure. And it is for this reason that rather than rehab, her foundation concentrates on creating an environment where drugs are not a temptation. ‘Kids are squashed here,’ she says, ‘they have no options except gadgets; there is no entertainment, engagement, physical activity. Most schools don’t even have physical education as mandatory. It’s a shame that in a country where 60% of the population is youth, there is hardly any engagement. So much sporting talent must be going to waste. In a population of 220 million, no champions, no winning teams, how is that possible?’ For this reason, the pillar of her foundation is sports and civic sense. ‘Sports complex is lying vacant. I’ve requested the ministry to give it to us 3 days a week so we can have interschool competitions.’
Focusing on 13 to 19 year olds, Christina’s foundation organizes activities from sporting to theatre plays, and other such events all across Islamabad to engage teenagers and prevent them from turning to dangerous idle pursuits like drugs. ‘I couldn’t save my son,’ she says, ‘but I’m committed to saving others. I have to live for a purpose and that purpose has shifted from my son to every ones’ son. So many desperate mothers call me for help that it makes me feel that drugs are the real weapons of mass destruction here. What we need to realize is that if we don’t look after our youth, we won’t have a future. It’s a global issue. Here it is swept under the carpet. If we don’t join hands to erase this menace the future of our country is in danger.’
Christina’s fight should be everyone’s fight and her mission, of good healthy engagement for the youth, every mother’s mission. There are few people in this world who have the courage to embrace their tragedies but miracle woman Christina has showed that there is a bigger world out there – one of selfless love and giving.
Dr. Duskha H. Saiyid
Editor of Youlin Magazine
After returning from a three-year stint at Cambridge, as the prestigious Iqbal fellow, Dr Duskha Saiyid found that her teaching career of two and a half decades no longer fulfilled her. She sought new challenges and new passions in a quest to reinvent herself, for she believes that change is crucial to progress. Her miracle journey shows that challenges are actually opportunities in disguise – if only one has the right perspective.
‘Currently, I am editor of Youlin magazine, both the print and electronic editions. The magazine covers the culture, history, archeology, films, art and all such aspects of Pakistan and China. I got involved with the Pak-China institute, a small think-tank based in Islamabad, and they needed an editor. It seemed the perfect opportunity, as I didn’t want to continue teaching. I had taught all my life but after three years as a research fellow at Cambridge, I thought I can’t go back to teaching. So I decided to reinvent myself. In the end I think that is what keeps people alive.’
Dr Saiyid’s new passion is environment. Together with a group of likeminded people, she is part of the environmental activists of Islamabad who feel the environment is being wrecked and destroyed by negligence of CDA and greed of money-grabbing developers. ‘So we in the green force, through quiet lobbying, are trying to improve things, especially in Margalla Hills park area where the flora and fauna are dying.’
Dr. Saiyid’s miracle journey has had its share of ups and downs but as she says, ‘the journey is what you make of it. It’s up to you how interesting you make it.’ Her only regret is not being able to do even more. ‘The older I get the more I feel I wish I could give back more to the country I was born in.’ She hopes other women will follow her lead, especially those who have nothing to lose. ‘I wish the bored privileged begumat would just come of their cosy, comfort zones because they can do so much. Things are changing but more can be done to give back.’
Dr. Saiyid believes that achieving equilibrium between our professional and personal lives is key. ‘Most of our women are not waiting for the green signal and are out there doing things with their life but women unlike men have to be multidimensional because at the end of the day it’s the woman who takes care of her family and of her own parents, no matter what. Women should not get carried away by a one-dimensional description of feminism because that is the difference between east and west. For us family is important.’ With her inspirational example of a balanced high-achiever, Pakistani working mothers are sure to feel inspired to follow in her footsteps.
Degas’s saying, “art is in not what you see but what you make others see,” best fits the miracle journey of artist Rabia Hassan. ‘I was very clear ever since I was a child who I was going to be when I grow up,’ she says. ‘I came across paintings by Vincent van Gogh in an encyclopaedia, and I was fascinated by the colours and strokes. It was probably my triggering point of pursuing art as a career.’
