Continued from part 1, read here.
By Isang Awah
Aliya comes from Pakistan, a beautiful country that is, regrettably, badly affected by terrorism. Growing up in Peshawar city in Pakistan, she saw “schools turn to rubble and large families reduced to just a few.” In a region where the ‘right to education’ for women remains largely unaddressed, girls’ education has naturally, been hard hit by the militancy. Of the half of the country’s child population that is out of school, almost two-thirds are comprised of girls. Fortunately, Aliya, who is from an enlightened family, was able to work her way up the education ladder to The Institute of Management Sciences where she graduated with a Master’s degree in Public Administration, and this she did, with top honors and a gold medal. However, she aspired to do more than create a better life for herself; she desired to help in improving the lives of others, especially women in Pakistan.
Her passion to help others led her to volunteer in the social and development sectors, and to work with women bound in court cases, female convicts in jails, conflict victims, and internally displaced persons, etc. Aliya has also been involved in youth leadership development, managing an education system, and being part of the Institute for Policy Reforms, a Pakistani think tank. I must add that she did all of these while facing personal challenges in her own life.
Presently, Aliya is a Gates Cambridge scholar who is pursuing a PhD in Education at the University of Cambridge. Her research seeks to investigate what influence mothers have on the decision to educate girls in Pakistan, and aims to illuminate factors that possibly affect this influence.
We live in a gendered world; this is the truth regardless of what our personal experiences or reality may be. Aliya reminds us that it is not enough for us to have certain rights at the individual level; we must work towards ensuring that others have the same rights and opportunities, too. We may not be able to change the world, but in our little corner, and in our own way, we can make contributions towards creating a better and safe world for ALL girls, and indeed, all children, everywhere.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela
Emem Ini Umoh
Every time I speak with Emem, I observe an unmistakable cheerful note in her voice. Now, I do not know if it had always been there and only came to my notice at some point for the simple reason that I did not expect it to be there after certain experiences, or it is something she acquired in recent times. But whichever, I am glad it is there 🙂 !
In 2014, Emem’s husband of fourteen years died after a very brief illness. She was left with the responsibility of single-handedly raising the couple’s five young daughters. Now, that is a daunting task for anyone, but it is even more challenging for someone who teaches in a government-run secondary school in Nigeria where the demands are onerous and the pay is minimal. Rather than bemoan her fate or give up on life, Emem drew strength from her faith and chose to make the best of her circumstances. Although she’s a 1997 graduate of the University of Uyo in Nigeria, in 2015, Emem got training on how to make beaded jewelries. When her day job (teaching) is done and she still has moments to spare, she makes beaded jewelries which she sells to get extra income for her family. As admirable as this is, it is not what I find most remarkable about Emem.
For many years, Emem had observed that many of the girls in the school where she teaches needed mentoring. As is often the case with teenagers everywhere, these girls were going through stuff they would not discuss with their parents or guardians. Some of the girls had suffered abuse, and felt helpless to do anything about it. Emem listened to these girls and counselled them, but she wanted to do more than that. In 2016, in fulfillment of a dream she had nursed for several years, Emem started a Girls Club in the school. Through the club, she created a platform to mentor the girls in her school. In the Girls Club, she talks to the young girls about values, choosing friends wisely, dealing with peer pressure, relationships, etc. “I want them to be able to make informed choices,” she says.Emem hopes to impart the right values to the girls she mentors, so that they grow to become confident and capable individuals who in turn pass on excellent values to their own children. According to Emem, “…the problem of society really begins with the family unit, and tackling the problem from the root will provide the most sustainable solutions.”
Remember that “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” -Nelson Mandela