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Scholar reflections: Saima Mazhar

Posted: 12 July 2019

Pakistan, In Australia, Scholar,

Australia Awards scholar Saima Mazhar is undertaking a Master of Education with Leadership and Management as a specialisation at the Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne. Before her studies in Australia, she worked in school leadership roles for ten years. She has always wanted to explore the potential of educational leadership.

Saima and fellow Pakistani scholar Mahpara Farrukh recently completed the Leaders in Communities Award (LiCA) from the University of Melbourne. This award encourages and recognises students’ participation in volunteering and extracurricular activities, both on and off the campus.

Saima and Mahpara are strong, passionate women who are committed to making a difference in Pakistan. We spoke to each of them about what the LiCA means to them, their Australia Awards experience, and their future aspirations.

This is Saima’s story.

Saima’s reflections on LiCA and volunteering with Open Table Australia

“My experience with LiCA was interesting from the very beginning, as I got to know like-minded people with similar aspirations. I had been volunteering even before signing up for LiCA and was asked to share my volunteer experience at a LiCA information session held especially for Australia Awards scholars at the University of Melbourne. I found LiCA a motivating and rewarding experience. Being recognised for something that pleases you gives a great sense of accomplishment.

Open Table Australia gave me an opportunity to work in a community kitchen with strangers who are now my good friends. I love entertaining guests, and cooking for friends and family brings me joy. Working with my mother and sisters while preparing family feasts is one of my best memories from my upbringing. The Open Table experience was something similar, where I prepared Australian meals with my new friends. I was surprised to see how scrumptious meals can be prepared quickly using minimal ingredients, with simple techniques to avoid food wastage. I was also surprised at how well a team of strangers could work together to prepare the meals. The key to this was just focusing on the task at hand, following each other’s lead, and the desire to help achieve a common goal. In this case, the goal was to bring the community together, as the table was open for people of all ages, genders, and social and ethnic backgrounds. It goes without saying that if not for LiCA, my journey as an Australia Awards scholar in Melbourne would not have been as rich and as colourful as it is.”

Learning experiences

“I am a believer in life-long learning and enjoy attending training and development seminars and conferences, as well as working in new and challenging environments. Of the many things I learnt in Australia, I feel that organising fundraisers for different causes using simple and practical tips inspired me the most. Before coming to Australia, I didn’t know how I could organise a fundraiser or educate and inform people on certain issues that impact their life adversely and how small changes make a lot of difference. I consider myself a change agent and would like to work on inclusion on my return to Pakistan. It is disturbing to see how some societies in our world can isolate certain people just because they are different in appearance or ability. I have provisionally won a Student Engagement Grant to run a two-week e-training program for trans women in Pakistan to empower them to start their entrepreneurial journey. I believe this will be the stepping stone for my future projects towards a more inclusive society that values marginalised people, such as people with disability, outcasts and ethnic minorities. I have also realised that in Pakistan we don’t appreciate the benefits and rewards of volunteering. I would like to make Pakistani youth understand the true rewards of volunteering (such as the impact you can make in society), rather than only seeing it as a way to improve their CV for Ivy League college applications.”

Experience in Australia

“The respect for diversity in Australia has had the most significant impact on me”.

“People are treated equally regardless of their colour, gender, ethnicity, culture or socio-economic background. These are the teachings of my beloved religion, Islam, and I got to observe them being practised in Australia as a norm. The display of solidarity and genuine concern touched my heart and my life. I wish to see people around the globe being so open-minded and humane. I had the opportunity to work with people of different age groups and backgrounds and found them to be composed, civilised and pleasant. Australians celebrate small things and express their sorrows and disappointment openly. They are not scared to express their opinions and engage in productive arguments, while avoiding unpleasant accusations and confronting remarks. I am respected and appreciated for being who I am without any discrimination, and that is a wonderful feeling.

