Date: August 22, 2017
On this pivotal day, my dear American friend and the Development Director of the Zephaniah Women Education and Empowerment Foundation, Malee Kenworthy, shared a link with me. It contained the words of the U.S. President, Donald Trump, expressing concern about the presence of safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan. He hinted at the possibility of sending troops to Pakistan soon.
My days are dedicated to teaching at the Zeph Center, and it’s a commitment that never exhausts me or fills me with anger. In fact, I revel in being amongst my students. Their unwavering thirst for knowledge, their infectious laughter, their dedication to their studies and skills, and the transformation of their thoughts into positivity infuse me with fresh energy each day.
Today, during our English language class, a spirited discussion on sportsmanship led to a poignant moment. One of the new girls posed a question: “Is it acceptable to say that Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian cricket legend, is crying over his team’s defeat to the Pakistani cricket team, and that I am happy to see him cry?”
However, another girl, with a powerful voice, chimed in and said, “Listen, Anam, we are Zeph Girls, we are peacemakers. We should refrain from even the slightest hint of hate towards other nations. Let’s always speak of love and respect for all, regardless of where they come from. We are born to inspire hope, so let our words be about hope and let us craft sentences filled with love and respect for every soul on this planet.”
I applauded her wisdom and felt a profound sense of pride in being their teacher. It has taken me numerous years, with my childhood and youth dedicated to this endeavor, but I have finally achieved it.
My path was riddled with challenges. Threats loomed over me daily. People fabricated stories about me, propagated falsehoods, and attempted to end my life on two occasions. They slapped me, harassed me outside my home, and even pelted my students with bricks. But I never relented. The more they obstructed my way, the more determined I became. I harnessed my strength to push aside these obstacles, forging my path towards the ultimate goal of educating and empowering girls in Pakistan.
Every time they tried to halt me, I realized that the world needed more light—a beacon of hope, education, and women’s empowerment. So, I poured even more energy into transforming their darkness into radiant light, and I succeeded.
Many years ago, when I initiated this journey, I stood alone, with adversaries who took pride in threatening my existence. But now, although the threats have grown larger as my fame has spread, I am not alone. There are now countless voices raised in support—voices to whom I gave the power of the pen, hearts that beat in unison with mine, and eyes that shed tears for me, the one who devoted her time to them.
These are my students who have risen to become successful, educated, and empowered women. All of this occurred because I refused to shout back at those who shouted at me, and I refrained from seeking revenge against those who wished to harm me and my family.
I do not deny the presence of undesirable elements in Pakistan. But if all Pakistanis were malevolent, why am I still alive today? We, the people of Pakistan, are not terrorists. A small faction is involved in these heinous acts. What about my girls who harbor love for the entire world, who yearn for education, and who proudly call themselves “Doctors of the Society” or “Peace Makers”? What about those who seek peace and have never inflicted harm upon anyone? What about those who admire Americans for their benevolent deeds? Will Mr. President create difficulties for all these people who stand for peace?
I, a woman hailing from a religious minority in Pakistan, faced immense adversity but managed to change the perspectives of hundreds and thousands. Why not you, Mr. President? Why not you? How can peace be ushered in through guns and bombs? Hate only begets more hate, and love only multiplies love. I have substantiated this through two decades of my life as a Christian education activist in Pakistan.
Bombs and guns lack the discernment to differentiate between good and bad people, but we, as human beings, possess that capacity.
Peace is not the exclusive possession of anyone. It cannot be imprisoned by force; it must be pervasive or risk being absent altogether.