Hajira Khan: Connecting the dots
Hajira Khan: Connecting the dots
“It’s very unusual for a Pakistani woman to go away from her husband for a year. But my husband really believes in women’s rights. So we were trying to show the world this was possible and that I don’t have to play a typical role. I can pursue my own goals as well.”
Hajira’s goals were set early in life, when as a child watching television in the 1990s, she saw doctors in blue United Nations (UN) jackets helping children.
“As a nine or ten-year-old I wanted to be a doctor in the UN – a doctor because that’s what my parents wanted me to be. But now that I look back on it, I actually wanted to do something in the development sector.”
Hajira has been involved with volunteering and development projects for at least five years. She believes the values her parents instilled in her – respect, gratitude and inclusion – greatly influenced her life choices.
“Respect was number one. There was no compromise on respect. And I guess respect and equality are interlinked because they focus a lot on treating people equally, whether it’s someone who works in the house or someone who’s related to us. They were all the same.”
She was also taught to be thankful for what she had.
“I’m privileged because I’m educated. My parents instilled that value in me and my siblings by constantly telling us that we should be thankful for all the blessings we had.”
Developing a social conscience
Then one day in 2006, Hajira saw an old woman pick through the discarded remains of a chicken, putting its intestines into a plastic bag to cook and eat later.
“What I witnessed made me angry and sad at the same time.”
By her final year of school, Hajira was raising money for families in financial crisis.
“I started this really informal group where I used to ask people in my class to donate really small amounts of money – something like ten rupees. The idea was that everyone should contribute and that every little contribution could make a huge impact in someone’s life. Most people thought I was a bit crazy but they gave anyway.”
Hajira started looking for volunteering opportunities in 2009 and became an online volunteer through the UN. After several rejections, she found a position fundraising for a Cameroonian non-profit and raised $225.
Buoyed up by her success she volunteered for another organisation, also based in Cameroon, as an online marketer and fundraiser. She helped to raise $2,084 through the online crowdfunding platform Global Living.
“I studied business in my undergrad so it was helpful for me because I was implementing the skills I was learning in school.”
The experience confirmed for Hajira what she wanted to do. So she went on a British Council Active Citizens' workshop to learn how to run a community project. She and her mother – who teaches English as a second language (ESL) – came up with an idea for a programme to teach 20 children ESL for six months.
“English is the official language [in Pakistan] but the national language is Urdu. A lot of people don’t know or understand English. But to get jobs or even into good colleges, you need a good command of English.”
Hajira implemented the project on behalf of the British Council, which together with the Oxford University Press donated books and stationery. Her mother helped create a curriculum for the class of four to 12-year-olds that used YouTube as well as books. The project was evaluated by the British Council who included it in a short documentary.
Since running her first project Hajira has been involved in many others. She has built on the skills she learned in college and at school, and developed her management and interpersonal skills.
“When I look back on my action plan – the one I had for the project with the British Council – I see that it could have been stronger had I known things that I’ve learnt from experience.”
Read Hajira's advice on action planning to find out what she's learnt
That experience includes being involved in several educational projects and taking part in international events like the World Youth Congress, Commonwealth Young Professionals Forum and United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Working internationally and living abroad for a year has given Hajira a sense of perspective.
“Most countries have the same issues. Whether you’re from a country like Pakistan, the UK or the US, there’s poverty everywhere. There are different levels of poverty and homelessness. There are different levels of economic disparity and lack of education.”
And it has taught her self-awareness. When she was homesick in America, she thought back to the television reports she’d seen as a child and remembered the old woman picking through the chicken carcass.
“All these stories started making sense – and the role my parents played, and their values. Understanding where you’re coming from and connecting the dots – how events in your life have changed you and identifying why your passion is about development – helps you map out your future.”