What did you do this Summer?! This will be the question everyone asks once you get back to school and/or work in August. What would your response be?
Summer, for many people, is a time for a break; to relax, spend time with loved ones, and/or travel to exotic and/or new locations on vacation. However, for many people around the world, especially those in remote and rural areas, summer is like any other time of the year. With the exception of a possible change in weather, it’s another season to contend with a life that lacks adequate resources and opportunities to thrive.
This week, our Strong Enough Girl is an extraordinary young lady who has chosen to spend her summer giving back to her community by championing the cause of girl empowerment and world peace. Varsha Thebo is a 22-year old rising Senior (4th year) at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, USA. She is from Mirpurkhas, Pakistan and very passionate about making an impact in her community and around the world.
Here is Varsha’s #StrongEnough story:
- Tell us about (describe) yourself.
Although born and brought up in a small village in Pakistan, I grew as a person in many different places around the globe in the company of a lot of amazing people. I am a Public Health and Literature student at a wonderful liberal arts college in the States called Agnes Scott. I am also the founder/director of Sarti (Sindhi word for a friend), a series of informal study circles in the rural areas of Sindh, Pakistan to create health, education and political awareness among young women. As the only Pakistani representative chosen by the UNAI/UNHATE Foundation, I am working on a project to promote peace and interfaith harmony among the school kids in Sindh. I am also a fellow at Qatar Foundation and working on the education rights and social integration of the transgender communities in South and East Asia.
- What are your hobbies (things you enjoy doing)?
I am an astronomy and NASA-geek and love watching Carl Sagan’s cosmos series whenever I find time and better internet connection, of course. I also love exploring South Asian literature. I enjoy writing personal blogs and letters to my friends. However, these days, traveling is what I enjoy doing the most.
- What activities are you involved with in your community?
I have been engaged in a number of activities ranging from setting up free medical camps for villagers with the collaboration of a few hospitals to organizing poetry slams for young people to freely express themselves. Owing to the exposure I have gotten in the past few years, I am no longer limited to just serving my community. I have been working in refugee neighborhoods and schools in America and in Europe. I have also worked with the sex-trafficking survivors and other young women in Cambodia. As they say, it is important to choose your battle. I guess mine is to serve people anywhere in the world as if it was my community.
- Who or what inspires you?
The unsung heroes I see around me every day inspire me. Their perseverance and motivation inspires me. The fact that they have never let anything dampen their spirits inspires me.
- Is there something you are passionate about? If yes, what is it?
I am passionate about a lot of things but what I am absolutely focused now is to try and fix the lack of rural representation in Pakistan. All the major investments, great opportunities, everything is in bigger cities even when the people in rural areas are equally competitive and smart if not more, but, unfortunately, there is nothing for them. No educational awareness, no health facilities, no media or government attention. I am passionate about bridging this gap. I come from a rural area myself and have a lived experience of how challenging life can be without any support.
- What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced? How did you get through it?
Not having a decent formal education while growing up. “Ghost schools” are a plague in my part of the world and affect so many people like me. I knew that I was not happy with how things were and that the only way out was through education. I not only started teaching myself everything I could lay my hands on, but also started the informal study circles at my village to ignite this passion in other girls like me. After continuously working, failing, crying and working again, I managed to bag a scholarship and left to study in the States. However, I do believe that in all my efforts, the one person who blindly trusted me and my efforts was my father. In a patriarchal society deeply entrenched in misogyny, the fact that my father believed in me against all odds was a great encouragement.
- What is the biggest challenge that you see facing girls in your community?
Even though I am continuously fighting against it, it still hurts me to see how complacent most of the women are in being treated as the second class citizens in my country. While working for women empowerment and education, you face the most resistance from women themselves. I get criticized all the time for being the way I am mostly by women. The question I get asked the most by women in my community is what good is this education and all my activism when marriage and making babies is what I have to do at the end. The problem is to make them see that they are and can be so much more than what they are taught to believe about themselves.
- What advice would you like to share with girls in your community?
You can dream as big as you want, laugh as loud as your heart desires and can be as free as it takes to become whatever it is you want to be. You are and can be so much more than what you are taught to believe.
- Who is your favorite female leader/role model, and why?
I have plenty of wonderful role models to look up to. But I guess Maya Angelou comes first in mind whenever I come across this question. Intelligent, beautiful, feisty, strong and compassionate, she was one hell of a woman! Her stories have taught me that no adversity should ever hold you back from becoming what you are meant to become.
- What do the words “Strong Enough” mean to you?
Strong enough means that I am able to carve my own place in the world, pave my own way, walk my own road and fight my own battles. And hell yes, I am strong enough!
- Do you have a favorite quote/verse/song lyric?
A lot! But here’s one that resonates well with me: “The question isn’t who’s going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” ~ Ayn Rand
In November 2015, the office of First Lady contacted Varsha that the First Lady would like to talk about her and her work in the First Lady’s speech on the importance of girls’ education. Below is a link to the short video clip from that speech:
Wow! Wow!! Woww!!! We are super proud of you, Varsha! Your passion for service and education is outstandingly remarkable. Thank you for being a very strong voice for girls around the world. Keep breaking through barriers and stereotypes. We support and applaud your efforts.
***HAVE YOU BEEN INSPIRED? LET’S HEAR FROM YOU!!!***
How has Varsha’s story inspired you? What questions do you have for her? Kindly share your thoughts/questions in the comments box below. We look forward to hearing from you.