Continuing our series on this year’s Pond’s Miracle Women, we introduce the miracle women chosen by Pond’s Miracle Mentor Muniba Mazari.
Muniba Mazari is quite simply one of the most inspirational women you could hope to meet. Her positive attitude and cheerful optimism in the face of personal tragedy are remarkable. She suffered a road accident when she was just a 20 year-old university student, sustaining a spinal cord injury which led to paralysis.
She told the Dawn newspaper,
“When the car started going into a ditch, I knew this was the end of my life. When I gained consciousness I was reciting the kalma and thinking I have been given a new life. Half of my body was fractured and the rest paralysed. I neither complain nor blame anyone. I believe it was destined to happen. I was 20 years old at the time and had not done anything special in my life. Today, I know where I am going and my life is important to me.”
Although she is wheelchair bound, her spirit and artistry know no bounds. She has used her injury as inspiration to do better and be stronger and continues to preach the message of strength and courage through her art and other work. A woman of many talents: an artist by profession, she is also a content writer, motivational speaker and an anchor person for Pakistan Television. As well as being a Pond’s Miracle Mentor, she is Pakistan’s first female UN goodwill ambassador to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Educated at Indus Valley, she is passionate about communicating the rawness of human emotion through her art while promoting the beauty of her region’s culture.
Muniba has chosen a set of wonderful women as Pond’s Miracle Women, including film makers, entrepreneurs and some truly inspirational charity workers. Sabyn Javeri tells their stories…
Senior Manager, Citizens Archive of Pakistan
Aaliya Tayyabi’s miracle journey shows that almost anything can be achieved through creativity and dedication- one just has to take the initiative. Currently a senior manager at the Citizens Archive, Aaliya is an anthropologist by training. ‘I remember growing up being extremely curious about my country,’ she says. ‘I remember visiting places in the north and being interested in finding out how different cultures maintained their individuality. I used to read a lot about different tribes and communities.’
This curiosity led to an education in anthropology, which then led to an interest in history and heritage. ‘I do the oral history project,’ she says. ‘I love being part of it, though there is much to be done in little time. There is a time crunch involved because by 2020 most of the people who experienced partition would be gone.’ Aaliya’s work is extremely important because she is responsible for recording these voices before they die out. And in the process, Aaliya has met some amazing people and recorded some wonderful and inspiring memories for our coming generations to cherish. ‘I’ve met some amazing people who were responsible for the creation of this country.’
One of the narrations that stands out in her mind is that of a cloth seller who was approached by Fatima Jinnah for three pairs of imported cloth for Mr. Jinnah. Ration card did not allow the fabric for three shalwars so he refused. He felt that Mr. Jinnah would not have liked him to abuse his privilege. Such was his spirit. In the end the cloth seller helped Miss Jinnah, by contributing his and his co-workers share of cloth to Mr. Jinnah. These are the stories that make me realise that these people believed in the vision for Pakistan. And that gives me hope.
’ Another anecdote that is memorable is of Zeenat Haroon recalling how, when there was a lack of clerical staff after partition, Jinnah encouraged the women in her family to work and thus set an example for other women to follow. ‘And that was Jinnah’s dream,’ she says, ‘a country that was not run by its men but by its population and that includes women and minorities.’
Aaliya’s work is important, of that there is no doubt. A mother, a worker, a historian, archivist and dreamer, Aaliya is an inspiration to all others who dream of a better Pakistan. She leads by example.
Owner of Funky Bake
Amber Qaisar’s miracle journey shows how small businesses can become huge successes. Her brand was novel and even though she had to deal with the challenges of having a start-up from home and being a one-woman show, she knew how to keep her motivation high. Today it has become a family business and she has two popular outlets in the capital city.
‘I’m the owner of Funky Bake,’ she says. ‘Baking was a passion since I was six. It was the only thing I was allowed to learn outside regular studies.’ And perhaps that’s why it seemed like the right career choice. When Amber brought this concept to Islamabad it was unheard of. ‘It’s been a rollercoaster ride. When you introduce something new to the market people are sceptical. When we started five years ago the kind of products we were doing were not found in our market. So it was very difficult for me to make people even sample what I was selling but once they tried it they liked it. And down the road we proved everyone wrong.’
Though Amber has had her share of challenges she has come out a victor each time, breaking barriers and challenging gender stereotypes, like men in the kitchen, along the way.
