God, Drugs and Thugs – My Messy Beautiful

Zainab Khawaja:

This story is so inspirational. I am proud of everyone, whoever they are and wherever they are in the world, who has had the strength to recognize their weaknesses and make an effort to fight back against them. Whether it’s drug addiction or other challenges, everyone has weaknesses and to overcome them, we need great courage. That’s something that not everyone can find and even when we do find it, it takes a great amount of self awareness (which often comes with time and at great cost)and strength to stick to our goal of improving ourselves.

As Anais Nin once said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

I wanted to share this story on my blog because there’s so much out there for each of us to achieve in our lives and we can, if only we find some courage.

Originally posted on God, Drugs and Thugs:

4e67614cfe13a73a2b81c15780fa8395I read something this morning that took me back 5 years, 9 months and 20 days – to a moment which is never too far from my consciousness. As I approach my sixth year clean and sober, the image burned into my mind on June 17th, 2008, doesn’t haunt me like it once did. That skeletal frame, covered with bruises and track marks no longer chases me, fearfully, toward sobriety. The hollow, lifeless eyes are no longer black holes threatening to swallow me whole unless I begin sprinting toward a spiritual life. No, today the memory brings up a feeling of sorrowful gratitude. The girl in the mirror has sunk to such a low point that she can’t even recognize herself anymore. Absolutely nothing in her life makes sense anymore. Once upon a time, she was really something. She “coulda’ been a contender.” On this day, though, she has finally lost her last…

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23 Vintage Photos of Egypt’s Golden Years

Zainab Khawaja:

Then and now for #Egypt. As a Pakistani, I’ve often seen similar blog posts and images about Karachi. This post about Egypt just seemed to reinforce the message: equality, justice and freedom to live our lives should never be compromised.

Originally posted on Egyptian Streets:

A woman reading a magazine in the 1950s

A woman reading a magazine in the 1950s

By Mohamed Khairat, Founder, EgyptianStreets.com

Egypt in the 1900s was a different place. Egyptian cinema was the third largest in the world, Cairo was a city that foreigners dreamt of spending their holidays exploring, Egyptian music flourished and shook the world, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together as neighbours, and women had freedoms that were unheard of in many other countries.

Egypt was a place of liberal spirits, unhampered by sectarian and ethnic prejudices. The rights of men, women and children were championed.

Yet, all that has changed, and often may Egyptians forget the Egypt that used to be. Here are 23 photographs of vintage advertisements and other images that will teleport you to Egypt’s ‘golden years’ and show you an Egypt you may have forgotten ever existed.

(These photographs are available thanks to ‘Vintage Egypt. Click here for more)

1. “The Japanese do…

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I am Oprah, I am Mindy, I am Cassey. My 2014 Resolutions.

This post is inspired by this prompt at The Daily Post.

New Year’s Day has come and gone, and since the world isn’t shivering in fear over coming to an end (as it was in 2012), we’ve all made our resolutions and posted them on Facebook – in fact, I think I have read more resolutions on my Newsfeed than I have seen selfies in the last two days. They range from pleasant vagaries (“I promise to be a better person this year”) to very specific, drill-sergeant type torture-plans (“32 push-ups every morning, 15 squats, 10 lunges, repeat!”) and they all had one effect on my unexcited 2014 self: they made me wonder what I wanted to change about myself. What was it that I wanted to focus on this year and improve about myself?

In order to narrow down the million or so options that immediately rushed to my head (thinner, prettier, healthier hair and skin, read 100 books, clean my room EVERY DAY, exercise 1 hr every day!) I decided to think about who I would like to be. Did I want to be Christina Aguilera, whose self-confidence knew no bounds? She was comfortable with her body no matter what size. Did I want to be like Tina Fey, whose humor and quirkiness was a thing to marvel at? Did I want to be smart like that Google employee in The Internship? Who did I want to be?

I made lists in my head and thought it all through, and I decided that I wanted to be like a few people – not just one. So here’s the list:

1.Oprah

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Not only is she a self-made success, Oprah overcame significant personal difficulties and made it in a business she was passionate about. Starting at the bottom of the food chain, she is now reigning queen of popular daytime shows, with an audience that spans multiple generations, and a show closet that could contain my entire house. She also gives back, in a big way. She made a first class boarding school for underprivileged girls in Africa, and how many times have we seen her give a car or a house or participate in rehabilitation efforts after natural disasters? I think a lot of us could do with having Oprah as a role model.

