"My role model has always been my future self. I have seen her; her voice reaching millions of people. She is strong, confident and has the power to move the world vision towards the cause of justice for the deprived and suffering. I am her. I will be her. It is a reserved destiny. It is only a matter of time till I get there. I am working on it." This particular statement of the 22 year old visionary struck a cord with me as she shared about her faith in her destiny. Born as a refugee to a refugee couple who had fled the civil war in Afghanistan in the early 90s, Hina Shikani stood out at the very outset for defying the psychological and emotional implication of living a label that had much to do with the struggles of living with limited rights in the country of her asylum. This young woman had what Gandhi would call the "soul-force" , a deeply evolved sense of identity that pushed her to adopt the wisdom of identifying with her potential to manifest her own reality, rather than bow to the diktats of a law which labelled her as "the one who didn't belong". She is more than a fighter, I decided. She is a visionary. I wondered if she knew that about herself already.
"I call myself a Global Citizen. I don't believe in borders and I believe that refugees should be supported as global citizens too and not as individuals who are deprived of a homeland. I am working on promoting and advocating for the education of refugee youth because that is the only way that young refugees get to be the best version of themselves." Hina asserts with a confidence that has become quite her signature style. From a young girl growing up with the label of being a "refugee", one who was forced to leave the homeland, to adopting the identity of being a Global Citizen, this young visionary already had a journey that could fill up an entire book. Hina's story made me unlearn, re-think, and re-do my own vision-board for the world because her light brings in a perspective that is valuable to say the least. It is enlightening the way she brings in her wisdom with which she had very creatively re-written the script for what is possible for a refugee to achieve by living the life that she had lived so far and the choices that she had made. I knew I had much to learn as our dialogue began. And, so it turned out, indeed.
"I was born in Pakistan in 1998. We are four siblings, three sisters and one brother. My brother is the youngest. He is only seven years old.
I never saw my father till I was 7 years of age. He had gone to the Netherlands to seek asylum and tried his best to get the entire family to move to the Netherlands. However, it was not meant to be. So, after trying for 7 long years, he returned home. I still remember that moment when I met him for the first time. My father! It was such a meaningful moment!
Growing up in a foreign land as a refugee girl, I knew that things were not going to be easy for me. And it wasn't. I was passionate about education since I was 10 years old and wanted to make sure that I made the most of all the opportunities that came my way. My parents were supportive. Now that I think of it, I was in a way lucky that I got to pursue my passion for education. Back in Afghanistan, education for girls is discouraged for the most part. I worked really hard in school and passed out with a whooping 94% marks" she recalls. I waited for her to continue. After a small pause, Hina shared about the turning point in her life. "Despite my grades, I was refused the one seat for refugees in one of the best institutions in Pakistan. I had to go to a private college as a result of that. I realized how the label of a refugee had limited my options. But I decided to not identify with the label and play to my strengths. When I applied to University, I bagged the one refugee seat and along with that the DAFI Scholarship, also known as the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative to fund my three year undergraduate degree. I am in my final year right now, studying at the University of Peshawar."
"2019 was the year, my life took a massive positive turn. I was nominated for the first time by UNHCR to represent Afghan refugees in Pakistan at a conference in Berlin called "The Other One Percent". Out of all refugee youth in the world, only 3% have access to higher education as compared to 37% of youth worldwide. At the time when I was attending the conference back in the year 2019, the number was even less, a mere 1% of refugee youth who had access to higher education. I advocated for the right to education for refugees along with 18 delegates from around the world. We attended a two-day workshop and established the Tertiary Refugee Student Network. Our goal is to step up for refugee education and bring up the 3% to 15% by 2030" she shares. Hina's growing sense of purpose in living her truth and voicing the same for her community led her to find more avenues to cultivate her talents. She soon became one of the fifteen researchers working on a project called 'Voices of Refugee Youth' which is a project taken up by Jigsaw in collaboration with UNHCR. "As part of the Voices of Refugee Youth project, I had to go into Afghan camps and talk to students. We have built a network in countries like Pakistan, Rwanda, Germany. When on my camp visits, I make it a point to encourage the girls in refugee camps to study more and I counsel boys to support and stand for girls' education."
Hina's advocacy led her eventually to become the official Refugee Co-sponsor for the first ever Global Refugee Forum at the UN Headquarters in Geneva.She was also invited to the International Communications Forum.
As this young visionary took her message and her vision to the world leaders, she grew in awareness of the power of a sense of purpose in life. She shared, " It is so important to follow one's own dreams and passions. I have noticed that people only settle for the safest options and often do not even pursue their own calling. A value based education should push you to live to your full potential because that is how you show up to help others through the work that you were meant to do. I was initially counselled to go for a career in medicine because I had good grades. And you know how things are in Asia. Either you have to be an engineer or a doctor to have a respectable job. I decided to not take that common path because I knew I had a calling. I wanted to go all out there to see what life had to offer me when I responded to that calling. I encourage others to do the same. You have to stand for something and you have to at least try it out."
I smiled as I listened to Hina talk about how she had made her choices. Indeed, in Asia, the youth are pushed to engage in education with the ultimate motive of getting a job. They are not taught to be courageous and follow their calling, focus on their unique gifts to push towards excellence or be brave enough to own their personalities and decisions. The road less taken is never an option to consider. This wise young woman knew that she couldn't be true to her future self without taking the plunge. How she mustered the courage to take the steps that she did when so many from privileged backgrounds fail to do so, eludes me to this day. Her advocacy brings in this motivational dimension of her personality as well. Hina stands for an education which is at once focused on helping an individual grow in their relational capacity by evolving in compassion, empathy and respect for others while also highlighting the need to know the self and one's own sense of purpose. At a very young age, Hina had beautifully integrated her ability to perceive opportunities in apparent obstacles, channelized her passion for education to inspire others in similar positions and grown in wisdom to learn how to deftly follow the inner voice of guidance.
How did you feel so connected to your purpose from the very beginning Hina? I asked.
"To be honest, I vaguely recall having dreams as a kid where I would be talking to God. In one of those conversations, I was given the assurance that my future is taken care of by the Almighty. I just had to follow my path. I guess I just trusted that and here I am!"