Continuing our series on this year’s Pond’s Miracle Women, we introduce the miracle women chosen by Pond’s Miracle Mentor Tahera Hasan. A lawyer by profession, Tahera Hasan’s list of pursuits and endeavours is long and impressive. Tahera specializes in family law and has been particularly active in adoption counselling and advocacy. She has also been involved in advisory work related to media and entertainment law as well as corporate law regarding intellectual property.
Determined to give back to society, Tahera serves as the Director of the Imkaan Welfare Organisation, a not-for-profit which focuses on the welfare of underprivileged children. The organisation provides primary health care and recreation services in Machar Colony and also deals with infanticide and the placement of abandoned children with adoptive families.
Tahera’s contributions are not limited to welfare work. She has been involved in numerous cultural pursuits, having been a contributing writer for She Magazine and World Music. She is also a member of the Executive Committee and Organising Committee of the KaraFilm Society and on the Editorial board of the Book Group.
Particularly passionate about the issue of adoption in our society, Tahera founded the Karachi Adoption Group and has herself adopted three children. With the help of her husband, film director and writer Hasan Zaidi, Tahera has managed to provide a loving and secure home environment for their three children and strives to find similar homes for the numerous orphaned and abandoned children of Karachi.
Nadia has chosen a set of extraordinary women for this year’s Pond’s Mircacle Journey, including teachers, social workers and entrepreneurs. These are their stories…
School Teacher & Remedial Tutor
Aliya Sufiyan embraced a life of giving when she followed her heart to help children with learning difficulties. ‘I trained as a Montessori teacher at 19 years of age,’ she says. ‘But in 2008, I went into remedial teaching and started training children with learning difficulties.’ Maternal and nurturing by nature, Aliya had always wanted to help those children she saw struggle the most.
‘I feel children with disabilities are wired differently. I was always inclined towards them because I felt such children were ignored. I saw them struggling and I knew I wanted to help them.’ Not one to shy away from a challenge, Aliya decided to take on the work others would shirk from. ‘These are the challenges that a teacher should be ready to take on. Sadly very few people go out of their comfort zone to do that. I’ve always been that kind of a person so I took on the challenge.’
But the journey was far from easy. ‘There are very few mainstream schools that take on these children and accept that they are not abnormal but that they just learn differently.’
Aliya wanted to create awareness that, unlike normal children, these children achieved their milestones in other ways. ‘Children with learning difficulties learn differently therefore you have to be more creative. Teaching has to become more creative. You have to think a thousand different ways to teach – no one formula that fits all can be used here because every child who comes to me learns differently.’
But finding the right method that works was not the only challenge. She recalls, ‘Challenge comes when you are dealing with schools, or parents who feel dyslexia or ADHD is some sort of abnormality. It’s an everyday challenge.’
The selfless person that she is, Aliya’s only wish is for the 25th hour. ‘Sometimes I wish I could stretch myself more. Maybe clone myself so that I could touch more lives and do more, help more children.’ On Saturdays she dedicates herself to charity and tutors those children who can’t afford lessons.
Her miracle moment came recently when she took on a little boy with a charity-aided cochlear implant who couldn’t speak a single word. ‘Very few people were willing to teach him for nothing. I took him on and for the first 6 months he could say nothing, and then one day he just suddenly started speaking. To see the joy and ecstasy in his eyes when he uttered his first word– that was my miracle moment.’ Aliya’s miracle journey is not just heroic and inspiring but also a testimony that anyone can be a hero if their heart is in the right place.
Director of Teacher’s Resource Centre
A force to reckon with in the development world, Miracle Woman Ambreena Ahmed is known for implementing change where it is most needed. Well-respected in her field, Ambreena has been working in education for about 15 years and currently heads a leading not-for-profit agency called the Teachers’ Resource Centre. Her journey into the world of giving was purely by chance.