My Oprah Resolution of 2014: Remain focused on my academic and professional goals and give them top priority.

2. Cassey Ho from Blogilates

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This woman has a passion for exercise and healthy eating. That is evident from her workout videos, fit lifestyle motivators and a plethora of other related products that she markets online. She has turned it into a business, a career for herself. Her success in maintaining a truly healthy lifestyle (as far as I can tell) is so inspiring for so many young women who have joined the Blogilates community.

My Cassey Ho Resolution: To do at least 30 mins of exercise every day, whether it is dancing to the latest Avril Lavigne song, or doing some brisk walking. It’s important to maintain some level of activity and not succumb to living a sedentary life. In 2014, I am going to up my energy.

3. Mindy Lahiri from The Mindy Project

I only recently started watching this show, and Mindy Kaling’s character on the quirky office comedy is not only kind to a fault, but also looks at life through an entirely unique perspective. She is not afraid to be her plus-size self, even if that leads to her saying or doing things that others might judge her for. Though I may not agree with everything the character does, this is something I do agree with.

My Mindy Lahiri Resolution: Be confident. Don’t let your trivial insecurities about your quirks or weight get to you. You are a strong individual and you are going to achieve your goals. The world is your oyster – and life needs to be lived.

Goodbye, 2013. Thanks for the books.

At the beginning of 2013, I promised myself I would read 30 books. Come December, I didn’t really make it – 4 books short of the gold – but I did manage to read 26 stories, and I thought I would share them with you. It’s not uncommon to see our social media feeds bursting with status updates about how successful someone’s year has been, so how many amazing things they’ve done. I thought about how I remembered 2013, and was surprised to find, it was through these books.

I started the year with East of Eden, which skyrocketed to the very top of my Favorite Books Ever list. It’s a retelling of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel, and beyond that, it’s a story of life. There is so much beauty simply in the way the book is written – Steinbeck really pulls you into this world that is simultaneously profound and gritty, giving you the feeling that you’re learning something phenomenal, but leaving you with more questions than you’ve managed to answer. There is love, betrayal, devotion – on both a micro and macro level. The one thing I took away from the book was the story of the Hebrew word Timshel, which roughly translates into “thou mayest”. It was with that reaffirmation of choice – that we have the power to make decisions in our lives, whether to choose good or bad – that set the course of my entire year – one that would change my life, thanks to the books that guided my way.

After East of Eden left the taste of morality and betrayal in my mouth, Quasimodo taught me true compassion, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Having watched and loved the animated Disney interpretation as a child, I wanted to sing with Esmeralda, and swing from Notre Dame’s royal heights with the bell-ringer, but I was in for a surprise. The story is heart-breaking, with Esmeralda and her lover a far cry from the jovial couple Disney showed me. Quasimodo is no humble giant, but a monster and a simpleton with a heart. His caretaker is part evil villain, but part human, and in a gut-wrenching moment of shock, I was able to relate to his troubles. There is evil and magic and a consistent tearing away at your heart, until at the end, Quasimodo is dust, but you are still bleeding raw.

With two classics in my 2013 backpack, I turned to more contemporary fiction. Next stop: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window & Disappeared. Yes, that is the entire title. This lickety-split story of adventure had a wholehearted feel that had me chuckling the entire time. I’ve written a full-fledged review on it, and you should give it a click.

And so the year went on, one book leading to the next, with memories tied to each one. When a dear friend visited from abroad, she brought me Looking for Alaska, when I was suffering from insecurity issues, I read Valley of the Dolls and took shelter in Anne’s unwavering self-confidence. When I was complaining about my bout with gastritis, The Fault in Our Stars made me take back every ungrateful word and forget about my fever as I learned about love. On the same note, The Last Original Wife reminded me not to take any of my relationships for granted, and Empty Mansions made me grateful that I was not burdened with extravagant wealth.

So what did I do in 2013? I lived 26 adventures. I learned 26 lessons. I started paying less attention to the internet and more to my family. I stopped wasting money and time. I strengthened my relationship with God and pushed aside insecurities. In 2013, I lived, and I don’t regret a single page of it.

What did you read in the past 12 months?

P.S. There will be a full book of each of the books I read in 2013, one a week, every Monday.

