Against all odds: Teenage girl in Bara braves bombs to shine academically

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Sixteen-year-old Shakeela did not let curfews and bombings in her hometown Bara deter her from getting an education. She kept her head down and earned herself third place in the Secondary School Certificate exams, the results of which were announced earlier this week.

“I want to become a lawyer and serve the community,” Shakeela, a student of Hamza Girls High School, Bara told The Express Tribune in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I have battled illiteracy. Curfews and bombings could not stop me from making it to the top three students.”

Shakeela hails from the Qambar Khel tribe in Bara, Khyber Agency which remained under the influence of militant outfit Laskhar-e-Islam’s founder Mangal Bagh for years. Educational institutes, particularly girls schools, were frequently the target of militants’ bombs and were reduced to rubble.

For women of the tribal areas, the house is their entire world, they have little opportunity to venture out even to avail medical treatment. Therefore, pursuing education in an area which lived under curfews and the threat of terrorism for nearly ten years only compounded the problem for the teenager.

Shakeela still persevered, dividing her time between school, studies and household obligations.

“I continued to help around the house; I prepared meals and washed clothes but I didn’t let my studies suffer,” she said.

“I would set my alarm for 4am so I could study in the early hours undisturbed by load-shedding later.”

According to Shakeela, “My academic success is a message to the world that tribesmen are peace-loving people.”

Unlike normal pre-exam stress which most students sweat through, Shakeela had other worries before the big dates. She was more concerned her school might be shutdown over security issues, or, worse, that it might get blown up. Her family was also facing financial problems, but her resolve remained intact. Yet she made it through with flying colours.

The teenager is of the view that an “education emergency” should also be imposed across tribal areas.

Lamenting the lack of educational facilities there, Shakeela said girls do not have any opportunities to pursue higher education in Bara. Many families cannot bear the cost of travelling to settled areas for the sake of their daughter’s education.

“I am compelled to appeal to President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, and the political administration to provide women the opportunity to attain higher education in Bara.”

The position holder’s father Hussain Gul is a bulldozer driver by profession. “I never hesitated to help my daughter despite having financial problems,” he said, adding he had invested in his daughter and was proud of her achievement. 

Source:The Express Tribune