“If I told them I wanted to go to school, they would laugh at me…”
My Name is Murtaza Bibi. I am 46 years old. I was born in Sadiqabad village where there had never been a school. When I was growing up, I wanted to learn anything that would help me in my life. I wasnot allowed even to go to my neighbor’s home and I had no friends.Sometimes when I heard stories about people having friends and learning many skills I would keep silent in my heart. I always worried about not being able to do this. We were so poor that often we had to goto sleep without eating, and sometimes we didn’t eat for days. My father mended shoes. He could barely find good work. I always wanted to help my father, but no one would allow meto go out and do anything for my family.
Then I got married and my husband had the same feelings as my father. He works at a local shop. When we had four children. it was very hard to feed them. There was one thing missing in my life, and that was school. I wanted to send my children to school so they would not be like me, but there was no school in our village. There was one school in the city, but that was far away. One year ago, we heard that some people were coming to our village to start a school. You know, when I heard this I went into my room and closed the door and danced with joy and happiness. I didn’t want to show to my husband how happy I was. I kept praying that these people would come again and really start the school. I asked my children to pray for this school. When I saw their small hands raised for prayers, I became certain that the school would start.
One day, I heard that on Monday there would be a school and our villagers could go to it. WOOOOOOOW WOOOOW! I CRIED! I CRIED! I DANCED! I REJOICED! I made sweet rice for my children for good luck. I wanted to talk to my husband to ask him if he would send the children to school, but I was afraid what would happen if he did not give permission. Finally, I did talk to him, and at first he was very upset and angry. After a few days when he saw many people going to school and smiling a lot and looking happy, he came and told me that this school was also for women. I asked him to say this again!!! For women!!! I said. “Can I go to school?” And then I realized what I had said and didn’t want to look at my husbands eyes. I knew he was going to be full of anger. He went out. I kept on thinking that if he sent me to my parents’ home and told them I wanted to go to school, they would laugh at me and not let me go. But he came home in the evening and said that the school begins at 11:00 and he had talked to many people and found that it was a safe place for women, and no men would come. He said I could go to school. I bowed down and could not stop crying and thanking Allah for giving me this chance. I could not sleep all night. That was the best night of my life.
I kept thinking about what I would do in school. What would I learn? Would people laugh at me? So many things! I got ready and went toschool at 9:40. I cleaned the mats and the whiteboard. I met Miss Pawan that very first day. She was a wonderful girl and she came to me and hugged me. I told her how anxious I was and she was very happy. I can never forget my first day at school. LWCO has changed my life. I have started to make friends. My best friend is Miss Pawan. I have 45 friends now. I come to school every day. My four children also attend the school and my husband is very happy. We are all 5 grateful to him. Now when I make cards and patches, Sir Greg sends me money for these things and I give this to my husband and we buy food and things for our children. We are so happy. LWCO has changed my life and my family’s life. I know my 4 children will be educated and so there will be 4 families who will get an education now, as well. We want to spread these schools to all villages. I know there are millions of women like me who have been waiting for LWCO. Sir Greg and Miss Pawan and the books will change their lives. I am so happy. I am so happy. I am so happy. Salaam to everyone who helps with this school. I have friends. I smile. I learn and I am learning so many things. I thank everyone for their help.
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Note: Pawan is Murtaza’s teacher in the mountains above Abbotobad. There is great significance to obtaining permission to take her picture. It means she and her husband have the confidence to stand before the world to share the power of their story and set aside old beliefs to do it. Greg Zaller