Wishing you thrills and tear-stained pages,
Zainab

The Myth of Peaceful Resistance (#Mandela)

There is a way in which the myth of peaceful resistance is flattering to the oppressor and disabling to the oppressed. It’s as much the oppressor’s narrative as anyone’s. “You ought not to fight us with more than the image of your own broken body,” it says, “for we who oppress you are good and rational — most of the time. We have the same interests as you, and understand that you enjoy the same basic rights. We, your rulers, simply need to have our consciences pricked from time to time.” By couching the antipathy as a mere moral lapse, the oppressor is permitted simultaneously to deny the actual material basis of the social division and hence the necessity for a struggle for liberation that is more than merely symbolic, and to perform a mental splitting-off from its own identity of those aspects of itself it can now pretend were inessential deviations from its rational, humanistic core. Just as the United States broadly did with the benighted South of Bull Connor and the Klan. As if the story of American racist oppression was one of mere regional ideological peccadillo and not one of the founding principles of the whole nation’s economic structure. As if the story of Apartheid were simply those nasty Afrikaners and their gauche racism. They’d probably lived in Africa too long and allowed its “tribalism” to rub off on them, and so deviated from the European universalist norm. Still, one of us in the end, eh? – Three Fingered Fox

 

Wandering Dubai

I had the wonderful opportunity to see the sights in this multi-cultural hub of activity.  There are a few things that hit you right off the bat, when you get to Dubai.

  1. Concrete Jungle

This phrase really takes on a life of its own when you’re surrounded by towering structures every which way, and can count more construction sites than palm trees in your immediate vicinity.

2. It’s so clean!

No trash. Absolutely no plastic bag strewn on the sidelines. No almost-slam-dunks in public trash receptacles, no wrappers or discarded juice boxes either.

3. Sparkle

The entire city seems to dance for you, sparkling in all it’s glamor. Showing off it’s finer points to your eyes. It’s a bling-show, and it demands your attention.

 

Girl Meets World, Remembers Home

When you’re away from home, what do you miss the most? This post is inspired by the October 19th entry on The Daily Post.

I spent the summer living in a bustling metropolis: too far away from home for the weekend hop-over, but still close enough so that I could call home regularly. And while the summer was a whirlwind of fast days and a slow-motion trajectory of shopping bags, ice lattes and Cinnabons, I found that when  back in my bedroom, I could wrap it all up in a neat little box: exhilarating, with a ribbon on top.

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The world, as I got to see it.

Whenever you’re exposing yourself to a completely new environment – when you move away to college, or change locations for a job – it’s easy to get that rush of excitement or wonder at everything new around you. There’s a period of adjustment when you take in the changes, make the required immediate changes and then step back to soak it all in. When all the luggage is unpacked and your midnight snack/TV show combo is ready for you to hit play, a memory is likely to slink in between the actors’ pause-for-laughter-track moments.

You might remember, as I did, how your dad would pop in when he saw the light under you door on at 3 in the morning to make sure you weren’t asleep at your desk, drooling on your homework. Or how your mom would wake you up in the morning the morning before an exam, so you could cram in some extra studying.

The smallest thing – the floral pants a woman was wearing on the escalator, a YouTube video, or even the smell of freshly-fried pakoras – can bring back a sliver of memory; something that had something to do with someone at some point in time triggers a longing for a hug from your mum, some home-cooked bhindi, your favorite moisturizer that you left at home.

That time I went to Seaworld

That time I went to Seaworld

In fact, you might find yourself listening to songs from your childhood, and Avril Lavigne‘s poppy kicks will become synonymous with reminiscing, with memories of highschool maybes, that friend that was less-than, the strange kids you never understood, that party you should have gone to, etc. To fill in that old school Family Fun feeling, you will start watching an old TV show (this The Cosby Show or Boy Meets World).

At this point, intoxicated with Jesse McCartney‘s debut album, Instagramming your new heels, stalking your friends on Facebook to see what they’ve been up to, you’ll call your family and go to bed with a smile on your face. Because home is always home. And you are blessed enough to always be able to go back.

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An Instagram on my new heels

So while the rooh afza from home may be very different from the Keurig in your hand, and that pizza in a box can’t compare to mom’s chili, you’ve got a world to explore. You’ve got miracles to pray for and a life to live. You’ve got 3D movies to see with those geeky glasses on and trendy blazers to wear.

