Continuing our series on this year’s Pond’s Miracle Women, we introduce the miracle women chosen by Pond’s Miracle Mentor Nadia Hussain. One of the most recognizable faces in the fashion industry, Nadia Hussain has proven herself to be a woman of many talents. A mother of three, Nadia has continued to strive and grow despite the challenges that have come her way. Educated as a dentist, Nadia has established herself as a super model, designer, salon-owner and also holds a diploma in the field of Aesthetics. Despite facing criticism for her professional choices, Nadia has thrived by following her entrepreneurial instinct and with the support of her family. She married the love of her life right out of college and is now a mother of three. Nadia has no regrets regarding the choices she has made and has managed to make an art out of balancing her work life with her responsibilities towards her family.
Nadia has chosen a set of extraordinary women for this year’s Pond’s Mircacle Journey, including entrepreneurs, doctors and chefs. These are their stories…
Owner of Ellemint Spa and Salon
Spa owner Afreen Shiraz is passionate about helping women embrace their own signature style and look their best with hair and make-up that defines them. She believes in individuality, rather than following trends, and has built her business on the understanding that women are all different – each one of us is special in our own way.
Her entrepreneurial venture originally started out as a hobby. ‘It all began a decade ago. I had just completed my MBA and there were lots of opportunities out there. My parents wanted me to work at a bank or in advertising- I gave it a shot but nothing worked for me. Since childhood I had always had an interest in health and beauty and after trying banking and all, I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents. They thought it was a ridiculous idea!’ Afreen flashes her perfect smile as she recalls her father saying, ‘Who does that after an MBA?’
But determined as she was, Afreen, brought her parents around to the idea. ‘They still weren’t convinced but told me to go get some training so I have a better idea of what the profession requires.’ And from then on there was no looking back for her.
Today Afreen has a huge clientele and runs a popular spa. Establishing herself is her little miracle. ‘The day I bought my dad a car, that was the day I felt I had done it. His expression was a mix of surprise and gratitude, and that was my miracle moment.’
Running your business is never an easy challenge but Afreen does this with the utmost grace, always finding time for her family. ‘I have this pact with my daughter to pick her up from school every day and that half an hour is our quality time together.’ Finding a bit of time for her own self is the challenge but she asserts: ‘Looking after yourself is not a luxury anymore-these days it’s basic hygiene. We live in such a polluted environment that cleansing and moisturising, has to be part of your daily routine like brushing your teeth.’
Afreen comes across as an independent, self-assured woman who knows her mind. ‘It is very important to be independent,’ she stresses, ‘In this life you only have yourself to rely on, the circumstances I went through endorsed that. When my daughter was four, I got divorced. I was a stay-at-home mum before that. But suddenly I found myself needing to prove that I could stand on my own feet.’ She did all that and more, and her advice to other working mums struggling to pursue their goals is to ‘realize your dreams’.
A soldout clothes exhibition gave designer Ayesha Alam the tools to reinvent her life after she quit a high flying job. ‘About 14 years ago I was working as the chief textile designer at Gul Ahmed. At that time all the women were wearing my designs and for me it was the biggest high. But the moment my first child was born and I held him in my arms, I told my husband I’m never going back. To hold your baby and to leave him all day to work is the hardest thing.’
But as they say you can’t keep talent down. After becoming a stay-at-home mom, Ayesha realized that she had to find a way to express her creativity. ‘Later I realised that it was important to work but at that time it was the right thing for me to do.’ As she wasn’t ready to go back full time she decided to do something small from home. Ayesha started to design casual ready-to-wear, and with the success of her first exhibition, she knew there was no looking back.
Today Ayesha enjoys the freedom to be a stay-at-home mom for her children while building a successful fashion label. Ayesha admits that one has to uber-organized to be a successful entrepreneur as well as a good hands-on mom. ‘If you have to work and take care of your house and children, with all their exams, you have to be super organised.’
She designs when her children are at school but once they are back home her day centres around them. ‘I work till 12. I design and do whatever work I have to do. But when my kids come home I am theirs.’
A support system helps and for Ayesha, ‘Domestic help is a very important kind of support system because if your housework is done it leaves you free to spend time with your kids when you come home from work or in my case when the kids come home from school.’
