KARACHI - Mahira Ahmed Miyanji, a young woman from Lyari who teaches poor and needy girls free of cost, has been nominated by the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies (IPDS) for an international peace award.

Mahira is known as an education campaigner and has been working to develop means of education for poor girls whose parents cannot afford to send them to school, even government schools.

Talking to The Nation, Mahira said she was grateful to God for bestowing such an honour upon her. She said it was her mission to provide basic education to poor people on their doorstep and this was the reason that she had established a free education centre in Lyari.

“I launched the campaign in 2013 when lawlessness in the city was on its peak and the locals were afraid of sending their children to school,” Mahira said. She said that she and other volunteers working with her faced several threats and were told to shut down their project. She said that some male volunteers were tortured brutally by gangsters and they had to suspend the campaign for a few months as a consequence.

She said that she faced criticism from some of her relatives who were against girls’ education and did not want her to go outside and provide education. She said that she started working due to support from her own family.

“The purpose for our struggle is women’s empowerment and girl’s education,” said Mahira. In 2013, she said, she established the Woman is Nation welfare organisation, a platform, which provides free education to a number of girls through an organisation run by 12 volunteers. So far, 2500 girls in Lyari, Karachi, have benefited from the programme, she said.

Mahira says that families, which can afford education for their children, often send boys to school instead of girls. She said her organisation set up a school for girls and women where they could get education free of cost. She said that she was working with local and national-level politicians to standardise free education for girls.

Mahira has gained regional and global gravitas. She participated in the Emerging Young Women Congress Fellowship programme with the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies in 2015. In 2017, she represented Pakistan at the “Beyond Girls Education Global Summit”. In 2015 and 2016, Mahira received the Lyari Youth Icon Award from the Karachi Youth Initiative. In 2016, Mahira also received the “I Am Karachi Award” for her work for education for girls and women. Now she has been nominated by the IPDS for Peace Award by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for her great contribution to the society.

UNDP nominates one young volunteer for this honour every year. This is the very first time that an activist from Lyari has been nominated for this international award and she is a girl.

Mahira belongs to Katchi community and she is a student of MBA at Preston University. She says her elder sister, Kanwal Ahmed Miyanji, has done PhD in organic chemistry and she is the only PhD degree holder in her community. She said that literacy rate in Lyari was very low. She quoted a survey conducted by her NGO that only 17 percent of women were educated in Lyari.

“I have founded an organisation, Woman is a Nation, which aims to empower women through education,” she said. She says she is eager to serve the poor girls and women and improve their skills in different fields. “I approached some sports organisers to launch boxing and football activities for girls, but did not receive response from any side,” said Mahir. She said that an NGO had provided some boxing equipment and she would start a boxing class at her education centre soon.

She started her campaign with a street school. Lyari has a long history of such education activities. The street schooling system was launched in mid 60s when some activists formed a street school and gradually the number of street schools increased. Locally formed welfare bodies adopted such schools and the activists who did not have buildings started teaching students on the streets.

“This was the real face of Lyari that was destroyed by a few criminal elements who ruled the city for a decade,” she said.