Aniqa with her husband, Afzal Rasool. Photo courtesy of Dawn
Hailing from the Ghanche district of Gilgit-Baltistan in the northern areas of Pakistan, Aniqa Bano (MEd 2011) comes across as a shy and timid young woman at a first glance. However, as she speaks, her words exude a quiet sense of strength, inspiration, humility and gratitude.
Shortly after joining AKU-IED, Aniqa and her husband Afzal Rasool, welcomed their first born – a beautiful baby girl. To their dismay, soon after her birth they learned that their daughter had a hearing impairment.
However, after their initial distress at the news, they geared up their efforts - unwilling to lose hope and fuelled with determination to ensure that their child was not left behind in life because she is differently-abled.
Aniqa co-founded the 'Narjis Khatoon Hearing Impairment School' with her husband, Afzal Rasool and also currently serves as an Instructor at the Government College of Education for Women, in Skardu.
In this conversation, Aniqa shares with us the highlights of her journey, as part of our alumni spotlight series.
How did the idea of a school for the hearing impaired come about?We probably would never have imagined working for the betterment of children who are differently abled, but it seemed God had a certain plan for us. My husband and I were blessed with two daughters with a hearing impairment, and we belong to a region that struggles with equitable treatment of persons with disabilities (PWD) and recognising them as valuable members of society.
When my first child was born, I was most worried about what opportunities she would have available to her: Would she have access to education? Would she be gainfully employed as an adult? Would our surroundings allow her the space and respect to grow and contribute to society at large? Would she be able to build a sense of self identity?
All of these questions weighed heavily on us as we had seen adult PWDs in our society having no choice but to take up menial jobs due to the lack of education and training opportunities. So, we began our efforts on the issue of education on various fronts, while also exploring treatment options for our daughter.
Please tell us about the Narjis Khatoon Hearing Impairment School?Our school is one of the projects of Narjis Khatoon Health and Education Foundation, Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan. It currently addresses the educational and vocational needs of 48 children from the region.
At the time that we decided to set up the school, we had our hearts set on empowering children with disabilities. We wanted them to be respected in society. We wanted to ensure that they have access to education; and to avenues through which they could develop the skills to be gainfully employed. And THAT is exactly what we have been working toward.
At our school, we organize regular exposure visits for the children, and have dedicated sign language training. We also pay special attention to fine arts training, since the children are highly visual. Infact, 36 of our students' paintings have been selected by Pakistan Hilfzur for display in Germany and 12 students also participated in the Global IT Challenge Award organised by the Rehabilitation International, Korea earlier this year.
What were some of the challenges you encountered and how were you able to overcome them?Our biggest challenge was to change the general belief that educating differently-abled children was a waste of time and resources! We also struggled with mobilising resources to fulfill this dream of providing education to children who simply learn differently.
Our resolve was tested yet again when it came time for bringing children to the school. Since there wasn't any data available, my husband and I would visit each village, going door-to-door to make inquiries. In many cases, we also had to work hard to reassure parents and caregivers that with the right support their children could be valued, contributing members of society.
Once we had the children on board, we also had to make sure we had teachers who were properly training in sign language to facilitate our students.
But despite all of these hardships, there have been no regrets for us. We endeavor to continue our efforts to elevate children, especially those with hearing impairment, in our society.
What are some of your most notable achievements and innovations (even since your graduation from AKU-IED)?Without a doubt one of my biggest achievements is our school for the hearing impaired. Besides that, I was invited as a guest speaker at a series of talks focused on countering the perception of Islamophobia. I presented my case on the importance of education and women empowerment, especially as a woman from a remote region of Pakistan. I also shared how the idea for the organization for deaf children was conceived and what were my plans for its future.
Another proud moment was when I was selected by GRACE Association Pakistan to represent Pakistan in Busan, Korea back in 2017. 27 countries competed for the Global IT Challenge Award and Pakistan won the gold medal in the vision category.
What are some of your fondest memories of your time as a student?I can gladly say that I cherish ALL of the time I spent at IED. It helped me shape my vision for the future. We had amazing and unforgettable faculty members, like Dr Jan e Alam Khaki and so many others. I am most grateful for all the opportunities we were given for reflective practice, and the quiet time and extracurricular activities to keep our minds and bodies healthy.
What advice would you offer to other educators and professionals who are looking to choose a similar route in the teaching profession?Teaching is all about commitment to bringing change and inspiring students. It is different to other professions, as educators shape societies and are agents of change. Whenever we choose a challenging route for ourselves we will have to demonstrate resolution and belief in our abilities that we can do it. So I say, don't pay any heed to the negative and demotivating comments! Keep at it, and you will succeed!