Based in Lahore, Rabia trained at NCA then went on to become a renowned visual artist exhibiting internationally. ‘Both my parents were artists, Dad was a director, Mum was a film star. I was exposed to cinema at a very early age. My sensibility of cinema comes from there. I was trained as a painter but attracted towards moving image.’ Daughter of film star Rani and ace director Hassan Tariq, Rabia is currently working on a subject close to her heart; the portrayal of women in cinema. ‘They are stereotypical characters, highly sexualised, their own point of view is not represented.’
However this is not an easy task and Rabia has faced many challenges along the way. One has to be careful she feels in this society, and artists too unfortunately have to tread on eggshells in portraying their art en masse. ‘They can spark reactions from society which can be violent,’ she says.
A single parent, Rabia finds life can be challenging for single mothers in a society like ours but also very rewarding. ‘Choosing to stay independently as a single parent was a very challenging decision. But I have seen my mother always being a very strong woman, very resilient, being in the limelight, taking criticism, and it has made a huge impact on my personality.’ Not just emotionally but physically too, Rabia has endured a lot in her life. ‘I went through a very serious life threatening incident. I was shot five times but I survived. I was brutally injured. Surviving, recovering, then coming back to my art career, I feel that was a miracle.’
Her advice to others is to be just as resilient and strong willed. ‘Women are very clear about what they want,’ she says, ‘we just need to be a little courageous to go after it!’
Founder & President of SOS Children’s Villages of Pakistan
SOS founder Souriya Anwar started her project with a bold dream – of transforming the lives of orphaned and abandoned children. Through sheer hard work and persistence, she’s found a unique way to provide these children with the resources and education that they needed in order to build their lives and live their dreams.
‘I started on this journey exactly 40 years ago,’ she recalls. ‘At SOS, we run homes for orphans but don’t call them orphanages. We make villages which consist of 15 homes and in each home a mother with up to 10 children lives just like in a normal home.’ It was Souriya’s sister who found her calling for her. ‘My sister saw an SOS village in Nepal where her husband was ambassador and wondered why there wasn’t such a set up in Pakistan. She invited the Austrian charity to Pakistan. They agreed to help set it up but needed people to run it locally. My sister told them she knew just the person for it. And I have been running it since.’
Souriya has been managing her work along with balancing her home-life from the very beginning. ‘I was always in social work. I had always given some part of my day to helping others.’ Souriya credits her resolve and determination to the strong women in whose presence she grew up. ‘My grandmother was an amazing woman. She lived in Peshawar and I remember everyone looked up to Bijee when they had a problem.’
An extremely resilient person, who has faced every challenge head-on, her advice to other working women is to march on. ‘There is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it. Don’t ever question helplessly about what you can do to change things. Just begin. Others will join you. What I’m doing is an example of it because we attract the most amazing volunteers. We are in 12 cities now! People are there and willing – they just need someone to show them the way. You have to inspire people. We can all make a difference.’ Souriya’s incredible miracle journey will surely inspire many others to be on the quest to grow and learn and to give back.
Teacher/ Owner of Chic
Tania Mallick started her miracle journey with a commitment to help others realise the dreams she herself had been unable to pursue. An ace sportswoman from her school days, Tania was discouraged from pursuing sports as a fulltime career because of the financial uncertainty attached to it in our part of the world. From then on Tania decided to make it her mission to change not just the image of a sport’s professional in Pakistan but to encourage sports nationally at every level.
‘From a very young age I was into sports,’ she says. ‘After winning at college level I represented Pakistan at the Asian games. I went on to become the National champion for badminton. Inspite of that my parents were not too keen that I have a sports career so I went on to LUMS. After graduation I started my own enterprise Chic bags and shoes.’