Her thoughts on aging are not to fight it. ‘Aging is a part of life you can’t fight but if you look after yourself, eat healthy, exercise, moisturise — you can slow it down. We all have to grow old but if you take care of yourself you’ll still be looking good at 60.’
Ayesha feels that Pakistani working mothers are all miracle women and her advice to them is to just keep going. ‘If you have it in you, just go for it. You will go places if you work hard. Believe me,’ she says with resounding passion in her voice, ‘God opens doors that no one can shut!’
Her miracle journey and her inspiring words are sure to inspire many other working mums who gave up their productive careers for self-starters.
Legal Director at Coca Cola Beverages
Every mother is a working mother but being a single-parenting legal eagle is in a league on its own. Miracle woman Ambreen Shah does this day in and day out with effortless grace. She rose to the top of the corporate ladder while juggling single parenthood and managing multi-moves across the country. Her secret: contentment. ‘If you look at the glass as half-full instead of half-empty, that positive perception and approach makes a great difference.’
With an already thriving career in civil services, Ambreen decided to pursue her passion for law. Working in a male dominated environment did not deter her from reaching her goals. ‘It’s how confident and secure you are about your abilities. Even when I worked for the government, it was about how much confidence I projected that determined how others looked at me. As a woman, you can make your place!’
Ambreen feels that the flexibility her employer offered helped her make that uphill corporate climb which many working mothers with unsupportive bosses lose out on. Striking a balance between the personal and professional is very important for her. ‘Whatever you do, at the end of the day, if your family life is affected your work suffers and vice versa.’
Despite her hectic schedule, Ambreen manages to look fresh-faced. Age management, she feels, is just as necessary a part of a working mother’s life as time management. ‘Being content and finding the right stress busters is the key. I go to the gym three times a week and try to eat a healthy, balanced diet.’ Interestingly she credits her flawless skin to Pond’s Age Miracle creams. ‘I’ve been using Pond’s ever since I got the first samples in 2010. Much before all this started!’
Though Ambreen’s high achievements are a miracle on her own, for her nothing beats the high of becoming a mother. ‘My daughter is my miracle,’ she says with a content smile.
Dr. Farhana Maqbool
Paediatrician at Aga Khan University Hospital
Miracle woman Dr. Farhana Maqbool’s energetic demeanour radiates positivity and confidence. A renowned pediatrician, she admits that medicine was not her first choice of career. ‘I wanted to be an artist,’ she says. However, her parents felt the need for a profession, that one could fall back on. They pressed her to pursue her studies and for that she is grateful. ‘I wasn’t really bent on it at the time but happened to be good at the sciences. So when my parents pushed me to become a doctor, I went in with a bit of resentment.’
But once she began medical school, Farhana knew she had found her calling. Today she is a successful sought-after pediatrician, a kidney disease specialist and a mother of four. With her effervescent, cheerful personality, she appears to have it all – but she’s had her share of sacrifices along the way.
One particularly challenging moment in Farhana’s career came when during her fellowship abroad, two weeks after giving birth to her second child, she was asked to showcase her research. Farhana had to make a tough decision whether to leave her nursing baby to fly to the conference or to stay at home and let someone else take the credit for her work. Still raw from childbirth, Farhana decided to take the plunge. ‘Leaving a two week old nursing child behind and having to present your work to experts and having to defend, was one of the toughest things I have ever done. It’s not easy but God gives you the courage and strength to hold it all together.’
Despite her hectic schedule, she feels it is essential to find time for oneself to de-stress. ‘As women, we are conditioned into thinking that taking care of oneself is not a priority. But it is essential for one’s sanity.’ For her it’s a love of books. ‘I love to read. There’s always a book by my bedside.’
A great role model of a working mother, Farhana hopes to lead by example. ‘I’d like to think I’m setting a good example for my girls – it is possible to have a family and a career.’