And all those things are going to help you realize only one thing:

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But it is up to you to decide where it ends.

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Ask Yourself: What Would Britney Do?

The last few months have been tough for me, and I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut. It’s as if the heavens have aligned, all planets carefully synchronized, to bring me misery. Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but we’ve all been there, haven’t we? When you’re feeling lower than low, and if you’re anything like me, you turn to romantic comedies and whatever the refrigerator is able to provide, and those mindless rambling Tumblr blogs with their emo pictures about love and believing and cherries-on-top – Instagrammed and strategically blurred to perfection – make you feel soft and fuzzy on the inside.

Awe.

Reality check: Life doesn’t go away. After your movie ends, and Channing Tatum gallops into the sunset, you have to go back to whatever it is that’s dragging you down. For those who are particularly lucky, your problems may just fly straight into your face before he can rescue the princess from the tallest tower in The Land of Fairy Giggles.

What is a poor wimpy kid (or housewife, or pot-bellied news reporter, or a grand combination of both) to do? Well first of all, even though you’ve got that special, unique, one-of-a-kind, major problem that’s way way worse than anyone else’s anywhere in the world, remember that the world has over 6 billion people in it. Some of them are bound to have the same problem. It’s simple statistics, people. And before you start to emphatically deny me the pleasure of being completely right, No, no! You don’t understand! It’s worse for me because I lost my pet donkey! let me just share with you this wonderful quote:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
― Plato

It’s one of my favorites. And why not? Plato was a smart guy.

Here’s my list of top tips for those insanely mind-blowing problems we all have to learn to deal with:

1. Find a ‘safe’ buddy

We often feel like there’s no one we can talk to. Maybe sometimes we feel that we shouldn’t share our problems because it will reflect badly on us, on our husbands, on our wives, on our families, on our friends. Sometimes we feel ashamed – what will people think? We don’t want to appear vulnerable, stupid, insecure, the neighborhood basket case. But just think about Desperate Housewives – those women have got some serious issues, but in the end they all get together for a porch-and-martini powwow and learn to deal. I am not endorsing the use of alcohol for getting over those bumps in your road. I am simply saying that having a group of – or even one – ‘safe’ friend(s). Someone who may or may not be able to take any concrete steps to help you, but that you can call and whine to. It could be a work buddy, an old friend, a loved one – or a random stranger. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you get your frustrations out there and not only lighten your emotional load, but talk through them and figure out how to move on. And if you can’t talk to anyone, write. If you have a God, write to him – long letters, emotional prayers, it doesn’t matter. If you wanna write to Santa Claus, or Hermoine Granger, do that. Write to Britney Spears. Just write. Put your feelings on paper. It’s catharsis. It helps. And if you’re super paranoid about privacy, just burn it when you’re done. Press the ‘Delete’ button on your keyboard.

2. Try to find a solution.

Try to analyze the situation. No one understands it better than you. Why is this happening to you? When will it stop? How can you make it stop? If you can’t change it, then change yourself. What can you start doing so that you don’t feel so hurt anymore? How can you protect yourself from your surroundings? Who can help you? Or how can you help someone else to make your situation better? Find your salvation – whether it is personal strength, art, feeding the homeless, whatever. Find your inner truth, and hold on it. Harness your strength and energy. Believe me, you can do it.

3. Run Away/Take a Vacation

I’m not joking. It may sound terrible, selfish, rude, irresponsible, immature and a host of other unflattering adjectives, but it’s a good fix. When everything’s getting to your head, you might need to take a break. I’m not saying abandon your three-month-old baby and run to the Bahamas with a dapper young gentleman, but what I am saying is ‘running away’ doesn’t have to mean shirking your responsibilities. Maybe I should say ‘take a vacation’ instead. Don’t call it a break. ‘Break’ has negative connotations in our minds and it implies that we have something to get back to, pronto. Treat yourself to a vacation. If it’s your kids driving you crazy, use their at-school hours to treat yourself to something relaxing – whether its an hour at the spa, or a warm cuddle with your newest novel. If your friends are working on your every nerve, say you need some ‘alone’ time, or come up with some pressing matter you must deal with. The point is, remember to breathe. You’re allowed to chill. You can use it as re-charge time.