‘It was by sheer luck that I got involved with the development sector although I am a business graduate. Since a very young age, I was into writing poetry and short stories and was fortunate to have my work published in popular, mainstream publications. What started as editorship of a publication on education and development issues led to intensive research driven work on developing and managing diverse projects and programmes to promote access to quality education for the marginalised segments of society especially children. I worked at various senior level positions as part of my 13 year tenure with the Sindh Education Foundation. After leaving in 2013, I joined the Teachers’ Resource Centre which I am heading now as the Director.’
Excelling at her demanding work, while being a parent of two, has not been an easy journey. ‘It has been both rough and rewarding. I found myself on the verge of giving up my career when my second daughter was born because I couldn’t imagine managing a full time job with two little kids. But having a supportive employer like Professor Anita Ghulam Ali (late) at SEF encouraged me and other young and struggling mothers to bring our children with us to office, even though there wasn’t a proper day care facility back then. She strongly believed that children should not be separated from mothers, and mothers should be facilitated in professional environments to manage both work and kids. It was hugely challenging but she was always so sure of our management skills. Since she had our backs, mothers like me brought their kids to work everyday and managed to manage! Since the leadership was supportive of this novel idea, the rest of the team followed suit and developed a sort of familial camaraderie in office to accommodate growing children.’
However Ambreena had to give up many international opportunities, which demanded travel, due to motherhood. Later on, when her mother moved in, Ambreena was able to devote even more time and energy to her profession. And this was the support that enabled her to really reach her full potential.
Ambreena’s journey is truly miraculous and an inspiration for many others to follow. She is hopeful and optimistic of a better future though she feels there is still a long way to go. ‘People are becoming more receptive towards the idea of working mothers and are trying to create spaces to support their children and them. Even families are becoming more supportive, I think, which is very positive. But we still have a long way to go. I feel all workplaces should have a day care facility for young children and an after school set up for children coming back from school. A lot of mothers don’t know where to leave their kids once they are back from school and do not enjoy support from families as such. It’s very important for workplaces to support such mothers and ensure they are at peace as far as their children are concerned. I think the best way to ensure this is to have the children near her in a safe and conducive environment. It will definitely have a powerful impact on their productivity at work also!’
Her advice to working mothers is to hold fast and stay positive. ‘My advice would be “don’t give up”. There’s always a way out. If I can make it through, believe me, you can do it as well. Just have faith. Lots and lots of faith!’
A great motivation to other working mothers, Ambreena’s miracle journey has shown that if you believe in something, just go for it and do the best you can with the resources that you have; success will come!
Lawyer & Company Secretary at Sui Southern Gas Company
Work gave lawyer Faiza Kapadia the opportunity to learn that success, happiness and fulfilment in life comes not from our accomplishments but from our response to our limitations. ‘I did have to sacrifice,’ says Faiza, recalling her decision to step back at the height of her career, ‘But for me, family always comes first. I took cutbacks in my career when my kids were small. With my first born, I left work, went back part time, gradually increasing my hours as he grew older.’
But Faiza has no regrets. ‘Your priorities have to be right,’ she says. ‘If you are neglecting one area and focusing wholly on the other, that’s where you may have missed the balance. I felt my productivity would be more if my family life was in order so I took a conscious decision to step back till I could do that and I don’t regret it.’
Interestingly, though her climb up the success ladder was slower, she still managed to make it to the top. Today she is a successful career woman and a proud mother of two. Faiza gets her strong work ethos from her mother who she feels has led by example on how to strike a healthy balance between work and home. ‘My mother is the headmistress of a school and passionate about her work. Growing up, we never felt there was anything lacking, anything missing. The way she handled work and home made a huge impact on me.’
And that is the criterion Faiza aims to achieve in her own life, and in others for she is a firm believer in empowering the less fortunate. ‘Ever since we were young, my sister and I used to set up a blackboard down in our apartments teaching English to the children of the neighbourhood help. I still do that by putting the children of my domestic help through school.’ She beams proudly as she speaks of many who have now found jobs because of that.