Dr. Seema Hashmi
Paediatrician, Nephrologist and Assistant Professor at Aga Khan University Hospital
Dr. Seema Hashmi is passionate about helping others. Her miracle journey shows that serving others is a healing process in itself as one grows in self-worth and self-esteem. As a young woman, she pursued her education against all odds but despite showing great potential her parents did not allow her to go abroad to pursue medicine. Instead she found herself married at an early age. ‘My career really began after marriage,’ she says. With the support of her mother-in-law, Seema continued her education and even secured a rare fellowship. But it was at this point that Seema found herself at crossroads.
‘Around the same time I was awarded the scholarship, I found out I was pregnant with my third child. I was among the three candidates chosen from around the world so I knew it was a great opportunity. But I also knew I couldn’t leave my family as the fellowship would start soon after the baby was born.’ Once again it was her in-laws who gave her the support she needed. ‘I was confused but my mother-in-law pushed me to pursue my goals. I left my nursing 4-month-old baby, knowing that I would not see her for a year. At the time, I was wracked with guilt but my in-laws and husband made me see that this opportunity would not come again. I could learn so much and serve my country better, so I took the decision to go. I told myself, my country needed me more than my child.’
The decision came at a cost because not everyone saw the bigger picture.
‘My own mother was reluctant about me leaving my children behind and pursuing personal goals. But my mother-in-law told me, ‘Your place is not in the kitchen but out there– helping others’. Today Seema is the head of a unit in SIUT and an example to the young doctors around her. ‘When my junior doctors come to me I tell them, don’t judge me by where I am now but by how I got here. No journey is easy!’
It is not just her achievements that are inspirational but the way she has juggled it all. ‘It’s difficult to create a balance but it’s all about perspective. I know my limits. I set realistic goals, both short-term and long-term. Time management is very important to create harmony. When I go back home I don’t think about work.’
As far as age management goes, Seema credits her healthy, glowing face to inner peace. ‘If you nurture your inner soul the peace and tranquility will show outside.’
Seema stresses on the importance of carving out that little tiny window for yourself in the day. ‘I try to take some time out for myself,’ she says. Her hobby is gardening. ‘End of the day you miss out on sleep but that’s the price you pay for doing it all.’
Her miracle moment came when she was awarded best resident at her fellowship. ‘When I won the award, I felt I had shattered the subversive stereotype of Pakistani woman in the West.’ Seema was offered many lucrative opportunities but she turned them down because her priority is her family and her country. ‘I was asked to stay on for the PhD program but I refused because I had a commitment to my country and my family first.’ An inspirational woman in every way, Seema’s dedication to making Pakistan a better place is applaudable.
Owner of Raintree Spa
Spa owner and mum of three, Lubna Lakhani is passionate about helping women look their best. Hailing from an entrepreneurial background, it was her fondness for fashion and style that led her to this vocation. Having a career, she feels, was always a certainty in her mind. ‘Every woman should be financially, economically and emotionally independent,’ she asserts. ‘Not just so they can have their own money – that is not the goal. The goal is to develop the confidence that comes from being independent.’
Lubna feels that a working woman is better able to assert herself because she is sure of herself. ‘Financial and emotional independence brings out a woman’s confidence – the confidence to be herself.’ Different people have different limitations but in general she feels that, ‘working develops your personality and brings out confidence to be yourself.’
Lubna’s own bubbly, enthusiastic personality comes through as she says, ‘It’s very important for women to look good because it’s all a part of the big ball game called confidence. However, everyone’s looking good is different – you can’t define that. But what you can do is take care of your basic self-grooming like cleansing, moisturising, scrubbing twice week. It should be part of your routine – like brushing your teeth.’
Lubna also conducts self-grooming classes. ‘In all my classes I tell my students that any person you meet is making a judgment about you in the first 15 seconds of meeting you. The minute you realise how important appearance is you will understand what I mean.’
Age management is just as important to her. ‘You should age gracefully but very slowly,’ she says with a laugh. ‘Not that I believe in becoming plastic but I believe in taking small steps to slow down the process of ageing.’
Besides being so ardently involved in her profession, Lubna balances it out with her home life. ‘I love being a mom. My kids come first all the time. I’m always there for them because I don’t want them to grow up thinking my mother wasn’t there because she was working.’