The point of all of this is 1 – to survive, 2 – to learn from the experiences you’re having, and 3 – to find a way to bring positive change. Positive change is key, and once you’re determined, nothing can hold you back.

So how did I deal with it? (Disclaimer: This section is a personal account of how my religious beliefs helped me conquer my problems. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs, and in the following paragraphs I am in no way trying to impose my views on anyone else. If you find you may not appreciate my personal story and beliefs, feel free to stop reading beyond this point.)

Well I’m a Muslim, and as I’ve stated countless times before, that’s an extremely optimistic term to apply because it implies that I might be a good Muslim – which, unfortunately, I have not always been able to live up to. Anyways, since I’m Muslim, I think I may have got the easy way out of it. Ramadan is here, the month Muslims believe to be the holiest, filled with opportunity for bountiful blessings. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve completely ignored the last two or three Ramadans. This year, however, my life’s been looking down more than up, and I decided I wanted change.

Who better to bring change than God? And how better to ask for change than by praying? All religions all around the world acknowledge the power of prayer. It’s silly how we say we believe, and yet we ignore God most of the time, and only turn to him when our own efforts are useless. It’s like we treat him as our second best option. And that’s a darn shame.

So alhumdolilah (thank God), this year I’m using this month as an investment. Islam teaches Muslims that Ramadan is a microcosm for the rest of our year. Since we believe God makes it easier for us to be ‘good’ in this month, and helps us fight our evil alter egos, I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to take some positive steps and improve my life. As one of my teachers always used to say, “Got a problem with God? Talk to him about it. Need something? Just ask. All you have to do is try.” So here I am, trying. I hope I am able to change my life for the better, just like I hope all of you find solutions to your own problems, and start smiling a little brighter every day.

 

A Summer with Procter & Gamble

Procter & Gamble (P&G) Pakistan selects a handful of interns from amongst university students each year. This year, I was lucky to be one of the chosen. After a rigorous interview and testing process – made even more rigorous because of circumstance (final exams ending the day before I would need to fly out to Karachi, interviews scheduled right in the middle of classes, and of course, the fact that I would need to be based in Karachi if I got in – far from home) – I had developed an obsessive compulsive need to stare at my cell phone, waiting for a 021 (Karachi’s area code) number to pop up.

The call came in the middle of the day. I had been accepted. “Congratulations Zainab…” I immediately began planning the details of my trip; when I boarded that plane a few weeks later, I was determined to be well-prepared.

But is there any way you can truly be prepared for a P&G internship? Those twelve weeks of challenges – both business-related and otherwise – that every intern faces turn you from university student to almost-professional. It’s a grueling process, and I think the best attitude you can have is to be prepared to face obstacles and believe that you will overcome them. Most interns only really know two things on the first day: that they want to be here, and that they are prepared to work hard to stay. The rest, we learn over time – and what a plethora of things there are to learn!

The intern batch of 2013

The intern batch of 2013

The first week is Onboarding – when all the interns really see is the Academy – a large room with a gorgeous view of the sea, a whiteboard, and an HR executive that smiles at your nervous face. HR led us through those first few days, where we were given opportunities to get to know each other and a brief intro into what each function did at the company, how they all worked together, general rules for employees at the company, and the PVPs, or the company’s core ethical guidelines.

The company cricket match

The company cricket match

Before the written aptitude test each applicant must give, we are asked to fill in to a little box what our department of preference is – I chose Consumer Market Knowledge, which is essentially the research and data analysis function. It was an easy choice. I have always loved research, puzzles, having to go through piles of information to find the perfect piece to solve a problem, and I had for several years intended to pursue a career in such a field. Luckily, that’s the function that I got to intern for.

My CMK journey started with two weeks of reading. There was so much to learn before I could even start to understand the data or work on my projects. It was exciting – a new world with new words that I had never heard – an entirely new language that I got to explore, and my, was it fascinating! I went through presentations by the dozens, learning how P&G worked in different countries, different product promotion techniques, what core equities each brand represented, how each brand’s performance could be viewed through different filters, and what each filter meant, etc. Acronyms are so ingrained into P&G’s culture that it was a common intern joke that we often didn’t understand what employees were saying because 80% of their words would be acronyms. CBD, SBD, OOO, PS, BO, GTM, P3W – it took a week before I was able to start translating them in my head and making sense of what they meant, and the day I used an acronym for the first time – it just slipped out – I was so excited! I had officially been “Proctorized”: my brain now worked in P&G-ese.

