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Unsung Heroes of Pakistan – Shameem Akhtar

Shameem Akhtar Shameem Akhtar was born in a conservative Baloch tribe, where what women do is a ‘matter of honour’. As custom dictates, women are not allowed to leave the house. Luckily for Shameem, her uncle was an educated man who was able to advocate on Shameem’s behalf. The name “Shameem” is used for both,…

Shameem Akhtar

Shameem Akhtar was born in a conservative Baloch tribe, where what women do is a ‘matter of honour’. As custom dictates, women are not allowed to leave the house. Luckily for Shameem, her uncle was an educated man who was able to advocate on Shameem’s behalf. The name “Shameem” is used for both, boys and girls. Her uncle used this coincidence to change Shameem’s life for the better and got her admitted to a school.

It was not an easy task; there were no schools that taught girls in her village, and teaching girls alongside boys was not acceptable. Shameem acquired the getup of a boy, and was thus allowed to go outside the house and get an education. After eighth grade, completing her education seemed like a distant dream. The nearest high school was 5 kilometres away. She would not have been allowed to leave the house and travel, even if she dressed up as a boy. Shameem’s father refused to help her out. Fortunately for Shameem, a distant relative offered to teach her ninth and tenth grade curricula during her summer vacations. This enabled her to clear her matric.

Shameem was determined to continue her studies and after a three-day hunger strike, she was finally allowed to attend college. Two years later she joined a two-year program to become a lady health visitor. Around that time, she heard about the Thardeep Rural Development Program, a non-profit organisation working towards empowering rural communities. She secretly travelled for five hours and gave an interview for a position at the NPO. She got the job, all that was left for her was to convince her father. That day, she went home and told him, “Tomorrow morning, the bus is going to come. If you believe in me, you will wake me up and take me to the bus station. If you don’t, then I’ll understand.” The next day her father took her to the bus stop himself.

An observant child from the start, Shameem is aware of the value identity holds. Sometimes, identity domineers the privileges and love a person receives. Around the world, millions of girls are denied their basic rights because of being a female. Working with TRDP, Shameem witnessed the complex problems Pakistan faced. The job soon became more than just a job. Realising the importance of education, Shameem started to teach at a rural school. The school she taught at was understaffed and she employed the use of her friends, who could help her teach. She also started a PhD at the University of Sindh in Education.

Shameem currently works as a teacher, writer and social worker. She is also a TEDx speaker. Her work is focused towards, social mobilization, education, relief management and literature. She was selected by Acumen Pakistan Fellows 2015, for their one-year programme. A regular contributor to print media and literary magazines, Shameem is aware of the long journey ahead of her, but she is willing to go the distance.

Author: Common Man Initiative