But as they say, you can take a girl out of sports but you can’t take the sport out of the girl. Her love for sports continued and Tania found herself on the board as a member of Punjab and Pakistan Olympic association. Her reasons for that were clear. ‘Schools should have sports as mandatory. Sadly this is not so anymore. Schools don’t even have grounds anymore. My idea is that schools in houses, which don’t have grounds, should have at least table tennis or taekwondo or some sort of physical activity, which does not take up too much room. I initiated this idea six years back and now that it’s taken off we have more than 200 children participating in the interschool and intercollegiate Punjab games, where we have competitions and we have a nursery for sportspersons so we can develop them in the right direction.’
Not only has this injected fresh enthusiasm into an academically choked culture but also provided employment opportunities for sports professionals. ‘People are hesitant to take up sports as a career because it is not financially viable. But if you have sports compulsory, the opportunities will appear.’ Along with all this, Tania is also a mother, a teacher and an entrepreneur balancing work with home life seamlessly.
Tania’s miracle journey is unusual in the sense that there are very few women in Pakistan who understand the importance and need for physical exercise for both genders. But as Tania says, ‘Sports teaches you life skills. You learn how to fight, how to endure, how to take defeat and victory. You learn how to respect your opponent, how to have courage to face defeat and the grace to accept victory. That helps you all through your life.’
Tania’s passion for sports, her enthusiasm for the game is a motivation for all of us to get out there and do something for as she puts it, ‘It’s time to give back!’
Business owner, teacher, Director of Venture Center
‘I teach what I practice and practice what I teach,’ says Miracle Woman Tosheeba Sarwar. A teacher and an entrepreneur, Tosheeba took what she had learned at her job and created a business with the knowledge and experience she already had. Her miracle journey is a great reminder that we all have knowledge that can benefit others and be the foundation of something advantageous. ‘I’m an entrepreneur by choice and by profession. I work as a business management consultant specialising in image management. Also I’ve been teaching at MBA level for 18 years.’
Her miracle journey has not been an easy one for as she puts it, ‘I had not strategically planned life as such but twists and turns took me on this journey. As majority of us are trained to build a family. So was I but some responsibilities came my way and I had to step out and start building my life instead of being dependent on others. After my baby was born I suddenly found myself a single parent, so I went on to complete my studies. Challenges were there but I reveled in it.’
Tosheeba encourages other women to do the same; look their difficulties in the eye and in the process turn circumstances into opportunities. ‘Whenever you need to achieve something you have to get out of your comfort zone,’ she says. ‘It has become easier than ever for women to work. Technology has made it such, that forget leaving the house, you’ll find you don’t even have to leave your chair to work.’
Passionate about empowering women to become emotionally and financially independent, Tosheeba is also director of the Venture Centre, and Venture Centre and Professional Development, an initiative to help small-scale start-ups develop their potential. She believes, ‘One should build on one’s strength, and not just for times of difficulty. Our girls should be equipped with the necessary skill sets so they can be financially independent. It makes them more confident which in turn makes more confident mothers and you can’t ever undermine the importance of motherhood.’
Leading her students and colleagues by example, Tosheeba is a great role model of a working mother who has built a fine business while raising a wonderful daughter. Despite all that she has achieved, for Tosheeba her miracle is her daughter whose every milestone, be it her graduation or her wedding, is a reminder of how far along she has come.
An inspiration to all Pakistani businesswomen, Tosheeba is a force to watch out for; when it comes to putting the right mechanisms in place for empowering young entrepreneurs, she means business!
Dr. Rukhsana David
Principal of Kinnaird College
Miracle woman Dr. Rukhsana David’s journey shows that there are boundless opportunities to make a mark in this world. By giving and serving others, the rewards are magnified and you have no choice but to succeed. All one needs is drive and initiative, something, which Rukhsana has plenty of!
A pioneer in the education world, she set up the Bachelors in Fine Arts programme at the legendary Kinnaird College. She led it for ten years before taking on the great responsibility of becoming the college’s Principal. Starting anything new is always challenging, and Rukhsana’s journey is no exception. ‘It was not an easy journey at all,’ she says. ‘I took over amid a turbulent period of the college where I had to take everyone together with an integrated strategy to sustain the excellent standing that Kinnaird enjoyed and to continue to move with the times, and work to make it better.’
