Focusing on Enabling Others

Two years ago we had shared the story of young Anjum Begum, all set to attend the Community College at North Virginia’s Alexandria Campus. For those of us who were tracking her story, we remember with great vividness the nervousness and uncertainty that etched her young face as her eyes flitted from her school staff to her mother, who despite all the assurances given by the teachers had a volley of questions and with each round ending in a nod or a flat tone indicating that she was not convinced and that this was what she wanted for her daughter.

But that was two years ago. Today, both mother and daughter walked into the office with a big smile. But it was the transformation of Anjum from a shy, unsure teenager to a poised and confident young woman that took us by surprise.

She narrated her “US experience” in detail and in an accent that distinctly had the ‘return-from America’ stamp and went on to express how “liberating and life-changing” this experience of learning and interacting with students from all over the world was.

“It was a whole new world and certainly, a bit of a culture shock! But contrary to my mother’s concern about how the Americans would treat me or how I would manage my food choices, I faced no problems. My college campus had a room marked for prayer and I had access to food choices in line with my taste and faith. Everyone was open and accepting. I wore my hijab and was never discriminated. In fact I went out with my friends – students from America, India, South African, Brazil and Pakistani – and stayed out late into the evening without being riddled with fear of being a girl or a Muslim.”

While Anjum returned a changed person, her mother is still to change her thinking. Says her mother “While I am proud of her, I fear this new found attitude of hers will cause problems given our lifestyle and our community’s diktats especially for women.”

Anjum cuts in a little impatiently, “my mum has only one agenda and that is to get me married. Whilst I am not against getting married to whoever she wants me to; I want to first study some more and then get married. The fact is that while my mother understands why I am insisting on this, she is afraid to take a stand.”

Says Christopher Joe, from the American Consulate in Hyderabad “We are happy to see how Anjum has benefitted from this study trip and it is particularly gratifying to watch her reach out to support others. In fact this is one of the qualities we look for in a person when we select students because it is important that they share their knowledge with others.”

Anjum too believes in that. She refused a better paying job offer to take up a teaching assignment in her alma mater, KARV Junior College as a lecturer, to “give back to the organization that supported me.”