by Aasma Aziz / Staff Writer
My name is Aasma Aziz. In the Urdu language spoken by the people of Pakistan where I am originally from, Aasma means “sky.” As a little girl growing up in Pakistan, where it seemed my dreams would one day be unachievable, my father always told me that the sky was the limit for me.
I am a Pakistani Christian, born and raised in Pakistan. I come from a family of 7 (myself included). My father is a very kind and generous man. He loves to devote his time volunteering around our church community, food, financially and organization-wise. On the other hand, my mother is mostly found active around the house. She is a housewife who spends all her days taking care of my siblings and me.
My mother unfortunately did not get a chance to finish high school, but she understood the importance of educating a female child based on her own life experiences. That is why she saw to it that myself and my siblings stayed in school, receiving the very best education.
I was the first girl from Akbarabad, a town in Pakistan to receive an undergraduate degree at a coed university. My father was scared to send me to a coed university at first because we were Christians and we had heard horrible news of Christian girls being sexually harassed, kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. But that didn’t stop me. I was not scared, but more strong minded to go for what I wanted.
After I received my undergraduate degree, I became determined to study in the United States for my masters. I knew that the first step to reach my goal was to learn English, seeing that English was the primary spoken language in the U.S., unlike in Pakistan.
I began to use tutorials on YouTube to learn how to speak English and while I was learning, I had not told my parents about my intentions to study abroad. It was a big challenge for me seeing that I could speak four other native languages, but once I accomplished the first step of speaking English, it was time to tell my family about my plan to study in the U.S. I was scared of what my parents might say knowing we were not financially capable of affording school abroad.
I told my sister first, then my brothers, then my mother, and finally my father, who as expected, refused because we could not afford it. But despite my father’s refusal, I was determined to receive a sound education for myself.
I took the TOEFL test of English in order to apply to colleges in the U.S. My father thought that since English was not our first language, I would not do well and because of that failure, I would give up on my desire to school abroad. Unfortunately, my father was unaware that I had already been learning English secretly. I passed my TOEFL test and he was shocked. It was then that he began to support my dream because he saw the potential in his daughter to succeed.
I was accepted into two of the universities that I applied to, but I decided to pursue my schooling at Salem State University in Massachusetts.
Right after I was accepted into SSU, my father was even more determined to see that my dream came true. He contacted one of the Muslim families in Pakistan that he had business relations with, where this family had other family members in Massachusetts.
After my father convinced them that I was a very intelligent young lady and that I had already gained admission to schools in the U.S., the family agreed to contact their family in Massachusetts to inform them of my plans to come live with them during the duration of my schooling. The family in Massachusetts agreed for me to live with them and to also sponsor my education with terms that I would refund them the money after I graduated and began working, and also by working for them temporarily at the gas station and cafeteria they owned. My parents agreed to the terms, and I was set to begin my journey to the U.S.
Upon leaving Pakistan and coming to the U.S., I was scared. I did not have any family there, I was not sure how the Muslim family I was coming to stay with would treat me. I only had my bags and laptop with me. I arrived in the U.S. after 26 hours of flying. That evening, the family showed me to my room and gave me dinner. The next morning they offered me breakfast and right after, they told me that it was time for me to leave their home. They said they would not pay for my tuition – they also said they could not have a Christian girl in their home.
Luckily for me, my school allowed me stay on campus for a week before school resumed after I explained my situation to them. Afterwards, I began to look for churches that will accept me and I found one; the church paid for my first year at SSU, and a member took me in to live with them.
I have been able to complete one year of my master’s program with the help of this church, but I have two more years left. One day, I want to work for the Unite Nations to promote girls education in my country where girls are lacking in education because there are no available resources open for them.
In Pakistan where parents are scared to send their daughters out to school due to possible sexual harassment, hindering more girls from attending school. I see many possibilities for a change and I want to be at the forefront in bringing such change. I want to make sure our homes in Pakistan are not only filed with women who think they are only made to be housewives, but also give young girls from an early age the opportunity to dream of another life where they can sit in class with the opposite sex for their education. And like my father told me, the sky is indeed the limit.
For those who wish to help me on my journey to receive my master’s degree, and better not only my future, but the futures of countless others, please consider donating to my GoFundMe. Thank you.