"This quote never made sense to me when I read it during my primary school's English course, and as life progressed and in my case, went on being difficult, knowing this became the least of my concerns.
But today, as I glance at myself and all that I have achieved, it seems like this quote was my life all along.
I belonged to a lower-middle-class family, my father being a laborer and my mother, a dedicated spouse sewing clothes to lend a helping hand towards the finances of the house. Seeing my parents burning the midnight oil to make the ends meet for our little family of 5, I, as the eldest, urged to do something extraordinary that would change our circumstances for the better.
Although we lived hand-to-mouth, my parents were supportive of our basic education, and therefore got us enrolled in a Federal Government school at Rawalpindi Cantt. From early childhood, I was fond of reading, especially the Naseem Hijazi writings I had access to. My grandmother, on the contrary, a typical elder in the house didn’t approve of it, notifying me of the bad influence, she thought, novels and magazines had on girls.
Life is quite a tricky lesson: One never understands what a circumstance really has to offer. I hated her disapproval of my studies, but now I realize that those were the little sparks that ignited in me the motivation to study more and more. As ironic as it sounds, I guess I needed that objection of hers to set the stubborn me on the road to study and success.
I scored great marks in my F.Sc., but as my family could not bear the burden of expenses that a medical degree has, I had to give up that dream of mine and settle for an ordinary Bachelor’s degree, alongside working as a tutor. After successfully completing my bachelor’s, I was lucky enough to get admission on a scholarship to Quaid E Azam University, Islamabad for my Master’s. This scholarship covered almost all of my expenses, but the meager 11-12,000 rupees left were still very difficult for me to pay, making me drop a semester and work first to earn the expenses scholarship didn’t cover. Throughout this degree, I used to be out all day, attending university from 7 am to 5 pm and then tutoring classes daily around 9-10, leaving me drained at the end of the day. The daily grind doesn't stop here, though: When I came home at 9, some students were still waiting at my home because they insisted on studying from me.
Hardly making it through this nerve-wracking phase, life got a bit lenient on me and poured in some opportunities I was desperately craving for. I had an interview with Oil and Gas Limited Company, and I applied for posts of lectureship, a junior scientist post at atomic energy, a scholarship at HEC, and a Chinese scholarship. I qualified for all of them but opted to continue my studies in China, availing the scholarship.
I got married during my first semester of Ph.D. My husband has been extremely supportive and cooperative with all my struggles: through studies, pregnancy, everything. It was his support that led me to start my own initiative Early Childhood and Parenting Education of Pakistan- ECPEP.
Today I am a mother of two and the Founding CEO of my initiative ECPEP, a platform dedicated to study about parenting and the misconceptions brown culture carries regarding it, due to lack of awareness. To state a few, preferring formula milk over breast milk, straightening the head of little babies from the back, etc. When studied upon, I found how science totally disagrees with these practices, and hence, awareness had to be raised in this matter.
My intention is solely to better the next generations of Pakistan, the betterment I had to create for myself, fighting the typical mindset, enduring the poverty I was born in, and reaching the opportunities that circumstances deemed unreachable for me. But I guess the light that I was seeking always lied within."
From Afsana: As Dr. Zareen Shafqat endured many challenges, including poverty and objections to her pursuit of education, she found the light from herself within, leading to her own educational success, and she continues to shine this light in service of others. Please continue to support our platform by seeking the light of other women on our platform, and if you also have a story to share as a Pakistani woman, please contact us.
Written by Mariam Nasim and Hamnah Khalid of Afsana