Though her profession requires a great deal of serious, unsettling and tiresome work, this nomad of a young girl knows how to lighten up a moment with her smile and candid jokes. Sharmeen Khan is someone who decided to always follow her heart from very early on in life. “My life is very unconventional because I can’t commit to a city for too long. It’s all about balancing family, actual work in the city and requirements in rural areas. It took me time, I was being torn in different directions, but eventually you find a method to strike a balance.” As a clinical psychologist, Sharmeen Khan has two professions; she has her own private practice in Karachi and she’s a board member of an organization called ‘Resettling the Indus’.Her private practice keeps things going, but the voluntary aspect of her work is extremely rewarding. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she says. Her goal is to resettle the Indus Valley Civilization to its former glory.
It seems Sharmeen has inherited this spirit of volunteerism and travel from her parents. Both her parents have been major sources of inspiration for her and she attributes whatever she has achieved to her parents. She has been visiting medical camps with her mother since she was seven years old. When the earthquake struck Pakistan in 2005, Sharmeen and her parents left home and went to meet and help the affected. Travelling to and staying in rural areas is no mean feat but Sharmeen is comfortable with it. “My comfort in such settings stems from my father’s love for outdoors and his charitable predisposition as well as my mother’s. My father is a businessman but we would go camping, find a place which needs help and go back to help that place.”
Funding is one of the primary challenges ‘Resettling the Indus’ has to face. Sometimes, lots of money pours in and at other times it’s a small trickle. Sharmeen has been working on emergency disaster relief for six years now and says that the real work begins once the emergencies are over. In 2010, 20 million lives were impacted by the floods and six years later, people are still working for the rehabilitation of these lives. “In the acute phase, it’s just a bandage. Restoration of life starts after the wound has healed. Therefore the need for money continues even after the passage of so many years,” Sharmeen proclaims.
Being a woman and working in rural areas surprisingly isn’t a challenge at all. Shangla for example, where Sharmeen is currently working, is very patriarchal yet so welcoming. “I’ve been leading teams there, they’ve been so respectful, and there haven’t been any closed doors for us. Saying our gender is a challenge is an excuse. We can do anything we set our minds to.” Sharmeen goes on to advice girls to follow their dreams. “If anyone tells you there are limitations or boundaries, don’t believe it. You are what you want to be. Yes, there might be challenges, but challenges are simply an opportunity to learn.” She reveals here that there are organizations like the Rural Support Program Network (RSPN), which work for women across Pakistan and every year they get testimonials from women admitting how they’re more respected at home after becoming earning members of the house. Financial independence leads to higher self-esteem, and that in turn leads to a more fulfilling life.