Hi… I am Irum, I am 14 years old, living in remote village named Dharyala Kahoon in district Chakwal (Punjab, Pakistan). We are three siblings – me and my two elder brothers. We were living happily – that is what I remember from my early childhood. I was too young to understand the tricky situation, but I remember everything changed with my father’s death. I was just three then. I didn’t know what death meant; I was told father would not come home again. He had been taken back by Allah. I didn’t know why Allah needed him. Anyhow, there are so many questions, we don’t find answers to them.
We moved to our grandfather’s house. My elder brothers could not cope with the new situation, and one by one both of them ran away, and never returned. In the meanwhile, my mother developed a relationship with another man. As it would not have been accepted here in our society, she decided to marry him secretly, and left the house one night without informing anyone. These incidents, one after the other, were too much for my grandpa. He was distraught, dejected and heartbroken. Soon he died, and his misery ended. It all happened within two years starting with my father’s death, and ending with my grandfather’s.
We were left all at our own – me and my grandmother. I was too young, and she was too old. My grandfather had left a small piece of cultivable land. My grandmother would rent it out, and we would manage our expenses through that small amount. The rent was not good enough as there was no irrigation system, and the yield depended on timely rains.
I went to the village school, which offered classes up to 8th grade. It is a public school with nominal fee, which my grandmother would manage easily. However, when I passed 8th grade, my grandmother told me, ‘Sweetheart! You are mature enough to understand that your old grandma cannot bear the cost of sending you to high school in Dulmial. You know I am too old, I may die any day. I don’t know what you do when you have no one to take care of you. I think I should arrange your marriage as soon as possible’.
I knew I would not be able to go to high school, and I had accepted it as my fate. But I was scared to hear the other plan my grandma had for me. I cried a lot, and got a promise from my grandma that she would not think of my marriage for at least another two years. She agreed, though still she did not know what would be my fate if she died.
In the meanwhile, Bedari arrived in our village with a plan to provide scholarships to girls who had performed well in their education in class 5 or above. When I came to know about the details, and asked my grandma to talk to Bedari people, it was too late. They had already selected 31 girls, and would not accommodate more. I was dejected, but they put my name in the waiting list. I waited, waited and waited. One whole year passed like that.
I had lost all hope, and thought my secondary education was a closed chapter. That was when Uncle Tanveer (a member of our village committee) turned up at our home, and told my grandma that a girl had dropped out of Bedari’s project, and they could send Irum to high school. I was overjoyed at the news. Grandma readily agreed, and the next day uncle Tanveer took me to high school. I got admitted, the school administration provided me the books, and uncle Tanveer made arrangements for my pick and drop. It was again Uncle Tanveer who provided me old uniform of his daughter, though it did not fit well, but liked it very much. I receive scholarship amount in the first week of every month.
Now I go to school regularly. I have attended two Self-Growth Sessions, and learnt how to be assertive without being offensive, and how to negotiate with people. I loved that, and would make sure that I do not miss any of these sessions, these are so useful.
And yes, the best thing is … my grandma has not mentioned my marriage since I started going to school.
Note 1: This was made possible with support from our partner Girls Education International, USA
Note 2: Uncle Tanveer is a volunteer who supports Bedari in executing its Girls Education Progam in village Dharyala Kahoon (District Chakwal).