Lubna knows she stretches herself too thin but what sets her apart is that she still carries on. ‘There are always challenges,’ she admits. ‘But I do read up on parenting books. There is so much stuff on the Internet to help you these days but the best thing is to talk to your kids. Stay connected.’
Though Lubna manages to pack a lot into her day, she feels she still has much more to cover in her miracle journey. ‘I’m so pleased to be termed a Pond’s Miracle Woman but in Pakistan there are many more deserving miracle women like Bilquis Edhi.’ Being the perfectionist that she is, Lubna may well feel that, but for many other working mothers struggling to connect the personal with the professional, her miracle journey is sure to prove inspirational.
Chief Finance Officer at Engro Corporation Limited
The expression “woman in a man’s world” gains new meaning when one hears of Naz Khan’s miracle journey. Armed with a foreign degree in economics, a young, undaunted Naz entered the world of bulls and bids only to find she was the only female at the stock market. Reflecting on the long arduous road to success she says, ‘After graduation, I came back to Pakistan and joined a brokerage. I was the first female to join the firm. At that point in time there were hardly any females in that field – forget about female executives, there wasn’t even a female secretary. They had to create a ladies washroom for me!’
Naz set a new trend and after her pioneering breach into the world of stocks and shares many other women followed suit. However, working against the tide as per her nature, Naz now turned to a different field. ‘After about 18-19 years, I took a risk and switched to the manufacturing sector – where I am today. It was a completely new set up for me – a much larger organization, it was very different, very challenging but also very exciting.’
However, for Naz the biggest test was maintaining the work-life balance. She feels the key to equilibrium for working mothers is prioritization. ‘You need to decide what is more important. When my kids were younger I knew they needed me more. I was there for every milestone, every PMT, concert, but as they grew older the balance changed.’
Infact Naz now feels being a professional and a mother are not mutually exclusive. ‘I think being a good mother makes you a good professional. There are so many things you learn through motherhood that you can apply to your professional life and vice versa.’ Naz’s miracle journey is sure to inspire many other women in male-dominated fields struggling to make their mark. Her struggle to the top proves that if you are true to your goals, nothing and no one can stop you!
Owner of Depilex
Daughter of beauty expert Masarrat Misbah, Redah Misbah takes after her inspirational mother in more ways than one. ‘I was very young when I asked my mum if I could have the same surname as her,’ she says, recalling how much she admired her mother. Redah grew up in the constant shadow of her mother at the Depilex salons which were already a thriving business by the time she was born. ‘I grew up in the salon. My mom would pick me up from school and take me straight there. My lunch, followed by tuitions and other activities would all be there.’
And now Redah is carrying on the trend with her own daughter whom she takes with her to work. ‘I’m lucky to have such a great support system. I’m in a position where I can take my daughter to the salon. All the women mother her,’ she says about the strong bond that Depilex has with its staff.
Armed with a degree in cosmetology, Redah came back to join Depilex as Director. ‘Along came this girl who they had seen grow up and at first it was hard for me to be taken seriously. But my mum supported me and said if you make a decision stick to it. Initially it was very difficult but gradually I got used it.’
Perhaps the hardest and the most inspirational challenge that Redah overcame was integrating her mother’s charitable work into the business. ‘A woman came to my mother and pleaded for help. When my mum saw what acid had done to her, she knew she had to help her and others like her. She placed an advert in the paper and lots of women came for help. Stepping out of their house is the biggest challenge because most of the times it is their own relatives who have done this. We gave them reconstructive surgery.’
But then they went one step further and decided to help these women stand on their own feet. ‘Acid dissolves not just their features but their limbs as well. Once they are mobile after the surgeries, we teach them skills, so they can earn and not be dependent on others.’
However, even after they empowered the women with skills, they found that people were hesitant to hire them because of their looks. At the end her mother decided to employ them in her own salons. ‘That was also very hard because clients would refuse treatment from them and try to offer them charity instead. Initially even I thought we should keep the business separate from the charity. But my mother took a stand, and I feel if she hadn’t done that, the acceptance would not have come through today.’
That one step was the start of something wonderful. ‘I have worked very closely with them since then and it has changed my life. It gave me perspective. Now I focus on the bigger picture.’