‘I started from home so was always there for my family. Now it is more balanced because my family is involved and my husband has quit his job to help me. My son, who is 14, does a lot of 3D characters for me. When I’m not there he looks after it. At first my extended family would question why are you making him work? But five years abroad had shown me that when families work as a team instead of dividing roles between man and woman, it is always better. I thought why not follow the good principles of the West here. Two is always better than one. That is what we tried here and it worked.’ Amber’s miracle journey shows that teamwork is the backbone of family and professional life!
Writer & Film-maker
Miracle woman Asma Nabeel took a creative sabbatical that opened up a world of rich possibilities and led her to the discovery of a new passion that has now become her profession. ‘I worked in advertising for 17 years before I decided to switch to writing and film-making.’ Having had enough of the corporate world of brands, Asma wanted to explore her creativity, unbiased. She wanted to write for herself. ‘When you write for a brand it’s a completely different experience,’ she says. ‘It’s all about brand positioning, marketing and all. But now, I write for myself. And I’m really enjoying it.’
Her miracle journey has been full of upheavals for just when things were beginning to come back on track, Asma made the devastating discovery of suffering from third-stage cancer. Once again her determination and drive for life got her through. ‘I’m a self-made, driven, ambitious person but that event changed me. I used to be very impatient but now I’m calmer.’
Asma credits her strong will to seeing her mother struggle after her father passed away at an early age. ‘I was in grade 10 when my father expired and I saw my mother, who was not a working-woman, struggle. That taught me an important life lesson that a woman has to have a life of her own because at the end of the day her kids will go away to work, get married, immigrate. And then what is left for her? That is the one thought that propelled me to work.’
All for balancing home and work, Asma feels women have to be clear from the onset about what they want in life. ‘When I was getting married I was clear that working would be my choice, whether I choose to or not.’ But she is also aware that working women have it twice as hard as they have to work at home and outside. ‘I struggled a lot because sometimes you have to do all the housework, look after children, and then do your own office’s work too.’
But the choice is worth it for her hard work and dedication has not gone unnoticed. Asma was recently chosen by a leading Dubai magazine as the first woman from Pakistan to receive its award. ‘I was felicitated by Femina, Dubai, as an unstoppable woman. Eleven females from different countries were selected. I was chosen from Pakistan. That was a very proud moment for me.’ Here’s wishing Asma many more successes in life!
Educationalist & Activist
As a child, miracle woman, Humaira Bachal, would wonder why her mother strived so hard to send her and her sister to school while all the other kids spent their time playing on the streets. When she turned six, she found out why. A tragic incident where she saw her infant cousin die in his mother’s arm because of expired medication taught her the importance of being able to read. A child herself, Humaira made it her mission to educate others with what little she knew. She began by teaching them how to read the date. This passion grew and as she learned more, the desire to share that knowledge became stronger too. Sadly the challenges around her also grew.
‘I come from a place where women are not even allowed to go to the hospital much less to schools,’ she says. It was Humaira’s mother who, although illiterate, knew the value of education. Not allowed to spend anything from the household budget on education, her mother chopped wood to get them through school. ‘Every time I would see my mother’s bruised, bleeding hands, I would want to stop but she never let me give up.’
Her greatest supporter, it was Humaira’s mother who pushed her when people around them abused them verbally and physically for stepping out of the house. ‘My own brother stopped talking to me because he was ashamed of me,’ she says. But supported by her mother, Humaira battled on. One day a visit by an NGO changed her life. In stepped Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who took Humaira’s story further by making a documentary on her. Humaira began to receive funding and today runs a 17 classroom school built with the help of pop-star Madonna. A dream that started with 10 students and a make-shift blackboard is today a reality providing education to over 700 students in shifts from 7 a.m until 10 p.m, including adult literacy classes for women and evening classes for child labourers.
‘People from all over the world have helped me,’ she says. ‘But my work is not over yet.’ A natural leader, Humaira’s soft demeanour hides a steely determination. Her powerful will comes across when she says, ‘I want people to trust women; to let them step out for education or work without fear. If you give a woman respect she will not break your trust. I want society to understand that. I keep my child with me at all times so I can prove to them that a working woman can take care of her children while having a career.’
Humaira’s dream of a better society and a more tolerant world for women is reflected in her eyes. Her miracle journey shows that to accomplish great things, we must not only dream but also believe that we alone have the power to make our dreams come true.
Mahroosh Haider Ali
Creative/ Communication Consultant
Miracle woman Mahroosh Haider Ali found that advertising could give selling your soul a whole new meaning when she found herself promoting products she did not believe in. ‘After NCA I joined advertising and worked for a very well-known agency for a long time,’ she says.