Reading a case study during BMC.

Reading a case study during BMC.

Playing memory games.

Playing memory games.

The annual intern business management competition (BMC) seemed to come at the most inconvenient time. It seemed as if we all had one deadline or another on the exact days that we were required to report back to the Academy – this time as knowledgeable functionaries in our departments, with our thinking caps on and our competitive spirits high. We were divided into four teams – red, blue, green and yellow, and a series of case studies were presented to us. We had 30 mins to work together as a team, and prepare a solution and a presentation. The teams were ranked based on performance, and scores were given by the judges. We were also ranked on team-building activities like memory games, speed games, etc. Perhaps the most exciting part was when we were told to to sell products to consumers on the street.

We were given an inventory and a price list, and sent out into the wild. My inner salesperson awoke as I walked up to sweet-looking aunties and asked them to consider how important it was for them to purchase Head & Shoulders. After every rejection, I grew more determined. By the end of the allotted time period, my teammates and I had done pretty well. We were left with just 4 packs of Pampers. Perhaps the piece de resistance was when I convinced a bearded gentleman to purchase a Gillette razor. “Because Uncle,” I said, “what if you want to shave your beard one day and you just don’t have a razor?”

After BMC, we were taken on a yacht ride and served dinner on deck, with a stunning view of the night sky above us, and the blue-grey of the water below. I think everyone channeled their inner Kate Winslet and tried the Titanic pose on the stern at least once.

Yacht time!

Yacht time!

Having dinner on the sea.

Having dinner on the sea.

Pakistan Color Day was another engaging activity that was organized by the HR team. A cultural quiz in the style of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? was held, with teams of employees sitting on sequined throw pillows and bedazzled bean bags guessing the answers. Some of the most memorable questions were about Veena Malik, Begun Noor Jehan and the history of P&G Pakistan, and the commentary was hilarious. I think that’s one of the things I loved most about my internship – that there were so many people with personality. The friendly atmosphere, the general good humor – it was that sense of general camaraderie that made the event extremely enjoyable.

The Noori concert

The Noori concert

I was given the opportunity to visit SOS Village with P&G twice – part of the company’s social responsibility program. The first time, I was able to see the children perform various dances and songs, and the second time, I was able to visit each “family” in its home, and spend time with the children, and reading their books and playing with them. We had lunch together and I even learned a few Sindhi words from one of the little girls.

Having lunch at SOS Village

Having lunch at SOS Village

So in this whirlwind of activity, what is most memorable? After 3 months, what am I taking away?

Firstly, the way that I was treated as an intern was no different from the way the employees treated each other. In our eyes they were Goliaths – experts in their fields, busy corporate professionals that seemed almost from an alien planet, but they treated us with respect and kindness when we were stumbling. They showed up to meetings that we scheduled, didn’t scoff at our ideas, even if there were inaccuracies, and suggested improvements without sounding condescending. The amount of time the employees gave us when we needed their guidance or support for a project was incredible. I didn’t feel like an intern. I felt accepted and familiar almost immediately. Kudos to the culture these individuals have developed at P&G, where everyone is encouraged to truly feel comfortable and thus, excel.

During my final interview, my to-be-manager asked me, “How do you see yourself in ten years? Where do you want to be?” I remember thinking at that moment, if I should just say what I felt, even though it wasn’t concrete, or come up with something. I am glad I decided to do the former. I knew I wanted a career in research, and I knew I would be happiest with piles of data to go through in search of some important truth, but what I wanted to stress was that “I want to be a good at my job, but I want to have to try to be good at my job. I need it to be challenging.” And I don’t know whether he remembered that bit of the conversation or not, but challenging it was. I have learned so many things about analysis, about the corporate world, but most of all about myself – and about how I see the world, and the several different lenses I can use to understand it. Perhaps this is something I gained uniquely as part of CMK – but my fellow CMK-ers told me I would start to look at the world from an expanded perspective, in a new light, in different lights – and they were right.