Faiza’s balanced personality, positive attitude and faith in empowering the less fortunate is inspirational. Her miracle journey is sure to help other working mothers harmonise their lives and professions, just as passionately.
General Manager of Resource Mobilisation at The Citizens Foundation
Diversely talented, Huma Mahmud has a remarkable miracle journey that began with a tragic loss – the death of her sister – and a beautiful gain – the adoption of a child. Her attitude and faith got her through the turbulence and the triumphs, and now she works in the development sector, helping others harmonize their lives.
‘I work at The Citizens Foundation in the mornings and at the Express Tribune in the evenings,’ Huma says. ‘I’m a single mother, never been married; I adopted a child.’ Not getting married was a conscious choice on Huma’s part who felt one should get married only for the right reasons. ‘It’s very easy to get married in Pakistan,’ she says. ‘The pressure to marry early is very high. But for me it is important to have a marriage of love and also one that allows me to stand on my own feet and take care of the people who were part of my family before marriage.’
Huma lost her sister eight years ago and that was a turning point in her life. ‘I was working my way up the corporate ladder successfully but after my sister’s sudden death I realised I wanted to do more with my life. It’s not about the next paycheck; it’s about making a change. So I moved to the development sector. At the same time, I started volunteering with an adoption agency on Saturdays.’
It was here, while helping with the audit one day, that Huma spotted the love of her life – an infant. ‘As soon as I saw Rahim, I knew I couldn’t walk away… I knew the odds of adopting. But I couldn’t give him up.’
Unfortunately for Huma, the process turned out to be extremely difficult. ‘The laws of Pakistan are such that a single woman is not allowed to adopt. Without the father’s name, a birth certificate cannot be issued by NADRA.’ But refusing to give in, Huma fought a legal battle and has finally won her child’s legal guardianship. ‘My life has turned around,’ she says. ‘It has purpose now.’
Although, she admits, raising a child as a working, single parent is anything but easy. ‘Going back to work and leaving my child behind was the hardest thing,’ she says. ‘But I will continue to work, firstly because I enjoy it and secondly so I can give my child a good future.’
Rumi’s saying ‘You are not a drop in the ocean but the ocean in a drop’, seems to sum up Huma’s miracle journey. Her self-belief and faith in goodness is an inspiration to all working mothers to live bigger and better lives based on giving.
Artist, Photographer and Curator
Multi-talented Malika Abbas has had an incredible miracle journey of determination and transformation. She went from being a prized photographer, to a stay-at-home mother, to an art curator, and then full circle back to her first love of photography. Today she juggles many different roles, wears many different hats yet what stands her apart is her unique individuality that shines through everything she takes on.
‘I’m a photographer for White Star photos, Dawn’s sister company. I also recently joined Ghandara Art gallery as a curator. I’m also a practicing artist, and do miniatures on commission. Plus I’m a mother of two.’ Creativity comes naturally to her for as she says, ‘I come from a family of very creative people; dabbling in multiple artistic pursuits is the norm. I took it one step further and decided to pursue it professionally.’
Highly creative, Malika feels that finding the balance between art and profession, and profession and parenthood, is the hardest part. ‘It’s very difficult to keep the balance but my solution is to keep my weekends completely work free, just for the family. Also, I divide my working day in two. As I work at two places, I break my day by having lunch with my family and then go to my next job.’
As organised as it sounds, the journey has had its shares of highs and lows. The toughest decision for a creative person like Malika, was the decision to stop working. ‘I took time off when my daughter was born. I took a two-year sabbatical and making that choice was very difficult. However going back to work after two years was even more challenging. Supressing that maternal instinct of wanting to be with my child wasn’t easy.’
Malika feels it was the right decision for independence rates high in her life. ‘You can’t expect, in this day and age, for someone to take care of you. Everyone needs to be responsible for themselves, independent both financially and emotionally.’ Artistic yet grounded, Malika’s strong outlook on life and decisive nature is sure to inspire many others to follow her journey of self-discovery and exploration. After all, life is all about living.