‘Then one day I realized I didn’t want to be in advertising; it was not my calling. I was sick of the gender stereotypes. I didn’t want to sell a tyre by placing a girl next to the tubes. I didn’t want to sell fairness creams because I’m dark-skinned and I’m proud of it. When it comes to selling something you don’t believe in, you have to put your foot down and say I don’t want to be part of it. At that point I made a conscious decision that I was never going to be part of the ad world because it just wasn’t me.’
Mahroosh went on to join a media channel and was blossoming happily when she had her twins, and her miracle journey once again took an unexpected turn. ‘After I had my twins I could not continue. So I decided to take a sabbatical.’ Eventually Mahroosh started working freelance. Today she has found a happy balance between her work and home life and credits her contentedness to her parents who taught her to believe in herself no matter what.
‘Self-esteem is something that is instilled in you from childhood. My parents always brought us up to believe that there is nothing we can’t do. I grew up thinking that I was Picasso. At NCA I failed drawing consecutively for a year but I believed in myself so much because of the way I had been raised. And that helps professionally as well as personally. I want to instill the same values in my children. I want them to believe in themselves because honestly, when you do that, it shines.’
Mahroosh has high hopes for the future and hopes that more and more women will come forth and make a difference to society, for as she puts it, ‘I believe that the average Pakistani woman is enterprising, intelligent and beautiful and is proud of who she is!’
Founder of Picture Autism
Saba Mohsin’s miracle journey shows that no challenge is too great and no experience is too small when it comes to evolving in life. When Saba’s second child was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two, Saba decided to use that experience as a basis to help other mums facing the same challenge. ‘I’m an autism mom,’ she says. ‘Before autism touched my life I had it pretty much together. But when my son was diagnosed, my whole life changed. At first, I had no idea what autism was or how to cope with it. Gradually I realised that no one could do what I could for my child so I opted for self-reliance. Autism is my pursuit now. My vision is to promote inclusion in schools, and in society.’
Upon moving to Pakistan, Saba faced a further challenge due to the limited awareness of Autism here. ‘When I moved back to Pakistan I couldn’t think of putting my child in a special education school here yet mainstream schools were hesitant to take him on.’ Instead of giving up in frustration, Saba embraced the challenge and set up Picture Autism. Today she works with children with learning difficulties of all ages and schools, spreading awareness and acceptance.
‘My inspiration was all those dedicated autism moms who are working with their autistic children. That took me down this road, to take such a step. Because I firmly believe that all children need to reach their optimum potential.’
Miracle Woman Saba Mohsin is working hard to bring about an important change in our society – that of tolerance towards those who are different. Her determination to go out there and take change by its horn, to encourage mainstream schools towards inclusion and at the same time encouraging parents to expose children with learning difficulties to more complex challenges, reminds one of the saying that a ship is safe in harbour but that’s not what ships are for.
Fashion designer Sarah Raza found a unique opportunity to combine her passion and profession when she set up a clothing business with her siblings.
Today she is a well-known name in the style circles of the capital city, but there was a time when she thought she’d never make it. ‘I always wanted to go to NCA,’ she says, ‘But I didn’t get in. I was very disappointed but it was at that point my father pushed me to try for the Pakistan School of Fashion Design. I went in thinking it would be all glamour and fun but it was a gruelling experience.’ She credits her meticulous training and discipline entirely to the Institute.
A creative career demands undivided attention and, being a single parent, Sarah has her work cut out for her. Not only is it demanding, it requires a thick skin. ‘Being a divorced woman is still tainted in our society and country. People constantly tell you to take up a side-line profession and discourage you from taking the limelight. But there comes a point when you have to choose. Either you become a victim and cry in corners or you take a stand. I stood my ground and it was the best decision I ever made.’
Sarah’s resolve, her creative spirit and boundless energy, is an inspiration to all working mothers, never to give in to societal pressures.
Director Principal at Mashal Charity School
Charity worker Zeba Hussain has an inspirational miracle journey that is an eye-opener for all others. Married off at an early age, Zeba became a mother at 19. She continued to work as she had a difficult marriage, and completed her education alongside too. She had her fair share of challenges, as circumstances did not allow her to leave the problematic union. ‘Firstly I did not have the right,’ she says. ‘Secondly, I did not have the support. My parents thought I should stick it out for the sake of the children.’
However once Zeba started working with the UNHCR and came across the plight of refugees, she realised how much better off her life was. ‘After working with refugees who had lost everything- some were rape victims, some orphaned children, others even more despairing- I realised that these were people with no future. It broadened my perspective and gave me an insight I didn’t have before. I realised I was not a victim.’
