ByArshad YousafzaiAclassroom at Government Boys School located in a remote area of Sindh, the AbdullahMari Goth Mirpur Khas, used to be full of boys where a girl child—Shamim Mari, hardly9 or 10 years old at that time, used to sit among them—studied her early educationwearing boys dress for around 12 years—yet her struggle and difficulties notbeen ended as she wishes to be a permanent teacher at school. Maribelongs to a conservative Baloch family. After completing her education, shestarted working as a health worker, and in 2014, persuaded her family to startteaching at a government school after recruited on a contractual basis throughthe NTS.However,on November 30, 2017 she heard that she is one among thousands of teachers,whose contracts would not be extended. Now Mari is part of teachers’ campaigndemanding Sindh government to regularize them.
In this struggle, she sufferedfrom police’ baton charge on December 25 at Karachi Press Club when these teacherswere moving towards Sindh assembly.Shegot success qualified a test that conducted by National Testing Services forthe recruitment of teacher in 2014, she joined Government Girls High SchoolPhullahdyoon located some 45 Kilometer away from the city of Mirpur Khas, toeducate further girls of the area but police violence against teachers has disappointedher. She complained against the attitude of Sindh government with teachers. Although,she represented Pakistan and Sindh on various international forms including TedTalks in USA that held in November 2017.
On the behalf of Plan InternationalPakistan, an origination campaigns for child development she attended an Internationalseminar in Bangladesh on child rights held in 2013. She also delivered alecture entitled Sindh Education Status and Girls Education in Kenya in 2015. Her schooling daysTheNews interviewed Mari at the sit-in camp at KPC she told her struggle tales. Accordingto her, she born in a conservative Baloch Mari tribe, where women and girls werethe matter of honor and they were not allowed to go out from their homes unlessaccompanied by male even to attend education or go for treatment to hospitals. Marinarrated that one of her uncle, Muhammad Aslam Mari was a university alumnae. Hewas not in favor of these customs and traditions.
He wanted to give an opportunityof education to her niece. He was of the opinion that Shamim become a part ofsociety and play a role for educating girls.Luckily,she had a name that could be used for both men and women; her uncle saw a chanceto change the course of her life.
He decided to raise her as male. She wasgiven a boy’s get up and allowed to go outside her home and get education in aBoys school. She was free. She is now confident. She became a voice for girls’education. In curtail, she noticed everyday injustices faced by girls and women in her village. “When the newspaper arrived at our home, it used to pass from eldest male to youngestmale.
By the time the she got hold the paper for reading by saying it is old news.She completes her 8th grade year in 1996 and was feared to keepcontinue further education. Her struggle to complete matriculation After completion it would be the end of her education because local high school was 5 Km away from her home. The boys havebicycles and they were free to go school. She also knew that her father, Muhammad Muneer Mari would not allow her to travel on her own.
Even, if she wereposing as a boy. “I can’t let you do that,” and “Idon’t have the time to walk you there and back. I’m sorry, it’s impossible”, her father told her she recalled. She got very upset. But a miracle happened; a relative offered to teach her the curriculum for 9th and 10th levels during the summer months. In this way she hardly completed her matriculation in 1998.
“Millions of girls were denied theirbasic rights because of being female. This is what I would have faced I if hadn’tbeen raised like a boy”, Mari added.How she got admission in college After high schooling, even enrolling incollege was not easy for her – she went on a three days hunger strike – that iswhen she got permission and in this way she completed college. Two years later,when the time came for her to peruse higher education at university, her fatherhas turned his attention to her younger brothers—they were needed to go toschool, secure jobs and help to support their family. She started her career as health worker As a woman, her destiny was home whereshe would have to cock, eat and sleep and don’t think about girls’ rights or tobe changed tribal traditions. But she continued her struggle, she sign up for atwo-year program to become a female health visitor.
Then she joined an NGO thatwas working to empower rural communities in rural Sindh. “I traveled for five hours to interviewfor a position. I got the job but the hardest part was facing my father becausemost of our relatives were already teasing him about his daughter wandering offand scaring him with talk of her crossing the border, when I arrived home”However, she decided to talk to herfather. She packed all of her belongings into a bag—like pillowcase. She walked into her father’s room, andsaid to him, the bus would come in the morning. “If you believe in me, you wouldwake me up and drop me off at the station. If you don’t wake me up, I’llunderstand”.
The next morning, her father was there totake her to the bus stop. “On that day I learned the importance of words,I learned how words affect our hearts and play an important role in our lives.I learned that negotiating is more helpful than fighting”.
She began to observe other areas ofrural Sind where some women had 11 children and nothing to feed them. To getwater, they would walk three hours every day to wells about six, maybe seven,kilometers away. There were no schools and the nearest hospital available forthem. Mari ascertained if a woman is in laborand travels by camel to reach the hospital for treatment she may die on the waydue to the long distance. “It became more than just a job for me, it became mypassion”.She was happy to be a part of the NGOworking for rural communities. But, mindset of the people in her village is yetto be changed.
The discriminative remarks made by her villagers and recitativesdidn’t left her alone all the time. Her role as a teacher So far, she discussed the problems—mostof the reservations and rumors created by her relatives and tribe elders withher father, Muhammad Muneer Mari. He suggested her to join teaching. She appearedin the NTS and got a job as a teacher in 2014.
Shamims started her new job with dreamsin her eyes—the freedom, educating girls and uplifting lifestyle of the peopleresided in her village. “They are eager to learn, but the school is understaffed.Girls sit hopeful, but not learning anything, and then leave. I can’t bear tosee that happening. There is no turning back”. She says, “Ithought that teaching is enough but now I realized there are many issues andchallenges in the system”. What she observed during threeyears job as teacherShesaid there is a shortage of teachers.
Teachers from cities are not ready totravel long hours to come and teach in rural areas; college is at least 45 Kmaway from my village and most of girlsare poor, so travelling one hours distance every day is expensive and alsorisky. TheSchools don’t have science laboratory, teaching and making children tounderstand science theories without science lab is really a tough job. Forresolving these issues she met with district officials and also she approached toprovincial minster for education but she failed to fix these issues. What are her ambitions? Shesays, “I have never stopped studying. Today I am working to complete my PhD. My thesis is on the issue of seasonalmigration in Tharparkar and its negative impact on children’s education”. She isnear to complete her PhD by the end of 2018.
She wished to gain a managementposition within the government school system. She is not hopeless Shesays, “I know the way I chose is very difficult, the destination is not close but Ihave dreams in my eyes and I am not going to look back now”.She is however upset over theprovincial government attitude towards the protesting teachers—over the batoncharged, violence on teachers and insulting them on roads. Mari believe that shewill easily qualify if Sindh government would conducted a new NTS test forteachers’ recruitment but she think it is injustice with those teachers who wereonce recruited through NTS.
She hoped that Sindh government willunderstand her plea for education and will give permanent status of job to herand other colleague for the sake of future of thousands of children in ruralarea.