Executive Administrative Coordinator of Bay View Academy’s Primary Section
Miracle woman Mariyam Masood’s journey shows that one can take any number of measures but life is still full of surprises. With a degree in software, Maryam was on the path to success in the world of technology. However, her destination turned out to be anything but computer coding. The late timings and impossible deadlines of the male dominated IT industry led Mariyam to explore alternate careers.
With her brother’s help she found a place at Bayview Academy, documenting all their procedures. That turned out to be the start of a long and thriving career in educational administration for her. But her journey was far from easy as, inherently shy, Mariyam, found she had to overcome her introvert nature to adapt to her new surroundings.
‘Most challenging was to develop people’s skills. I would describe myself as borderline anti-social,’ she says. ‘But I had to overcome my shyness, because in this job I not only had to meet lots of different people but help them through various situations. One meets lots of different kinds of parents and students and has to deal with challenges on a daily basis.’
This was a big learning curve for her. But Mariyam met the challenge head on.
The other great challenge in her life was losing weight. As a mother of two with a career, she found it hard to find the time or the motivation but once she made up her mind, nothing could distract her. ‘I’ve always had a weight issue. I decided one day to take matters in my own hands. I joined aerobics and other fitness programmes and even became an instructor. I lost 50 pounds. That took a lot of courage and was probably the most courageous thing I did in my life.’
Successfully juggling a career and motherhood, Mariyam is a great example of a working mother. She credits her family for providing the support she needs to maintain the right balance. ‘My mother is my biggest support. As I don’t have my in-laws living with me, often my husband and I drop the kids at hers at 7 a.m and she takes over. Other than that, my husband is also very supportive. If either child is ill we take rotations in looking after the them or taking time off from work.’
Mariyam feels that having a flexible employer also helps. ‘Working at this school has been a great experience. They are more like friends than employers which makes all the difference.’
Mariyam feels that flexible employers are key to encouraging more working mothers into the workforce. ‘I feel the culture itself is changing, especially in urban areas. When I was growing up, as compared to my mother’s generation, my dad and brother encouraged me to take up a career. Also I can never be as selfless as my mother. Our generation is more self-aware. We are conscious of our needs as well as of those around us.’
Life is full of twists and turns and Mariyam’s miracle journey has shown that we must embrace every opportunity that comes our way with open arms. For one never knows what one;s true path is meant to be as coding guru turned educationalist Mariyam has shown!
Seniour Counsel & Director Legal at Philip Morris Pakistan
Harvard graduate Muneeza Kazi left a promising legal career in the United States to be with the man she loves. After marriage, she began working at a law firm in Karachi only to quit after her first born came along. ‘Later, I decided to go back to work part time. I joined a multinational and I was lucky enough to have a female boss who understood my situation. She really encouraged me to continue working.’
A mother of two, Muneeza went through the cycle of doubts and self-imposed guilt that most working mothers experience. ‘I had a phase where I thought why am I working, my baby needs me, but then I realised that eventually it would help me support their education and other needs.’ Muneeza acknowledges the role a good support system plays in a working mother’s life. ‘Unless you have support from in-laws and your husband, it’s very difficult. Had my mother-in-law, also a working woman, not stepped in to help, I might not be where I am today.’
A great believer in balance, Muneeza has found a way to create a harmonious work-life equilibrium. ‘I get into work early, get my job done and leave. I never bring work home or stay back late. Although you do get the occasional snide remark from male colleagues who, if you leave on time, say “Aaj half day hai aapka?” [Is this your half day?]. You just need to develop a thick skin and soldier on.’