Redah’s miracle journey shows that one must ‘never settle’. There is always one more milestone to be reached and if you are a working mother then all the more power to you. She has improved the lives of many women and her journey will surely inspire many others to do the same.
Owner of Flavours Of Mediterranean
What started as an experimental hobby soon turned into a viable occupation for cheese-maker Sehr Pirzada, owner of Flavours of Mediterranean. ‘It all started when I bumped into a lady who gave me a recipe for home-made cheese,’ she says. ‘Sometime later I was sent a huge quantity of milk from the interior and I decided to experiment with cheese making. At first I was cautious but as I become more confident, I got more experimental adding herbs and all kinds of flavours. And it just grew from there.’
A chance entrepreneur, Sehr also runs a Food Review group through which she encourages others to experiment with their inner passion for cooking and baking. ‘Its main purpose is to help women with cooking skills. Lots of home chefs have come about through it. I have created a community of almost 2500 people. We have daily challenges, conversations, and sampling sessions. It’s a forum for helping one and another. Its purpose is to empower women; to make them see that you can take nothing and turn it into something.’
Sehr wants to encourage women to be independent and realise that they can do so from the house. ‘I want to show that you can be responsible for your home, yet stand on your own feet.’ Having researched and studied it, Sehr feels that the role of a woman is often misinterpreted in our society. ‘There is a dearth of understanding about the role of women in Islam,’ she says. ‘Islam actually encourages women to take the initiative. Hazrat Khadija was the first Muslim to accept Islam and she ran a huge business.’
A mother, businesswoman and mentor to many, Sehr is a force to reckon with. Here’s hoping others take her lead and carve their own destinies for as she has proven, women are powerhouses of energy and inspiration.
Chef at Masala T.V
Chef Zarnak Sidhwa stumbled upon her love for cooking while helping out her working mother in the daily kitchen chores. ‘I started cooking at the early age of 7 or 8 as, being a working woman, my mother would often call up and ask me for help in prepping up things for dinner.’ Her interest in the culinary arts grew as her talent for experimenting with the palette flourished.
With time Zarnak grew bolder with her recipes. ‘As I grew older I started doing more and more desserts and soon every time we’d have a get together people would assume that I’d do the dessert. When I moved abroad, I had access to a whole lot more ingredients and I became more creative. My passion for baking came out.’
However it wasn’t until Zarnak left her full time job that she seriously thought about taking up cooking as a career. ‘When I moved back I was working a 9 to 5 desk job, secretarial kind of work. I had to leave as I was expecting and I needed bed rest. The very next day I joined cooking classes. From here on I started up catering from home. When my kids grew up I joined Masala T.V. My first show was called Chocoholic and it was a hit. I was asked to do a second series.’
There was no looking back for Zarnak after that and her creativity took to new heights, culminating finally in the ultimate challenge of cooking to a live audience.
‘Cooking on live T.V is very challenging. You have to cook in front of an audience. You can’t cook during the breaks. You can’t be late or have the luxury of being stuck in traffic. You have to take live phone calls and anyone can say anything. Anything can happen in your kitchen. For instance, one day I put the electric grinder on and when I turned it on the lid flew off and all the masala splashed out. What can you do on live T.V but smile and joke about it?’
With a full time television career, Zarnak still manages to find the time to be a mother and wife. ‘I have a lot of support from my husband and sons. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to manage at all. There is so much one has to deal with, housework, schoolwork, exams, etc. It would be impossible without their support. Especially when I need to travel for my cooking show. But my husband fills in for me when I’m not there. My children also realise that and they try to manage on their own. This is very important for me because I want them to be independent.’
Zarnak not only creates a balance between home and work but goes the extra mile for her audience too. She keeps in touch with her followers through her food page and live phone calls on the show. ‘My aim is to teach; not just cook and leave,’ she says, recalling how she regularly gets calls from her viewers when they are stuck on a particular recipe.
‘Lots of people who are now big names in the food industry started from my show. They still call me when they get stuck and I help them out. It is the most gratifying feeling to know you are not only teaching them to cook but also helping them become entrepreneurs.’ Zarnak’s generosity of spirit and creative energy will inspire a host of home cooks to follow their dreams and perhaps one day, be a celeb like her.