(Photo Credit: Wajih&Shirani)
Interview by Megan Foo, President of Women LEAD’s Hong Kong Chapter
Humaira Bachal is an advocate for women’s education who strives to change the attitude of people who are against women’s education. She is the Founder of the Dream Foundation Trust, an organization that aims to facilitate personal development and the enhancement of health, social living and working conditions in Pakistan. For her pioneering efforts in girls’ education advocacy, Humaira has been recognized as one of five “Bravest Women on Earth” by the Women in the World Foundation, and was awarded the 2013 Women of Impact Award at the 4th annual Women in the World Summit. She was recently featured in TIME and on CNN for her work founding the Dream Foundation Trust.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Humaira Bachal: As a 1st grader, my sister and I were the only ones from our slum settlement in Karachi to go to school while all other friends played in the streets. I used to think school was a punishment.
That is until I turned six and saw my infant cousin die, coughing blood and wheezing for a breath of air – all because she was administered an expired fever medicine. Medicine the child’s own illiterate mother had fed her. The agony of losing my baby cousin, the heart-wrenching screams of the mother… and that day I decided – I have to stop this!
It wasn’t just my cousin who was illiterate; when I moved to my hometown, I saw injustice with women and girls, obstacles for their education and chaotic situations with them. The house-arrested women were deprived to get an education. My friends and I moved forward to redress these immoral mind set.
I had the full support of my mother, Zainab Bibi, who endured social boycotts, verbal and physical abuse to make sure her daughters got an education, enabling us to break the cycle of disempowerment she herself has suffered. Backed by my mother, I overcame resistance from my father and brothers at home, as well as the conservative attitudes and reluctance of community members.
Women LEAD: You are the Founder and CEO of the Dream Foundation Trust, an organization that aims to facilitate personal development and the enhancement of health, social living and working conditions in Pakistan. Can you tell us more about the Dream Foundation Trust, what inspired you to found it, and its impact so far?
Humaira Bachal: Yes, I’m founder and the president of Dream Foundation Trust (DFT), is a non-profit non-governmental organization registered under Trust Act 1882 (# 955) of Pakistan in 2009. We have been working since 5 years in Karachi, Pakistan. DFT works on quality education for under privileged children, women’s skills development, relief for victims by natural calamities, small business grants support, awareness and advocacy campaigns, End Fistula Challenge from Pakistan and mentoring of other community based organizations in addition to enhancing their capabilities and structure.
Attending school regularly, I soon came to see that I was the lucky one and my friends were the ones missing out. I remained troubled by this until, at aged 12, I had a brainwave on how to redress this injustice: I would teach children at home the lessons that I myself had learnt in school. That’s why I founded the Dream Foundation Trust.
I have been struggling for creating an unbiased and impartial community. Despite facing innumerable adversities for the family and the community, I dream and strenuously work towards my goal. After 13 years of devotion, the community where I live is boosterish – they accept and support the initiative. Parents now agree to educate their daughters.
Women LEAD: Can you tell us about some of the Dream Foundation Trust’s programs that empower women and girls?
Humaira Bachal: Yes, we have an entrepreneurship program for women and girls in which they are trained and taught with the basics of sewing clothes and embroidery. This program not only enhances their skills but also gives them an opportunity to be independent and to be a part of our empowerment program. In this empowerment program, we raise awareness on women’s rights, especially the right to educate young girls.
We have a Youth Network which has 100 members formally associated, both 50 Girls and 50 Boys. Through this network we provide trainings on different topics i.e. Leadership skills, Advocacy and Campaigning, Social Media and its influencing, and on good citizenship. Such training not only improves girls’ leadership skills but also empowers girls to live fearlessly among men.
Why do girls’ education and women’s empowerment matter to you?
Humaira Bachal: I would consider this fact: If a woman is educated the whole family is educated. If the whole family is educated, the whole community is educated. If the whole community is educated, the whole society is educated and this outbreak can make the entire world educated. Women are very responsible citizens of our society.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Humaira Bachal: My mother Zainab Bibi has been my Role Model and Mentor because my mother was the only one who took a stand to educate me. She chopped woods and sold them, sewed clothes and this is how she taught me. She tolerated insults, reviles from my family and was even beaten by my father but though she did not get back, she stood by me and supported my education.
Women LEAD: What advice do you have for future advocates of girls’ education?
Humaira Bachal: I have advice for the advocates of girls’ education: they should strive to work with full passion, dedication and determination within the limits of their religious or cultural consciences and conducts. Immorality on Right to Education of girls is not merely Pakistan’s problem but exists in other countries as well. Its diminishment is only possible when all activists and women get together to battle against these immoralities against girls’ education and empowerment.
I believe that education is a basic need of any human being – We need fresh air to breathe, similarly the approach of living in this world easily is possible when we have basic education. When a woman is educated, it will be easier for them to achieve their rights. Women around the world should speak up for their rights and find resources for it. Only speaking up is not the solution.
Women’s success is not only possible by lectures or talks. We all should put our efforts together to solve problems related to women’s disempowerment. We all know about obstacles women face, and work along to take them women out of isolation, to make them a productive part of our society.