Despite the challenges, it is her work that defines her. ‘Being in this profession gives me a great sense of achievement of seeing that young women are educated and empowered not only to make a living but to be responsible citizens.’
Education for her is the key to a more progressive Pakistan. ‘Education is the right of every individual, and girls certainly have to be educated in order to educate future generations. Women comprise almost half the population and it is important they are encouraged to be professionals and join the workforce. What is the use of becoming a doctor if one is not going to use that knowledge? We should encourage women to work professionally as that not only has economic benefits but also promotes a structured approach to life in general.’
Female high achievers who lead by example are great role models for aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals and she feels, ‘It is important to have a role model that you can be inspired by, because then you have someone you can try to emulate, take the good things and learn.’ In her case, it was her mother who inspired her to be the strong independent woman that she is today. ‘In my case I would say my mother was definitely my role model. She was a strong upright working woman who brought up her children with good values, had a great sense of humour and never complained. She was very supportive and ensured her children got educated and achieved what they wanted from life.’
A working mother herself, Rukhsana leads by example. Her advice to other working mothers is to, ‘remain honest to yourself and work hard. Use your independence sensibly for the good of your family, your community and society.’ As for looking after oneself, she says, ‘It is very important for working mothers to make time for themselves so they do not burn out; remain confident and optimistic in giving the best to their work, family, children and friends and consequently the community. Be positive and eat less!’
Women like Rukhsana are much needed in the evolving Pakistani society. They are, as Rumi said, not a drop in the ocean but an ocean in a drop, and their courage, grit and determination is sure to inspire many other miracle women.
Textile Designer and Trauma Specialist
Hejab has a remarkable miracle journey that began with learning that she had a challenging illness right before she was due to complete her education – something she had worked against the odds to achieve. Her attitude and faith got her through it and now she serves others as a trauma specialist, helping people harmonize their lives, while also working as a textile designer.
She is passionate about helping others: ‘I chose trauma management because so many people live their lives in a state of quiet despair and silent suffering, particularly people belonging to humble backgrounds unable to afford high end therapists.’ On the other hand art and creativity is equally important to her so when offered a chance to study at IVS, Hejab grabbed it with both hands. ‘Creativity for me is the very back bone of inner harmony,’ she says.
A mother of four children, Hejab’s journey has been full of challenges. But she has overcome each new hardship with grit and determination that is characteristic of her. ‘Hardships and challenges define your journey,’ she says. ‘When I joined IVS my first two kids were aged five and three, I didn’t know anyone in Karachi, had recently been diagnosed with diabetes and had an exceptionally demanding husband. I juggled with a gruelling art school routine and deadlines and my health issues. It came to a point where I kept going into hypoglycaemic episodes. Around my mini thesis I suffered an angina attack and was hospitalised. Everyone wanted me to quit but I was determined to see my degree through and carried on. Two months later I conceived my 3rd child. I had decided that nothing would stop me from achieving this goal and Alhumdulillah nothing did. When I graduated I was in my last trimester and got a standing ovation from my faculty, and everyone present there. I never took a penny from anyone to start my business. I started with two karigars and took it to a level of a mini factory.’
Hejab’s inspirational miracle journey shows that there are boundless opportunities to make a mark in this world, all one needs is self-believe and perseverance. Her advice to other working mothers is not to forget about their own selves: ‘You can’t be a good parent if you don’t take care of yourself. Our children are silent observers, who watch every move we make so an exhausted, unkempt, snappy mother can hardly be a positive role model. Everything revolves around you. You are the centre of universe for your family.’
Her own inspiration is her mother who passed away after a nine-year-long battle with cancer. ‘My mother has been my greatest inspiration,’ she says, adding that, ‘women by nature seek support and approval of other females in their environment even more than men. Positivity reinforced by people they look up to acts as a great catalyst.’ Like her words, Hejab too, is sure to inspire many others by being a positive role model with her unflagging energy and do-or-die nature!