Dr. Maryam Mallick
Within seconds of the 2008 earthquake, more than 750 women and men got spinal cord injuries and were paralyzed. People with disabilities are mostly unheard and unseen in Pakistan, so working for them is a rewarding feeling. It has become my passion,” says Maryam Mallick, the Technical Advisor Disabilities & Rehabilitation at World Health Organization. After the earthquake, her first and foremost objective was to empower individuals with disabilities and with the support of the government, she has been able to achieve it. Maryam established a community based rehabilitation program in the earthquake-affected areas, which was the greatest government funded project in Pakistan for people with disabilities. Currently, her focus is on empowering the disabled women in southern Punjab by linking them to skill development and mainstreaming them in society. Other than that, she is a proud single mother of 2 brilliant and extraordinary children.
Maryam is a pioneer of establishing polio rehabilitation initiative in Pakistan, which happens to be the only country amongst all polio affected countries to have taken this initiative. She has also been to Afghanistan and Yemen for this purpose and initiated a similar process there. When she was told she would have to travel to Afghanistan, it was a difficult decision for her. She was worried about leaving behind her children and the security situation in Afghanistan was very tense. “My passion to work for children across the border overcame my fears and I did go.” Maryam’s work there not only involved meeting with government officials and NGOs in Kabul but also to gain the trust of local tribal leaders in other parts of Afghanistan, for whom a woman with a career was an alien concept. “I was in a room with almost 70 tribal Pathans. The health minister started my introduction in Pushto. He didn’t know I understood the language. He told them I’m his sister, and that I’m brave to have come all the way from Islamabad for our kids. They asked me to speak in English and I said no I’ll manage in Pushto. A lot of tension was there because in their society, women don’t come out of their homes. But as I started in their language, I could see the tension dissipating and eventually being replaced with smiles on their faces. I was very nervous and it was a difficult moment for me but I learnt how language can be so powerful in impacting others.”
“Challenges are always tough. But I think while being challenged is inevitable, being defeated is optional. It is all about how you react to those challenges.” While she did face the regular challenges of the workplace, she had the additional struggle of raising her children single handedly. “I wanted to instill a belief in them that they are not less than anyone else in the society,” she explains. She had to make sure they were strong, self-assured, and had self-respect. Managing that with a demanding career is no easy job and Maryam made them realize they should appreciate the sacrifices their mother made as single parent. It was difficult road but she managed with the help of her supportive parents.
Maryam’s father played the fatherly figure role in her children’s lives and when she lost him to cancer, she was shattered. “He was my role model, a military commando, won lots of gallantry awards. We were not expecting him to suffer from cancer. I handled the news of his illness with strength as I was sure he will get out of it. But finally when his doctors lost hope and gave me 3-6 months more, I was distraught. That’s when I felt defeated,” says Maryam. “We develop walls around ourselves especially at a time of suffering and pretend we are very strong. We need to surrender to moments of weakness and invite the love of others for comfort.”
According to Maryam, our professional institutional structure is gender biased so women have to prove themselves that they are not less than anyone in capability. Working women face constant struggle but if you have passion, it doesn’t seem like a struggle at all. Financial independence is very important for her and should be for every woman, regardless of her background. Whether you are single, married, divorced or separated, anything can happen to anyone and hence, a woman must be prepared for any sort of hardship. A perfectly set life can be subject to calamities and be dismantled in a matter of seconds. “Women who are able to stand up on their feet and support their family socially and emotionally are inspirational role models,” believes Maryam.
Being a mother, Maryam sees her miracles in her children and their achievements reflect the fruits of her sacrifices as a single mother. “My son is on a scholarship in Canada because he won the International Leaders of Tomorrow award. All scholarship students held the flags of their respective countries there and when he sent me his picture holding the flag of Pakistan; that was a very proud moment for me. It was because of my son that the flag of my country was raised in that university,” says Maryam with a twinkle of emotion in her eyes. “When my daughter graduated, she was announced the best head girl, sportswoman of the year and best delegate. That was a very happy moment for me too.” But there is no dearth of proud moments for Maryam in her career as well. When the government awarded her with the Fatimah Jinnah Award for outstanding work for people with disabilities, it was her professional Miracle Moment. Indeed the Miracle Journey of Maryam Mallick is truly inspirational and we hope to see more women following in her footsteps.