Zeba managed to go abroad and study further and it was there she brought up her sons as a single parent until her father passed away and she returned to look after her widowed mother. ‘Coming back to Pakistan was the hardest decision I ever made for I had just reached a point where my children had become independent. Plus the threat of my ex was still there.’
But Zeba’s complex miracle journey had even more surprises in store for her for- when she settled down to life in Islamabad, life threw a wobbly at her. ‘I was diagnosed with a brain tumour.’ It was at that point, on a hiking trip in the mountains, that she came across children, who deprived of education, had turned to a listless purposeless life. ‘These children trusted no one as they feared they would be cut open and their organs sold. I decided to open a school dedicated to the most deprived children of that area. I started with a one-room school and two children. I was hoping for twenty but instead today we have 570 students!’
It has been eight years now and her mission is still strong. ‘I know now that everything that happened to me happened for a reason,’ she says, pointing out that whatever is destined to happen will happen. But her strong fight and her refusal to give in is an absolute inspiration for all working mothers. Her miracle journey show that tough times don’t last but tough people certainly do.
Executive Director at Ogilvy & Mather
Ad-maker Zehra Zaidi had a childhood dream that someday she would make ads. She didn’t know how she would get there but she was convinced that it was her destiny. She found an outlet for her creativity when she joined IVS, despite all odds. Hailing from an Army background, Zehra was the first in her family to deviate from the family’s preferred career path. ‘I belong to a very traditional family,’ she says. ‘My entire family is in the armed forces and my father was very keen on me pursuing a medical career as an army doctor. However my mother supported my dream of following a creative path.’
Currently the owner of an advertising agency and carrying the prestigious mega-portfolio of Coca Cola, Zehra has proved to everyone that she was right. But the journey has been full of highs and lows. After marriage she immigrated abroad but convinced her husband to move back. ‘It was the biggest decision of my life. Especially as it was led by me and effected the whole family.’ However success was not far off and today she has proved that Pakistan is a land of opportunities and growth like any other if you work hard. ‘
We have it easy here,’ she says. ‘We have a support system here while abroad being an immigrant brings its own challenges.’ Being in a career that is time demanding has put pressure on motherhood but Zehra has sailed through by being clear on her priorities. ‘Everyday is a challenge,’ she says, ‘but you get by because of the people who matter. My mom and my husband are my biggest supporters. Without them it would be very difficult to maintain a balance. But you have to be clear of your priorities. Be it your boss or your husband, you have to be clear of not just your priorities but also people’s expectations. Else it is challenging to manage them.’
Being a working mother is not easy but Zehra thinks that’s what makes it special. ‘To have your children feel proud of what you do, to hear them tell others proudly or just the fact that it’s not always about what the dad does, is also very important.’
Along with self-fulfilment, Zehra feels it is very important for women to look after themselves. ‘When it comes to taking care of our health and looks, we tend to take it for granted, especially working mothers, because they are already weighed down with so much. But that is something they need to do for themselves. Even children these days are conscious about how their moms look!’
A great motivator and a successful creative entrepreneur, Zehra’s miracle journey is proof that keeping the faith is what its all about.
Teacher and Founder of Thali Organization
Miracle woman, Zoone Hasan’s inspirational journey started with a bold dream – to let no one go hungry. ‘Once my family and I were at a breakfast and at the end of it, a lot of food was being dumped into huge garbage bags. My parents asked why and were told it would be thrown away as leftovers. My mother and father wanted to do something about the wastage but they were both very busy in their lives. So I told myself the day I complete my studies I would do something about it.’
About eight years ago, Zoone started a charity organisation called Thali. ‘We feed the less fortunate with the leftover food that the more fortunate take for granted. We collect all the food that would be otherwise thrown away and take it to people who can’t afford food. We also try to raise awareness of food wastage.’
But despite the wonderful work that Zoone is doing, her journey has been far from easy. ‘I didn’t realise that starting a charity would be so difficult a task,’ she says. ‘When I started Thali, it took me nine months just to register it. Then another six years to open a bank account. It’s ironic that banks wouldn’t trust a trust. It was a hassle and very demotivating because when you think about it – people are discouraged from doing good work.’
However Zoone managed to get past the hurdles and accomplish her dream of feeding the hungry. She does all this while holding a teaching a job and being a mother. To this she credits her strong support system — her family. ‘I grew up in a joint family and I think that is the biggest support system you can have.’
Zoone’s Miracle Journey is a great example of a working mother embracing a life of giving and making a difference to Pakistani society, and is sure to inspire many others to follow suit.