As inspiring as her miracle journey seems, it’s not without its pitfalls. There was a time when Muneeza’s son was in hospital due to an accident and her daughter was diagnosed with Dengue fever. She had to juggle between work and hospital, not being able to compromise on either. Her will was further tested when her husband was hospitalised with 70% burns. Overnight Muneeza had to take on the role of a sole parent juggling home, her own work and her husband’s, as well as her emotions, for she had no idea if he would survive. ‘Because of the goodwill I had created at work, I got lots of support from my male colleagues…And that’s, mainly, how I got through it.’
Today she has a successful legal career, and her family has come out of the ordeal safely, but few know the turbulence behind this idealistic picture. Reflecting on her journey Muneeza says that breaking barriers is a high she thrives on and despite all that she has achieved she is ready to take on more. Her miracle journey is a motivation to all working mothers out there, juggling tough situations at home while breaking the glass ceiling at work.
Founder & Chairperson of Kiran Foundation
When women have great role models – especially role models in whom they can see themselves – they’re at a big advantage. Sabina Khatri has given the women of Lyari just that in the form of a charismatic and enterprising working-mother.
Her journey of Kiran started eight years ago when she stepped in to help a child suffering from abuse; she went on to help a hundred others. ‘It is a wonderful community that knows how to smile through tough times,’ she says about Lyari. ‘They are very courageous people but deep down they are wounded, especially the little children. When they grow up they do the same – adding to the violent society.’
Sabina knew abuse was a sensitive issue that could not be talked about openly yet she was determined to find a way to create awareness. ‘After thinking a lot, I realized they were all looking for a safe place for the child, mainly schooling. In Lyari, little toddlers roam free on the streets. There is no safety. So I thought let’s try and open up a preschool.’
Sabina’s idea was to educate the parent as well as the child so the precondition to admission was that the mother must attend thrice a week and the father must accompany the child on Sundays. ‘The child was the bait. We wanted to educate the parents.’ And in doing so Sabina not only brought about a positive change in the lives of the children but also motivated many of the parents to go back to school and complete their education.
‘My whole vision is to make our society a safe society. If a child is brought up with love he learns to trust the world and learns to be a compassionate human being and we eradicate violence.’
Her miracle journey did not end at opening a preschool. ‘In all these eight years we have placed 140 students in mainstream private schools on merit, despite the fact that we have only two years to prepare them for the test, and their parents for the interview.’ Not stopping at that, she went on to adopt two government schools. ‘Last year, I partnered with another non-profit organization and adopted a government school in Lyari. We scaled up to 400 students.’
Despite her tremulous miracle journey, the selfless person that Sabina is, her miracle moment came when she saw one of her students take a stand. ‘One day a child at our adopted government school who, at the age of 16 and despite being a regular student, had not been taught anything at school and deceived into thinking he was literate, got up and demanded the teacher return his lost years. That was my miracle moment because I knew he now understood his rights.’
What began as a ray of light has today bathed Lyari in golden sunshine. But for Sabina it is just the beginning. Her work does not just end at educating; she goes on to fund entrepreneurial ventures for the mothers. One lady she helped drives a girls’ van today. Sabina feels it is all the will and determination of the people to rise out of their situations. She has dedicated herself to the cause, and her children are just as passionate about her mission. She is a mother to many and her miracle journey should be an inspiration to all those working mothers who think that the day begins and ends with their own world. There is a bigger, selfless and giving world out there and Sabina Khatri’s miracle journey proves just that.
Tatheer Zehra Hamdani
Director of Academic Operations and Student Recruitment at Habib University
Miracle woman Tatheer Zehra’s journey has shown that life is all about learning through growth. There is a miracle at every turn, offering one the chance to advance and evolve. Currently she works at Habib University and her job involves working with academic leadership amidst other responsibilities.
Her foray into the academic world was purely by chance. After graduating from IBA, Tatheer began working for a non-profit educational organisation, which introduced her to a whole new aspect of society. Moving into higher education further broadened her outlook. ‘Changing the way I thought of local communities was one big learning curve. Breaking your own internal barriers is the real challenge. We have a very myopic view of illiteracy and finding new ways to educate communities was a very interesting experience.’