Saima (far left) with fellow Australia Awards scholars from South and West Asia at an Australia Awards Scholars Forum in Melbourne, April 2019

“I am also enjoying being a student again; it is like revisiting my late teens after almost twenty years. After being married and having kids at a very young age, I never imagined I would experience this kind of student life again. It is interesting that I am in university at the same time that my daughter has begun her freshman year as an undergraduate. In Melbourne, I get a sense of liberation and connection. There are no boundary walls for public places and parks, and almost all such places are accessible via public transport. As a student, I get subsidised rates and concessions on almost all experiences. Entry to museums and some other attractions are free for students. I received free swimming lessons for almost twenty weeks last year, which helped me overcome my fear of water. I have been riding a bicycle to different places from day one, and one of the things I have enjoyed the most is taking long cycling trips with my friends. I participate in challenging activities and attended retreats and camping trips. I have attended conferences at the Melbourne Convention Centre and got to see Malala Yousafzai. I have tried different cuisines, and seen Melbourne’s beautiful attractions, as well as other cities and countries. My friends and I have enjoyed shopping and making the most of sales and other promotions. This chapter in my life is marvellous.”

Making connections

“In Australia, I have met people from different cultures and countries. It was surprising for me to find out that people from Nepal, Bhutan and even Indonesia can understand my national language—Urdu. I now have friends from India and Bangladesh, and this would have been impossible if not for Australia Awards. I got to work with the Graduate Student Association (GSA) as a group host in the Leadership Exploration and Development pilot project. I joined the University of Melbourne’s Student Union and the Victorian Certificate of Education Summer School as a tutor and group mentor. I volunteered with the Growth Faculty for conferences and Cancer Council Victoria on Daffodil Day.

Saima with friend and fellow Australia Awards scholar, Mahpara, volunteering at Cancer Council Victoria on Daffodil Day

“I have connected with students through different clubs and societies. I was invited by the Rotary Club of Carlton and the Probus Club to share my experience as an Australia Awards scholar in Melbourne. All the volunteering opportunities have connected me to Australians (and people from other countries) from a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

“The connections I have made and the networks I have developed during my Australia Awards scholar journey have encouraged me to believe in working in collaboration with other developing countries in the region to solve our educational problems and meet the challenges of the future together”.

“I believe that education is the key to solving all the problems of the world, be it poverty, hunger, gender disparity, energy crises or climate change. School leaders have the power to influence the lives of so many individuals, including students, teachers and the community. I realised that schools cannot achieve progress unless they involve and engage the community. I knew that it takes a village to raise a child, but I learned that it takes collaboration and the trust of all stakeholders (such as students, parents, teachers, school leadership, community leaders and a team of leaders of local schools) to raise a responsible and intelligent generation. I have learnt how schools can improve their performance and how collaboration between schools can help resolve issues via mutual cooperation and resource sharing to develop human capital. I have visited different schools in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia and have learnt valuable lessons from the remarkable school systems in these countries.

“I consider myself lucky to be an Australia Awards scholar. I have appreciated the support and company of my fellow scholars and the wonderful Australia Awards team. At the University of Melbourne, we have had frequent catch-up sessions for new and old scholars which has been helpful.”

Australia Awards scholar Saima Mazhar from Pakistan

About Saima

“I am a single mother with two wonderful teenage children. I was born in a contemporary religious family with strong values and strict discipline.

“I think I have come a long way in recent years on a personal level. I had been facing challenges at home for many years. I could not have overcome this stage of my life without the unconditional support and love of my family and friends. When I look back I see inspiring alpha females like my mother, my sisters and daughter. I also received tremendous support from my son, father and brothers. My family life is a story of devotion, dedication, sacrifices and unbreakable determination.

“I am passionate about enhancing the lives of people and enabling them to have opportunities that I never had. My children, daughter Rojah (18) and son Abdur-Raffay (15), are my greatest source of inspiration during this journey.

“I started teaching not out of passion, but because it is a suitable career choice for females in Pakistan. I was just a science graduate fresh out of college and was teaching mathematics and physics to high school students. I gradually learnt to appreciate the value and impact of my profession when I observed my students’ progress in life. Teaching became my calling. Later, I completed a Bachelor of Education, a Master of History and a Master of Business Administration. I started as a teacher and was working as a Principal of a private school within just 10 years. My personal life was an immense challenge, but it was my sense of accomplishment and achievement in my professional life that kept me motivated.

“I want to work on school improvement plans in the public and private sectors and improve the vocational education system in Pakistan to fight poverty and inequality. I know I can work to ensure a better future for my children with the help of my family. I want everyone to have this opportunity, so I will be using my education, my networks and my connections to make this dream come true.”

Click here to read the story of Saima’s friend and fellow Australia Awards scholar Mahpara Faruk’s experience of volunteering and completing the LiCA.