When life throws a problem at you, you should not only be smart to face it but brave enough to shift gears and change it into an opportunity for yourself. Such is the story of Maria Taqdees a Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program alumni who graduated in 2005. Maria is an ordinary girl who was selected out of 100 candidates from her school.
On her return from the United States of America, she faced a fate not any different from many. Her family married her off immediately and little did she get a chance to focus on her dreams or even realise what she would like to do next. Being married in an under-resourced family living in Baldia Town put her through a mental trauma that she could not deal with for the initial years of her marriage.
While fighting through her depression, Maria realised all that she had learnt and gained through her exposure in society and her travels before her wedding. She started reflecting on her life and the urge to give back to a community that had once shattered her self-esteem.
Baldia Town is an underprivileged society, where the literacy rate is below average. People living in this area belong to a low-income bracket or survive on daily wages. Children in the area lack the necessities of life including their right to education. The majority of youth, especially girls do not go to school as parents cannot pay for their studies. Due to the traditional societal pressures females are hardly even allowed to leave their homes especially when it comes to educational purposes. An essential neglect of society as a whole, the women are unable to carry out basic tasks for themselves as they cannot read nor write. It is a choice between feeding their families or educating their children.
While Maria reflected on her current situation, the one thing that helped her to survive was the knowledge and the skills she gained ‘to survive in any situation’. She knew she had to do something and rise above the odds. The cultural shock and the inadequate facilities around her completely disconnected her from the world. All the communication and inspiration she received from people was lost.
Nevertheless, she did not stop but counseled herself and started thinking of giving back to the women of Baldia Town that helped her to survive. She learnt to engage and be proactive in communities; through perseverance she not only started to change her situation around but also give a new meaning to the women of the community. She taught the same values, and lessons she learnt during her one year of YES scholar program, keeping her cultural and social integrity in place.
Women started to come and spend time with Maria, and she continued to teach them basic language skills. As women began to appreciate the work Maria had initiated, she leveraged through the YES Alumni Network to set up a small Community Learning Centre in her house.
Maria’s single room house turned into a Learning Centre for women during the day. Now, the learning centre is operational having two computers and access to the internet. Along with the necessary course material for English language classes and adult female literacy classes.
The Community Centre’s initial goals were to:
- Provide neglected young women with a platform to learn English language.
- Engage girls by teaching them basic computer skills through an ICT Literacy Program.
- Create opportunities for uninformed women of the area by giving them a chance to learn basic life skills, daily life arithmetic, basic reading skills and concrete mobile usage to facilitate in their everyday tasks.
In 2012, the Community Learning Centre held its first graduation ceremony for all individuals who had participated in the program, highlighting their achievements and the centre’s accomplishment. The centre has not only gained credibility in two years but has started to see success stories. The girls who had taken the English language training, have either started going to school for further education and some have become Montessori teachers.
Another graduate from the Computer Training Program, which teaches them basic computer usage, internet skills, browsing skills and technological skills has now landed herself with a good job in an NGO in Interior Sindh, giving her the privilege to provide for her family. The third program The Basic Literacy Program targeted towards older women, who were stuck in a rut pattern, housewives, unable to read or comprehend anything in an astute depressive state. This program has taught them to read and understand newspapers, news channel tickers, bus routes and sign boards among other things. It has also given them the opportunity to live again and channelise their thoughts towards positive discussions and to make logical decisions, and work creatively towards their talent.
Programs like these not only help women, but it changes the entire perspective of a household, young boys within the community that turn towards crime or in idolising someone learn to use their intelligence in a more constructive manner too. We need more and more volunteers like Maria to step up and work for their communities, channel the youthful energy and prevent them from getting involved in crime. It is time for us Pakistanis to work towards a better social learning method and learn through others.