 

Using sports to make peace, with Dr. Sarah Kureshi

We’ve all heard plenty about the United States when it comes to matters concerning Pakistan. Drone strikes, political restrictions and policy influencing. A day doesn’t go by that we don’t blame the United States for the state our country is in. A few months ago, however, I got a chance to meet a helping hand from the States, someone who’s been working on an aspect of our society that either we’ve forgotten about, chosen to overlook or are just too caught up in our everyday lives to remember.

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Dr. Sarah Kureshi, a community health activist from the United States, is currently in Pakistan as part of the American Speakers Program Series and I was lucky enough to get the chance to sit down and discuss her time and efforts in Pakistan, what they may culminate into and what she’s taking away from her time here.

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Dr. Sarah Kureshi

“I’m here as part of the American Speakers Program Series”, said Dr. Sarah. “It’s all about exchange. We bring different speakers from the United States to different countries (and vice versa) with the aim of educating and exchanging ideas through two way open dialogue.”

Dr. Sarah Kureshi graduated from medical school in Minnesota where she worked with Somali refugees and got her first taste of community health and awareness. ”During college, I loved working with the community. I knew my strengths lay in sciences and I was thinking about medicine. I read a book titled, “Waking up in America” by Dr. Greer, a doctor in Miami who opened up clinics for the homeless in his van. This was the first realization that I could combine my interest of medicine and community health”

“I completed a fellowship in community health after my residency, and then spent another year being a doctor again, working in a clinic in Northeast DC. It has a largely urban population, underserved; most people haven’t seen a doctor in at least 10 years”

Dr. Sarah teamed up with the American embassy in the American Speakers Program Series to come to Pakistan and highlight key issues regarding community health and work towards solving them. She aims at connecting with people, working with them to highlight and discuss various issues, especially when it comes to sensitive topics such as gender based violence and sex trafficking.

Talking about her prior experience in the field, Dr. Sarah mentioned how her Masters in Public Health focused on sex trafficking and how it eventually led her to spend two months in India living in a shelter with women rescued from the heinous trade.

“Initially, the School wanted to send me to Geneva, but I wanted some experience on the ground before I went into policy matters and so, I went to India. I found an organization I wanted to work with and the School helped fund the program. The organization I worked with and the work they do, is still used as a model till this day.”

Coming to the issues relating to our very own homeland, Dr. Sarah is currently working with organizations around Pakistan, looking to work on joint projects and ventures that aim at improving human rights and their development. “Most human rights violations are affecting women and children negatively than men. When it comes to partner violence, sex trafficking and child abuse, the brunt of the trauma and majority of targets are usually women and children.”

When talking about Pakistan, the cultural boundaries that a victim must overcome in order to simply talk about what they have experienced or are going through are immense. The question rose in my mind, “A lot of times when violence is committed against women or children, the culture is built as such that they don’t want to communicate about their experiences.  How do you overcome things like that?”

“One of the most common problems in cases such as that is that the victim doesn’t identify themselves as a victim. It’s normal. It just happened. It’s all about changing the mindset to such actions. Educate, educate, educate. A common tool used when encountering such cases is health worker role play. Since victims aren’t comfortable opening up to the first person they see (a professional), we have to open up a dialogue. Connect with them while not forcing any questions. Talking at a steady pace, making sure they open up and speak about it when they’re comfortable.”

“If the victims aren’t forthcoming, how do you find out about such cases?” I asked.
“ We look for what we call red flags; indicators of abuse. Every type of abuse has certain indicators, all you have to do is ask he right questions when you see them. The indicators usually have hidden meanings.”

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Talking about solutions to violence against women, Dr. Sarah said, “Sports can be used for peace building, development and preventing violence. They can be used to empower, open up a communication bridge, change gender norms and roles. Sports is a global language that helps personal development, instills leadership and teamwork skills, enhances confidence, a sense of agency and discipline while bringing people together. It’s also a great way to let loose and lose frustration”

Community health in Pakistan, when it comes to women from rural areas, is supported by the Government through lady health workers. The program was started by Benazir Bhutto and recruits women from communities that they are then tasked to provide healthcare to. This removes any stigmatization of the health workers while allowing the women of the community the comfort of opening up to someone trusted and known. The health workers are trained by physicians and conduct regular visits every month. They return to their healthcare units and are provided with monthly training sessions, medical supplies and anything they may need to ensure the provision of much needed healthcare.

“This system is prevalent throughout Pakistan. Since the women are from the community, they know to work within the boundaries and dynamics of the community” said Sarah.