We all admire the things that shine. Our eyes are first attracted to glowing lamps, dark polished shoes, glittering dresses, sparkling stars and articulated speeches. But the real shine is only tested with the pigment of time. Education is a wonderful mixture of ingredients, which if absorbed in accurate proportions and patiently cooked at a balanced temperature, can produce one of the finest recipe that is ready to shine at all times. Rajwanti is one of the few girls from rural Sindh, Pakistan who I feel is enthusiastically treading on this patient path. She is a first year student at Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS), aspiring to become a doctor and serve her community.
Rajwanti's grandfather was the first from the family to migrate to Tando Jam and pursue education in Engineering, thus bidding farewell to the family profession of farming. The story of her grandfather and encouragement by both parents, always instilled the eagerness for learning, and made Rajwanti face all obstructions with optimism.
Women education is not very welcome in rural Sindh, where traditional understanding of women's role restricted to four walls is profoundly embedded. Like majority families in Sindh, ties with cousins were strongly knit for Rajwanti as well. Therefore interaction with them would always be a discomforting reality. To this, Rajwanti's response remains "I always feel, when I achieve something, my extended family will value education and understand the wonders it can achieve."
The second obstruction for Rajwanti was quite unique. While most of us struggle to learn, speak and academically perform in English, Rajwanti transited from English to Sindhi in grade 5. With change in father's income, the change in address and school followed. A position holder in her erstwhile English medium primary school, Rajwanti faced a two pronged struggle - learn a new language and maintain the hard-won status of being the 'First'. She failed to do so in the initial years, and as a result was not awarded yearly gifts by her father and underwent a phase of reflection: "If someone has a position, only then they are awarded and recognized otherwise ignored. I must study more and more." From a beginner to a proficient academic performer in Sindhi, Rajwanti met the demands of her family and self, and by grade 9 again acquired the first position.
Eagerness to learn and compete do make Rajwanti a skilled and determined individual, however that is not the reason for her uniqueness. It is her ability to perceive the complexities of life and form web of connections, that make her grow into learned individual. Because of her father's habit to challenge, Rajwanti became more competitive, as a result of her oscillating relationship with co-mates she observed how competition and friendship unevenly interplay, and due to societies positive response to rank and fame but narrow thought on women education, she recognized the contradictions of life and the mixture of individual effort and inequality of opportunity, that collectively result in ones growth and another's demise.
RETO's intervention in the form of "Career Opportunities Program" in 2010 followed by community led leadership program - "Shades" was effective in shaping Rajwanti's holistic perspective towards life. In her words, "Sir Shahzad was very thought provoking - he always demonstrated and advocated for multiple perspectives at the same time." After having enrolled in the workshops conducted by Shades, Rajwanti excelled academically in her higher studies, optimized the opportunity to prepare for and apply to erstwhile unheard of Pakistan's finest medical institutions like Aga Khan University, and finally secured her place in LUMHS. Today, she also serves as a campus ambassador for the Aao Parhao Campaign, led by the Express Tribune.
Rajwanti's story is on one hand, an example of commitment and perseverance by an individual, and on the other, a case study that demonstrates the wonderful opportunities out there for individuals if the society together upholds and invest in the promising enterprise of education. There are many more girls in rural Sindh who have all that it takes to shine, and await patiently for organizations like RETO and the community at large to step ahead and invest for a better tomorrow.