How Arfaana Is Chasing Her Dream
GRADUATION DAY IN KARACHI
Arfaana is standing in the central courtyard of her school with the rest of her graduating class. She’s beaming with pride as she’s handed a diploma that will enable her to go to high school. She’s the first member of her family to do so. It’s a big step towards her goal of becoming a doctor.
Arfaana’s come a long way to be here in Karachi today. Her family is originally from Quetta, 700 kilometres away. When she was a child, her father, who works selling French fries from a stall, moved the entire family from Quetta to Karachi in search of a better life and financial success for his business. While the move opened up opportunities for Arfaana, it was not an easy road.
“All the girls in my family are either married or sitting at home and have never been to school.” – Arfaana, 17
Quetta’s poorer neighbourhoods are severely underserved. Only 47% have schools. Because of the lack of schools, Arfaana’s parents and her older siblings never went to school or learned to read. One of her older sisters made it to third grade before leaving school so she could be married. Arfaana dreamed of going further in her education than anyone else in her family had.
Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, seemed like it might offer her that opportunity. It is better supplied with schools than Quetta, although a lack of government funding means many schools are privately operated. Arfaana’s family would need to find the money to cover her tuition.
“All the girls in my family are either married or sitting at home and have never been to school,” Arfaana says. “I asked my father to let me study. He agreed and said I could study until fifth grade, but then discontinue.”
RISING TO THE CHALLENGES LIFE BRINGS
Arfaana studied as hard as she could and did well in school. When she reached fifth grade, her father was so impressed with her hard work and achievement that he agreed to let her continue. But because she spent so much time studying, she was still very shy and had difficulty socializing with others. Her social difficulties made her feel unhappy, anxious, and insecure despite her success.
“If someone said something ordinary to me, I would start crying. I was unable to respond or have a conversation with anyone,” she says.
The school Arfaana joined in Karachi was part of Right To Play’s GOAL program, which uses sports and group play activities to help build girls’ confidence and communication skills. GOAL also helps girls learn financial literacy skills to strengthen their independence. Arfaana enrolled in GOAL and became a regular participant. Playing sports and interacting with her peers helped her come out of her shell and start engaging with her peers.
“Once I came into sixth grade and started participating in Right To Play activities, I started to feel a change in myself. I was not afraid to speak my mind and talk in front of anyone.”
“I thought to myself – this is my chance to get up and do something. What have I learnt all these skills for? Not to sit around, but to do something to help my family.” – Arfaana
While Arfaana was thriving, her father was struggling, beset by a foot injury that prevented him from working. Business suffered, and Arfaana’s school costs started to weigh heavier on the family. Arfaana’s educational future was in jeopardy again.
“I thought to myself – this is my chance to get up and do something,” she says. “I had learnt negotiation skills in Right To Play’s activities. So, I convinced my father that to make the fries and give them to me in my break time and I would sell his fries to my peers. This way I improved my own skills and also helped him out with extra earning.”
DREAMING OF GIVING BACK
Back in Quetta, Arfaana’s mother used to tell her about all the times someone in their extended family had suffered or died due to lack of medical care. Arfaana decided to become a doctor so she could help people like her family who lived in poorer neighbourhoods that lacked any health care.
But in Karachi as in many other places, her teachers thought it was more appropriate for girls to study arts instead of science. She was told that she would have to choose one or the other subject to study in high school.
“Every girl has a right to education. We are no less than any other person.” – Arfaana
“It’s then when that one Right To Play activity came to my mind: the one about patience and absorbing the challenges that come your way. That is also a skill: How to bear the challenges in your life.”
She started studying harder in her science course so she would outperform her peers. “I scored excellent marks, leaving them no choice but to let me pursue science.”
Now, Arfaana is not only keeping up with her studies, she’s also encouraging her younger sisters to stay in school.
“Every girl has a right to education. We are no less than any other person.”