PESHAWAR: Born into an extremely poor family which naturally came with myriad hardships, Saleem Khan realised from a very early age that there was only one way to escape poverty: to seek education.
While it was not all smooth sailing as Saleem had to collect and sell plastic and paper waste to afford his educational expenses, with hard work and determination, he not only graduated with a master’s degree from Abdul Wali Khan University but also became a topper.
“When I was in matric, I used to pick up waste material from the streets and then sell it to recycling companies so that I could purchase books for myself,” Saleem told The Express Tribune. “I faced a lot of hardships but I was determined that If I had to move forward in life, education was the only way.”
Hailing from Shabqadar Town, a small tehsil situated in Charsadda District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Saleem spent his childhood in a poverty-stricken village which was devoid of electricity.
“In order to excel in my matriculation exams, I was, at times, required to study for 16 to 17 hours,” Saleem said. “However, due to the absence of electricity in my village, I had to study in candlelight.”
Since Saleem’s father was jobless, his mother found a job as a domestic worker and used to go to people’s houses to wash their clothes. Her earning was not enough to feed the family and afford her children’s education at the same time, which pushed Saleem to become a waste picker.
Despite the adversities, Saleem did not allow his poverty to become a barrier in his educational progress and continued to work hard. “Education always remained a priority for me. In 2010, I passed my ninth-grade board examination with flying colours. The achievement motivated me to work harder for my matriculation examinations and – by the mercy of Allah – I secured 763 marks to bag the first position in Government High School Subhan Khor, Mohmand Agency.”
Saleem was not only a topper from his school but was also the highest achiever from Shabqadar Town. As a result, his achievement was noticed by the former chief minister of KP, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, who announced free-of-cost education for Saleem until his graduation.
“To be honest, I had decided to quit my education after passing my matriculation exams because I couldn’t afford to continue. However, the then government awarded me with a scholarship, without which I wouldn’t be able to study further,” he explained. “I am really thankful to the former chief minister who recognised my efforts.”
Subsequently, Saleem was offered admission in Peshawar’s Islamia College. Over there, Saleem once again proved his prowess and graduated with the first division after which he was admitted to the Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, where he pursued an M.A. in English Literature and passed with distinction. “I was determined to make a mark once again so I bagged the first position in my master and now I have qualified for a gold medal at my university’s annual convocation,” Saleem said.
Speaking on her son’s achievement, Saleem’s mother also spoke to The Express Tribune and said that she is very proud of Saleem. She, however, also revealed how her elder son succumbed to poverty and took his own life.
“My elder son Kamran was also very studious like Saleem. He was a position holder in seventh grade but he became a victim of inferiority complex because of our deplorable financial condition,” Saleem’s mother explained. “He became so depressed that he committed suicide because he couldn’t afford to buy a new uniform.”
After having faced extreme poverty and the passing away of her elder son, Saleem remains her only hope.
“My son is extremely hard working and bright. I want to see Saleem become a successful man one day,” she said with a glimmer of hope in her eyes.
Saleem’s mother added that if her son joins the academia, he will be able to pass on his knowledge to other poor yet deserving students like himself.
“If he becomes a professor, the biggest dream of my life will come true,” she said. “As a hopeful mother, I appeal to Prime Minister Imran Khan to take notice of my son’s exceptional educational achievements and award him with a scholarship so that he can pursue his PhD.”
Expressing his contentment with his achievement, Saleem said that education is his strength, his most prized possession and the only way through which he has created a respectable future for himself and his family.
“It has been my childhood dream to become a professor. My current financial condition does not allow me to pursue an MPhil or PhD, therefore, getting a scholarship from the government is my only hope,” he said.
“I have decided that if I become a professor, I will definitely impart free-of-cost education to poor kids because I don’t want anyone to go through the hardships that I endured as a child. Education and a bright future is every child’s right and poverty should never hinder that.”
Saleem Khan also said that there no shortage of talent and hard work in Pakistan and gave the example of many prominent scientists and business magnates who belonged to poor families but climbed up the socio-economic ladder through education.
Speaking on this exceptionally-bright and hard-working student’s accomplishments, Professor of English at Abdul Wali Khan University, Irfan Ullah told The Express Tribune that Saleem is a highly skilled, hardworking and well-mannered student.
“He came from an extremely impoverished background but his academic interests, his work ethic and his zeal to acquire knowledge had no parallel,” he said.
“He was poor, but the richest student in terms of education. He forgot about his poverty and invested his time and energy to become a topper and his efforts finally bore fruit: he is earning a gold medal,” he said. “He is an exemplary student and we all are proud of him.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2019.