She was born without hands, but that did not stop her from becoming an earning hand for her family. Hamidullah Dar meets Maryam Akhtar
Maryam Akhtar is the only support for her parents and younger brothers today. It is only because of her, that her brothers continued their education, as for the last ten years she has been the family’s sole breadwinner after her elder brothers parted from the joint family.
The only earning hand in the family, however, has no hands at all. Instead she has two small corn size appendices at the ends of arms. The arms also do not stretch beyond elbows which have restricted their efficiency from her childhood.
Her disability was a source of concern for her parents, when she was born.
“It was a big physical challenge for me to find myself with defective arms and no hands. But Allah puts His slaves in a troublesome situation and simultaneously bestows them with the jewel of courage and determination,” says Maryam, thanking Allah in every sentence she utters.
Hailing from Hillar village, 15 km from Islamabad, Maryam was sent to a nearby school on her wish. Soon she trained her two pea size hands to hold pencil and draw lines on a paper. “I worked very hard to train my half size arms and these (showing the pea size hands or fingers) at writing. I used to practice at home too as I knew that if I could write, only then would I be able to study. And in all this Allah helped me in ways, too many to be enumerated,” says the soft spoken Maryam.
As she passed class after class, her father Ghulam Nabi Ahangar took interest in her studies and in this way Maryam passed 8th standard from Government Middle School Hillar.
“However, my parents were surprised when I expressed my wish to study further. They tried to desist me by saying that it was enough. They were apprehensive of my going to Achabal (about 7 km from her home). Anyways I won and was permitted to take admission in High School Achabal,” says she.
Maryam passed her high school in 1991 and had to go to Islamabad for further studies. This time she felt insecure, more so because of the existing security situation in the valley. Armed militancy was at its peak, and the situation was quite unpredictable. “I was sad that I could not continue my studies but then I was physically challenged that added to my disadvantage,” says she.
Once at home round the year, Maryam started training herself in domestic chores. “I never sit idle ruing my fate. Once I was compelled by the situation to discontinue my studies, I started learning other things to shed the burden of dependence on others. I learned cooking, washing clothes and laying and rolling my bedding. Initially it was almost impossible to do so but with the passage of time I worked out everything,” she says.
Life was going well for the family but Maryam’s two elder brothers parted from the parents to live with their families. The family was suddenly left with no source of income.
“For some time it was like a shock but I tried to overcome the hurdle by applying against worker post in social welfare department. As luck would have it, I got appointed in 1999 and with it the financial woes of the family were over in a year or so,” says Maryam.
At the time of her birth, her parents would have hardly imagined that one day their physically challenged daughter, would become their only support. When physically sound sons parted ways with their parents, Maryam came to their rescue. She marshalled her earnings judiciously so that her two younger brothers get education. “Employment is a power and it boosts confidence. I felt quite ecstatic to see my younger brothers going to school and even one of them getting a government job,” adds Maryam.
However, it hasn’t been smooth. She faced many health problems and had to undergo three surgeries. The surgeries have limited her physical activities. Doctors have prohibited any heavy work, but she continues to help her mother in domestic chores.
“Thank Allah most of the people like me are not fortunate to achieve in life what I have achieved. People here (in village) salute my courage,” says Maryam.