He put all his 25 years of wisdom into one sentence: It starts with you, it starts with hope. Dammit! To be very cliché: the enormity of what I am doing hit me with a ferocity unlike what I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been meaning to use that sentence for some time without finding a proper moment to do so. Feels good! With that out of the way, I can tell you what’s going on.
So, you know how I am a self-proclaimed sexist, right? For the past couple of years I’ve been working on a startup that employs women (surprise! surprise!) to do digital work from home and hence (very British of me, no? This is in honor of the Royal Wedding coming up – the most I could do.) enabling them to work without fear of any objections from the fam, or any fear of getting hit by a lightning bolt for working with men and burning in eternal fire, or fear of getting blown up into smithereens by a random bombing. It’s a win-win! You work with cute, rich, random guys from around the world AND you earn more than you would working as a teacher at some “best elitist school system” (yep, my son’s Bradford-born Principal, who probably flunked A-levels and was married off to the first Paki guy who would have her because of her enchanté accent *blech*, told me that when I went for his admission!!), and you can spend the entire day sitting in your room watching Gossip Girl and bark at people around you ‘coz of course you were transcribing the show for a client. Professional and family life become bliss! GOD! I better stop watching Gossip Girl – that was mean even for me.
Anyhoo, so I was saying. Me? Role model? Beacon of hope? Erm? So, I’ve worked with pretty cool people the past 2 years: YPO, Quora, Fission Strategy. Had wonderful experiences including helping to arrange a conference call with Tony Blair and Paul Kagame (I won’t say exactly how much I helped but I did help more than YOU did so stop b****ing and accept I am cooler than you), working on trips to Africa to help build schools for orphans, spreading awareness about the devastation caused by natural disasters in Pakistan and Haiti. But that was all for me. How am I giving hope to anyone?
I guess it might be ‘coz very early in my life I learned that if you wanted something bad enough there was always a way to get it (NOT APPLICABLE if you look like YOU and want to look like Christy Turlington – that ain’t happening no matter how hard you try sista’) and it did not necessarily meant breaking every rule in the book and becoming a rebel. You can find a way around the obstacles in your way – you don’t have to go through them. I wanted to study – do my Masters. Wasn’t allowed to attend a co-ed so I started looking around for options, wasted a year, and found a girl’s college that had started Masters classes that year. The experience was HORRIBLE to say the least BUT I am glad I made the right decision and went ahead with the course. Now when someone asks me what my qualification is, saying I have a Masters from Quaid-e-Azam or saying I have a Masters from Frontier College, makes no difference to my clients. They don’t recognize either institutes. All they know is that I have an MA in English Lit, and that’s all that matters.
Then, I wanted to work. 3 years at a local private school as an ESL teacher were painful, to say the least. Won’t go into details, but it helped on my CV, and I learned some lessons that have helped me with latter work (such as, don’t suck up to the boss – suck up to the colleagues – they are the ones that will cover your ass. If you gals are reading this, which I doubt, you know I love you despite the fact I started with that agenda *grin*).
Then, the hunger to do something more challenging (dramatic, I know!) set in once again. This time, I wanted to work with an NGO or some UN-type organization, or work in an office-environment (whatever that means). VERY FUNNY – like that was going to happen! But it did. I found virtual work. Won’t start a bragging session about the amazing things I did/am doing though the temptation is overpowering.
So, if I can do it, everyone and anyone can. I get applications for work from such a diverse group of women. Students, bored housewives, working women looking for more work (seriously!), cousins impressed and suspicious of my new found riches and star-status in the fam. But some stories are touching. Like this young mom who wrote to me a couple of weeks back. She has a small baby, about 18 months old, who has some sort of medical condition making him immobile from the waist down. She has to be with her baby 24/7 but promised she could work part-time when the baby was napping. I wanted to cry. If I had enough work to send her I would. But I don’t. This is where my venture, if successful, gives hope. I told her about my struggle (yeah, I never forget to put in a bit of a brag into everything – I love me), pointed her towards places on the Internet she could find work on, and promised her I’d help her if I ever can. Few days back I pinged her on Skype and I was happy to know she had found a part-time VA job.
Another initiative – in a small town in the remote northern areas of Pakistan we have a team of about 10 women working from an IT Center doing basic digital tasks. Their earnings? Less than $25 each but in a place where a full-time school teacher gets less than $50 a month, these girls made that much working part-time. Plus, how many teaching jobs could there be in a town with a population of less than 10,000 people? This is an opportunity to work without leaving their homes and heading to bigger cities in search for employment. And we hope to send them more work and employ them full-time once some internal structural changes are made which I am hoping will be real soon.
Hope! This is what it’s all about. It’s not me alone but my venture and the lives touched that are rekindling hope in the hearts of many. It gives me courage to go along with my plans, to knock on doors I would never dare to approach, to push myself to the limit to make this successful. There are times when I want to give up and hide under the covers and just be happy with what I am doing for myself. But, I know if I give up now a part of me will always make me feel guilty for not doing it.
I’ll let you all go put those hankies in the washer now. Blow your noses, put iced tea-bags on your eyes, and be fabulous!