She was always a perceptive person, even as a girl. The drive to serve the nation, to do something for her country was always there, in her very heartbeat. Small things used to bother her, the trash on the roads, the dirty streets, they all amplified in her the desire to serve her country in any way she could.
Growing up, she developed a deep fascination for the army, she loved the heroes defending her beloved country and made up her mind to be an airforce pilot. A teacher laughingly threw cold water on her plans, when she misguided her, that girls could not serve in the airforce. A dream shattered that day. Gender defined career goals are so deeply embedded that the people of power in our society do not understand how young people can be a victim of their careless words. Being young, she believed in her teacher and gave up her dream with regret of a passion lost. A casualty which was caused by the lack of knowledge of someone who should have known better.
Rafiah was strong and resourceful, she ploughed on, working hard at school and college. She was determined that she would find another way to serve the country she loved so well. After doing her intermediate, she went back to her school to teach. Ever since she had given up her dream of being a pilot, she wanted to work for the betterment of young people.
She felt that there were a lot of gaps that needed to be bridged in this system. Knowledge was present, but there was a lack of compassion, understanding, and empathy. This came with the teachers who were untrained on how to impart the knowledge they had. Many eager and passionate students were often misguided because of these educators who were not trained themselves on how to deal with these impressionable minds. That one year of teaching decided the course she was to take in her life.
After her Bachelors, Rafiah did her Masters in Family and Community Development, with subjects like Guidance and Counselling, plus Educational Psychology. She also did a course on Advanced Studies of Exceptional Children. She felt deeply that this was an area that was often neglected, these children were often pushed in the background. Rafiah believed firmly that teaching the bright students in the class was never difficult, it was the handling of struggling and exceptional children that defined the worth and dedication of every teacher.
Her first year of teaching at Army Public School, after her Masters was a year of great learning and profound experiences. During that year she met someone that shook her immensely and changed her whole outlook on life and the purpose of Education.
He was a young rebellious teenager. The only teacher he could behave with was Rafiah. Rafiah dealt with him with all the patience, wisdom and love she had in her for young people, her enormous sense of responsibility standing her in good stead. The young boy opened up to Rafiah, his troubled heart finding solace in the teacher’s compassion and expert handling.
It turned out that the teenager was extremely unhappy. His father had severe anger management issues and he often berated him in front of other people. The physical and mental abuse that his father meted out, was extremely detrimental to the boy’s self-esteem. This, in turn, translated into unacceptable behavior at school. Rafiah became a beacon of light for this poor soul, who did not know which way to turn. They departed ways when she changed her job. One day he called her. Although he claimed to have called her to thank her for her help in those times, Rafiah sensed an ulterior motive.
That phone call left her very troubled and uneasy, there was something in his voice she had clearly recognized. She was a woman of great intuition, and her sixth sense was on red alert. She was in Karachi and at that time and her ex-student was in Pindi.
Rafiah came from a conservative family, she couldn’t just set off alone immediately, as her instincts were screaming at her to do. Desperate with worry, she convinced her father to accompany her to Pindi.
When they reached Pindi, she discovered that her hunch had been correct. The boy was suicidal because of problems at home. She counseled both father and son, making him realize the enormity of what he could lose in the face of his behavior.
This heartfelt experience left such a deep imprint on her soul that she still talks about the experience with gratitude in her heart that she was able to save a young innocent soul from a folly he was about to commit. Today, Rafiah claims with immense pride and satisfaction that this same young boy is a Captain in the Army.
The second phase of her journey started with another renowned school. She remained actively involved in conducting certificate, diploma, and leadership training programs.
She started as a grade 6 English teacher and within three years was selected for a Post Graduate Certificate Course. This course changed her life as a teacher and brought out the best in her. She decided to base the assignment on a Guidance and Counselling Programme in Senior Schools further her journey to become one of the most compassionate teachers recommended for a Diploma in Teacher Training abroad. This was the first time she traveled abroad and experienced life from a different angle. She learned that in the professional world you have to stand alone ……there are no friends but only rivals.