Also a mum, Tatheer feels the life-work balance is a juggling act that few can master without support. ‘The support has to come from your own family,’ she says. ‘One can only maintain the balance if the family, especially the husband is supportive. To be able to succeed as a professional, a support system is essential.’
As an educationalist, Tatheer is conscious of the fact that women are pushed to excel academically but not professionally. ‘Women always score the highest in exams, but what happens afterwards? You are confronted by your parents to settle down because, for them, it’s the only safety. What needs to be done is raising awareness levels of parents and involving them in female students’ life. It’s the generation gap which makes a lot of things fall apart.’
The other reason she feels which deters women from stepping into the professional life is the male dominated workplace. ‘Female representation is still very low,’ she says. Tatheer was lucky to work with inspirational women like Prof. Anita Ghualm Ali at the very start of her career and that set the tone for her work ethos.
‘Prof. Ghulam Ali was a very strong willed woman with strong convictions. Watching her deal with different problems empowered me to do things I didn’t know I could.’ Having a strong model who led by example helped Tatheer achieve her goals in life and she hopes more women with strength of character will come forth to inspire others. ‘Role models are important and so is self respect,’ she says. ‘Women find a lot of strength when men respect them. It gives them courage.’
Having been around smart, driven, and courageous women has shaped Tatheer into a strong, decisive woman and her miracle journey shows that the constant ups and downs of being a professional are completely normal and that new opportunities are always on the way.
Owner of Absolutely Caked
Choosing the entrepreneurial path allowed baking-artist Zairah Maher to leave her day job and design a life of freedom in which her family could be her priority. By staying flexible and tenacious, Zairah has built a business synonymous with quality baking. It is a profession that not only helps her explore her creative side but also gives her the opportunity to set her own priorities.
Zairah trained in Fine Arts in England before moving back to Pakistan, where she began teaching art at an A’Level institute. ‘After I got married I was at home, but that wasn’t enough for me so I started baking,’ she says. Gradually the passion turned into her profession but the journey was anything but easy. ‘We were educated abroad,’ she says, ‘and grew up with the idea of seeing our mom work. But once the pressure of motherhood set in, I realised it was not an easy act to follow.’
Furthermore, making the switch from a stable job to starting her own business was yet another defining moment for Zairah. She feels that being your own boss requires a certain self-discipline that is not always easy. ‘Running a successful business and home simultaneously can be a challenge.’ However Zairah feels the key is to be realistic about one’s expectations.
‘Recently home based businesses have boomed but women need to take it seriously. Even though home based work offers flexibility, many people take on too much and then can’t execute consistent quality. I believe that once you put something out in the market you should be able to provide it at a consistent rate and you should be able to manage it and not get zapped out. There are many other aspects to business such as marketing that one has to pay attention to. I’m entirely flourishing through social media like facebook.’
Zairah speaks from personal experience and encourages other working mothers to find the right balancing act. ‘Even I got really excited at the beginning and took on too much. It took a while to find the balance. I have now learned how to organise myself.’ Without her family’s support, she feels she would not be able to grow. ‘Family is very helpful in allowing me to flourish. They understand my schedule and help me with the children so I can manage my business.’
It wasn’t always like this, and Zairah feels that like many other home-based entrepreneurs she had to earn that respect from her family by proving her commitment to her craft. ‘Teaching as a profession gave me a lot of respect while baking, for some reason, people found hard to take seriously as my occupation. But once they saw I was serious, they came around. I worked really hard and pushed the limits and once they saw the success and respect it received, they too took it seriously.’
Zairah encourages other working woman to trust their instincts and believe in themselves. ‘The day I made my first professional cake and it was well received was the day I realised my potential. I began to believe that, yes, I can do something.’ She hopes that more and more woman will put faith in their own abilities and press on, changing the views of people around them. Kudos to that!