SEW begins with an unlikely friendship of two women from opposite ends of the world, Sister Zeph in Pakistan and Malee Kenworthy (me) in America. The initial encounter happened serendipitously online when I was following Malala Yousafzai on her Facebook page. I was at working as a Nursing Assistant at an adult family home at the time and would go online in the evenings due to my 24 hour shifts.
I happened to be at work when I Saw that Malala had posted a documentary about a woman in rural Pakistan and her educational efforts. Honestly, I could only get through half of the film at the time because it struck me so hard. The film, Flight of the Falcons: Bring Our Girls back won an international film award at the New York Film Festival. I immediately reached out to Sister Zeph because I saw that she was online. There was something in my heart that was drawing me to this woman and her school.
Some Background About Me
What initially drew me to Sister Zeph was the fact that I was following Malala. I was following Malala because I have always been interested in women’s rights in underdeveloped countries, or places where women and girls have little to no opportunities and freedom. Even while growing up I would do research on what women went through in different countries from my own and I was always fascinated by different cultures. I have never understand being prejudice or racist. I absolutely love exploring different cultures, worlds, music, clothing and more.
After Malala was shot by the Taliban I started following her and reading her autobiography, I am Malala. I started to become interested in girls education and what was going on in other countries. I think what happened to me, and the world really, was that our eyes were finally collectively being opened to the plight of what happens to people in other parts of the world. It takes something explosive and dramatic sometimes to jolt people from their slumber. I was jolted!
First Steps with Sister Zeph
How my relationship with Sister Zeph, the girls and her family initially formed was by me teaching the young girls every week art via Skype. Most of the time I would be at work and I would set up my “teaching center” right in the caregiver bedroom. Usually it would be a chair with the computer/ laptop propped up on it. Then I would have a white board propped up on another chair and then one more laptop with me so I could show them things online while I was skyping with them. I also would have some art supplies with me depending on the lesson.
It all started out with art lessons and an initial donation of just $50. I asked Sister Zeph when I first met her, “How much would $50 help you right now”, she said; “That would pay a teacher’s salary for one month”.
I was absolutely taken a back!
I realized at that moment that my little bit that I had could go a long way! I could actually help and make a difference from my little corner of the world! Immediately I was involved as completely as I could be, from day one. I had no idea that I would end up flying to see her and visit the school almost exactly one year later.
Building Up the School
Before I ended up visiting Sister Zeph and the school in Pakistan I helped them raise money, via crowd funding, in order to help them finish their building. Sister Zeph had won a prize for her writing and was able to buy a small plot of land and build up walls of what is now the skills center but still there was no roof or proper bathroom.
So, before it was decided that I would visit, with collaborative efforts, we were able to not only put a roof on her school but help them build a proper bathroom, second story, beauty parlor and storage room. Even then I had no idea that I would visit Pakistan not only once but twice in 2.5 years! Of course people at the time thought I was crazy …
Going to Pakistan not once….but twice!?
You bet! And I will probably go again one of these days soon! The crazier part is that the first time I flew to Pakistan in March/April of 2016 was just a few days after the Easter Park Bombing in Lahore. Over 70 women and children died and over 300 more were injured. Everyone told me that I shouldn’t go, everyone was praying. I decided to listen to my heart and I went anyway.
The first time I went to Pakistan I decided to go with the flow and not plan for too many things except I set my goal to do art with the girls, teach English, self defense and more. I had to stay in different areas all the time. I could not stay in the village where the school is located for too long because that is a slum area and you won’t see Americans there. I am glad that I did not spend all my time at the school though (I was in PK for a total of 3.5 weeks) because I got the opportunity to get to know Sister Zeph more and see more of Pakistan as well.
As I am writing this now it has already been 9 months since I have been to Pakistan. I keep telling myself to hold off from going again, that it’s too dangerous but for some reason Pakistan is embedded in my heart now and I cannot tear myself away from it. I cannot explain why I feel this way but my second trip to Pakistan was amazing.
I can honestly admit that both times after coming back I had culture shock. Things really are so different here than there and vice versa. The second time I went to Pakistan I felt mentally prepared and I knew exactly what I wanted to do, which is an amazing feeling to have. I was able to see historical places, do more art projects, honor different organizations that have helped Sister Zeph and her cause, teach more self defense, visit churches and mosques, eat amazing food, go shopping, distribute school supplies, books, stationary and more.
I will continue writing about Pakistan and raising awareness about education all over the world after my experiences. SEW is a seed for change. I want to sew seeds with grassroots educational leaders all over the world to help create more sustainability for their schools.
As Malala Yousafzai says,
“With guns you kill terrorists but with education you kill terrorism.”
Of course Pakistan has a plethora of issues, the entire world does, but I learned through my travels that they are people just like me, you and everyone. No matter their beliefs, deep down they want what is best for themselves, children and country.
As Sister Zeph says,
“I was born to transform darkness into light by spreading education, nothing
can stop me as long as I am alive.”