Her life became a roller coaster after that as she was recommended for promotion as Deputy Head and got engaged a day before her letter of promotion arrived. She was the youngest promoted deputy head in her network and a junior teacher in her branch. She faced resistance from her staff and because of her Post Graduate Diploma, her Head started feeling threatened. Long story short she got married the very same year and also became a co-tutor to teach Post Graduate Certificate Course designed by the University of Strathclyde UK.
Her home life was also tough as she had a bedridden mother in law too to take care of along with her pregnancy. Her Head would not support if at times she could not manage work at school. This most challenging year she found herself all alone preparing for a new session with her baby due next month. Her Head was on leave for surgery and the other deputy head had to go for her visa. The stress of work resulted in a cesarean at 8 months. She was rushed to hospital from school and a normal delivery turned into a C-section.
Her family was worried and upset and her father asked her to leave the job. She instead took a three-month break as her Head was not cooperating. She could not climb stairs to her office so she had her table shifted to the ground floor. Attendance registered was not sent for her signature and she was being shown absent. She had no choice but to go on leave. This was another lesson learnt that health is the most important thing and one should take care of oneself before sacrificing for others. She also vowed to herself that she will not treat any of her staff like this ever.
After her leave she was transferred to Middle School and there was another challenge ahead. The new Head was briefed by the other Head not to give me any leverage. She started playing politics and the staff turned into two groups one in Rafiah’s favor and the others against. With a baby, bedridden MIL and the non-cooperative Head she went into postpartum depression. She would work from 7:30 to 3:30 leaving her daughter at her mother’s house. The only plus point was a caring husband who supported her all through it and bore her mood swings and anger.
Finally, she was promoted as Head of Middle School and she had a sigh of relief as now she was a queen herself. But this relief was short-lived and the same month after her promotion she was asked to travel o Larkana for conducting Post Graduate Certificate Course. She breastfed her daughter but the Regional Office did not spare her and she was told by Regional Director that she has availed scholarship so she has to travel. However, she allowed her to come back over weekends to be with her daughter. Here was another lesson learnt that one should be slow in accepting responsibilities when you are making a new family.
At 50 °C, the young mother went on to teach PGCC to teachers of the Larkana Campus. The guilt of ignoring her daughter for duty led to pent up anger, physical discomfort and so she earned the reputation of being reserved and angry all the time. She went on to become an inspiring tutor and was admired by all trainees. However, her streak for perfectionism became her weakness. She felt if she is managing everything and wondered why the teachers do not give their cent percent.
As a Head of school, she earned the reputation of a firm disciplinarian who demanded hard work. While at the back of her mind she had the progress and development of teachers in mind, she had people who did not like it.
Her main focus was always the youth, there was a fire within her, a fire that wanted her to go on tirelessly, which wanted to create better opportunities and a better life for the coming generation.
She was promoted Principal of an all-boys campus. Life became tougher as she now had two more babies and her mother had passed away. She never gave up on principles and merit. She left her job when she realized that there was no encouragement and appreciation. Headship is a thankless job in the above situation and at the top, a Head is always alone. Therefore, she joined another renowned school not as principal but as a mentor to a teacher and a counselor to Senior school students.
Rafiah had come a long way along this path she had chosen. She had stayed true to her eagerness to serve her nation the best way she could, but she realized that she had more potential. With this greater purpose in mind, she became the founder of Noor Ul Huda Education, where she is the CEO and Educational Leader. She defines her work in terms of Bernard Shaw’s quote:
“Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I am permitted to hold for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
Today, she is more of a teacher than ever. The only thing that has changed is her audience. She now helps teachers and heads of schools be as focused and driven as they can, teaching them strategies and routines.
This, in turn, impacts the lives of thousands of children, turning their lives around for the better. At the back of her mind, a young boy is always present, the young life that she had saved from being tragically snuffed out, by the grace of Allah.
As someone has so profoundly said, a teacher might have a class full of students but a child has only one teacher. A single word can make or break his life. Rafiah has always realized this truth deeply and she wants the teachers around her to believe that they can always make a difference, even with a single word or a smile.
Refiah is a woman, who realized the enormity of the responsibility on her shoulders, as a teacher and an educationist. She is a woman to be admired and respected, an inspiration for young girls and women alike.
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