They say that one right decision can change your life. For Irum Javaid that decision was when her teacher asked the class if anyone was interested in learning the English Language through the English Access Microscholarship Program. All it took was a ‘yes’ to open the doors of unexpected opportunities for not only herself but her 3 younger sisters as well. Being through the rigorous selection process and graduating from the 2-year-long intensive English language with a distinction, was a sheer joy for her as it was the decision that changed her life.
Being the oldest of four sisters, Irum took upon the responsibility to set an example for her younger sisters and other girls in her school by taking a risk and going out-of-the-way to learn more. She made it a mission to pursue her dreams of studying design, a field quite unconventional to the more acceptable academic options such as engineering or medicine. She shares, “It was the most difficult moment of my life, to convince my parents that a degree in Design was the right choice. Now, after graduating and landing a prestigious job, they couldn’t be more proud of me for taking on the road less traveled in our community.”
At the impressive age of just 22, Irum has groomed to become a confident, outspoken and passionate young woman breaking all the set norms she’s expected to follow. Her eccentric passion for cars motivated her to become the first girl to organize a motor show in the twin cities of Pakistan. Irum, setting an example for other girls created an online community for car fanatic women like herself known as ‘Heels on Wheels’ which now has over seven thousand members. She credits this success immensely to her encouraging father and the English Access Microscholarship Program.
Irum believes that the English Access Program polished her communication skills in a manner which allowed her to develop her personality and have the confidence to pursue her goals in life. She shared “the [English Access] program not only helped me put on my wings but also, made sure I would fly, regardless of my whereabouts.”
However, she didn’t stop there as she encouraged her sisters to do the same, and so they did. Irum Javaid, Saira Javaid, Arooj Javaid and Fareeha Javaid, had all been recruited under the English Access Microscholarship Program.
On her sister’s nudge, Saira Javaid applied for the English Access Program; to her utter joy got selected for the program and graduated in 2010. Saira believes that the program has empowered her to pursue a degree in mass communication so she could speak for those women in Pakistan and around the world who had no medium to express. Like Irum, the 20-year-old Saira, had to battle her own set of struggles for studying media and mass communication a field conventionally frowned upon by the society for girls. However, the fear of acceptance didn’t bring her down and with the support of her parents she is currently pursuing her studies and has recently completed a summer internship at a prestigious INGO.
The success stories don’t end there. Irum and Saira’s sister, Arooj Javaid now 18, was also enrolled in the English Access Program of 2012-2014. Similar to her predecessors, she has always been involved in extracurricular activities and has won several awards for her accomplishments. She currently pursues a Bachelor’s degree in Business and aspires to become an Investment Banker.
The youngest sister, Freeha Javaid now 14, decided to join forces with her fearless sisters and will be graduating from the English Access Program this year. At this young age, she was selected to be amongst the few English Access students who represented Pakistan at South Asia Access Summer camp 2016 in Turkey. Freeha recalls the event as shares that “…it was an experience of a lifetime which helped me learn about new cultures, people, heritages, and lifestyles. It was the first time I had interacted with people from South Asia, especially from India. It helped me understand how similar we all are.” Speaking about her ambitions, she says that she aims to become a doctor and help those who cannot afford medical care.
Over the last few months, the Javaid sisters have been predominately working towards strengthening the people-to-people ties between the United States and Pakistan. Their easy-going charm was a sight for all when they sang the patriotic melody of ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ with Tom Montgomery (the Public Diplomacy Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad) at the seventh annual reunion of Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network’s (PUAN) Islamabad/Rawalpindi Chapter.
Now, confident, bold and enthusiastic, each sister has won their own battle to become who they are today. The setbacks, gender-based discrimination, and stereotypical attitudes pushed them forward to pursue the study of their choice, build a professional career, and be comfortable in who they are today. They say they owe the success to their father who always has had faith in them during the ups and downs and always treated them equal to his only son.
The sisters have, through an example, proved that when there is a will, there is definitely a way and the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network is proud to have played a role in developing these resilient and courageous young women. Here’s to more powerful change-makers Pakistan has to offer!
The English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) provides a foundation of English language skills to talented 13-20 year-olds from economically disadvantaged sectors through after-school classes and intensive sessions. Access gives participants English skills that may lead to better jobs and educational prospects. Participants also gain the ability to compete for and participate in future exchanges and study in the United States.
Since its inception in 2004, approximately 95,000 students in more than 85 countries have participated in the Access Program.