With all the bad news surrounding us, it’s easy to give into despair. But there is hope out there, and this country of ours is is filled with people who have struggled in the face of adversity and won. Here is the story of one such person.
As the sun rises over the village of Koza Rkale in the Khyber agency, children begin getting ready for another day at school. As they walk towards the school, it’s easy to pick out nine-year old Zaina Bibi from the crowd; this rosy-cheeked girl is the one struggling to keep pace with her friends. Walking the 500 metres to the school is not an easy task for a little girl hobbled by polio.
In 2002, when she was barely a year old, Zaina was struck by polio and her left leg withered. She isn’t the only one. In the Khyber Agency alone, 35 children were crippled by polio in 2010. The prognosis for the future is not promising: half of the 210,000 children under the age of five in Khyber Agency have missed their polio vaccination drops.
But though her leg is crippled, Zaina Bibi’s spirit remains undimmed. She copes with the disease by using leg braces to walk and her story is one of unbounded optimism and resilience in the face of adversity.
“I have difficulties moving but my passion for education gives me the strength to go to school daily,” says the bright nine-year-old.
If her passion gives her strength, it is her affliction that gives her focus. A student of Class III, Zaina wants to become a doctor and anti-polio campaigner after finishing school: “I want to complete my matriculation. My favourite profession is medicine and I would like to be an anti-polio worker, so I can prevent other children from falling prey to this disability,” she says with a proud smile on her face.
Zaina is lucky on two counts: one, that her family supports her education — a rarity in the deeply conservative tribal areas where the majority of people are against sending their children to school. Second, that her school has not been destroyed by militants in the volatile region of Khyber where, according to the department of education, 28 schools have been blown up by militants in the recent past, the majority of which were girls’ schools.
Zaina’s father is a driver in soap-manufacturing company in Muscat and her family lives with her uncle Khyal Muhammad. Muhammad has been unfailingly supportive of the little girl’s aspirations in the past and says he will continue to do so: “We will continue supporting Zaina morally and financially until she herself chooses to end her education,” he says with determination.
Over the past six years, Zaina’s family has changed her leg brace twice after she outgrew it. “Now she’s outgrown her leg brace again and it hurts her when she uses it to walk. We will have to change it soon,” says her uncle.
The WHO’s polio vaccination teams have repeatedly failed to achieve targets in large parts of northern Pakistan and Fata over the past few years due to anti-polio propaganda, growing militancy and counter-militancy operation. But Zaina Bibi knows nothing of campaigns, targets and five-year plans. For her, the only goal is to reach her school every day and gain an education so that she can prevent others from falling victim to the disease that has made that journey of 500 metres seem like a trek of many miles.
If you know of any people who have achieved something positive, either for themselves or for those around them, please mail us at [email protected] and help us share their story with the world.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 6th, 2011.