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By Zephaniah - Founder, Zephaniah Free Education, Pakistan. November 2012.

Well in 7th standard I left school because my teacher humiliated me so much - I was a "naughty girl". This incident changed my life.

I was just 13 years old at that time, but I decided that I will never go to a school were there is no respect for me, and along with this I decided to do what I can to change our education system.

There should be respect and freedom for students, without any discrimination. So I kept studying myself, without any school and tuition, and I also started teaching others.

The Start of My Academy

I started my academy under the open sky, without basic resources. No place to sit, no water, no toilet, with one student. I taught her for a few months and asked her to tell her other friends that I am teaching for free. My parents tried so hard to convince me to join another school, but I denied. So with the passage of time, I was able to have many students.

I started conducting little programmes for an integrated approach to learning - to give self confidence to the students, and to develop awareness on local issues. I always pick an issue from society - and, using drama and role-playing, I teach the students how to handle it.

Over time, when girls came to me I started looking at their lives and learned from them. I observed.

Girls Education

People often tell girls from a very early age that they will get married - and they train them to be a good wife who has to obey the husband at any cost, so girls do not take an interest in education even if they get the chance to go school. My student Razia' s sister got married when she was just 6 months old. When she was 12, she went to her husband's home as a wife.

I saw that when we are unable to give our youth a goal to achieve, they get involve in bad things. They think only about money and luxuries - and that a 'good' home is everything.

I saw that people sometimes give birth to nine or ten daughters, in case the next time the baby will be a boy.

I saw that woman is like a machine who has to make children, and if she cannot she does not have the right to be happy, but it is her husband's 'right' to get married again to have children, and she will be treated like a useless thing not a human being.

I saw women bear everything, no matter whether they like it or not. When a girl gets married, her parents teach her that she will never come back from her husband's home till her death, no matter how they treat her.

I saw that people often think that girls who get an education forget their traditions and rules set by the society.

I saw their is no respect for the poor, no opportunities to grow, to progress.

Mother and Daughter Team

So I focused on girls' education. I start visiting homes to convince people to send their girls to my academy. My mother was with me, so she visited again and again to convince the people.  One girl, Sobia, was very fond of education, but her family was not agreeable to it, so it took me one and a half years to convince her family. Many times they insulted me and my mother, but I did not stop - I kept going. And finally I won, and they sent her to my academy.

My Studies and Work

In 10th standard, when I was 16, I started a job as a receptionist in a telecom Company, because by now there were a lot expenses for my students. So since than I have been doing a full time job. Now I am an Assistant Manger, have done my Masters in Political Science, doing an other Master in History, and teaching my students in the evening.

To date, I have taught about 500 students. I teach them to ask questions, to think, to understand things. I never beat them. I teach them to help others by helping them myself - leading by example.

Now I have an adult basic education class as well, where women not only study but learn skills as well. I have 120 students in my academy.

Still Under the Open Sky

Currently we are still under the open sky but very happy. We celebrate every occasion. And I believe my students are vey good citizens - because they are peaceful, they help others, and speak politely. They share their things, they know traffic rules, they know what is real progress. Girls know their rights in society, they know how to protect themselves.

I do not teach them to go against traditions, but give them awareness to recognize what is right and what is wrong. I believe if I teach a girl, I teach a generation. It is difficult but not impossible. We just have to be strong in our decision and mission, and our vision should be very clear - that without making a woman empowered and educated, we will never be progressive. The solution to our all problems is in education.


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