Straight out of a fairy tale but with more twists and turns. It was by sheer luck that Sufaira Jaan a young orphan was selected for a student exchange programme in the USA. But before she could rejoice her feat, she was denied a passport on grounds that her uncle is a surrendered militant. Saima Bhat reports.
Studying in the USA was never part of Sufaira Jaan’s dreams. Still, when the opportunity came knocking, she gave her best shot to get selected for Youth Exchange and Services Scholarship taken in the USA.
But what made her will stronger to qualify all the 22 tests for getting selected for a scholarship was only to make her Papaji happy. She says, her Papaji had said Sufaira has the potential to do it and she wanted to prove him right.
Sufaira, 17, is a student at Banaat Institute, a girl’s Orphanage under Jammu and Kashmir Yateem Trust, where her Papaji, Zahoor Ahmad Tak is the chairman. For the rest of the 110 girls in Banaat, the wishes of Tak matter the most.
Originally hailing from Beerwah Budgam Sufaira says, “I am on cloud nine that finally I got this scholarship. It is only a bit that I could do for Papaji. I am happy that I made it up to his expectations.”
Sufaira joined Banaat as a kid in kindergarten but she doesn’t remember exactly what had been her age at that time. Being the youngest among her siblings, she was preferred to Banaat. “Rouf sahib, general secretary of Yateem trust from Beerwah, who was known to my uncle, had asked my uncle if we can send one among us (sisters) to Banaat, elder one had already left studies but I was a kid that time so the family decided to send me to the Banaat.”
Her elder brother is a post-graduate in computers while her second brother is in 2nd year of his graduation. “We live in a joint family with two uncles, one married, grandmother and my mother, who is a housewife.”
When asked about her father, she says, “I was a kid then, I don’t know how he died. But I have heard that he had died of lung disease or kidney disease, I don’t know.” Sufaira’s elder uncle is running an embroidery shop and another provisional store. Her father was running the provisional shop earlier.
While talking further about the initial formalities for this scholarship, it seems like luck was on her since the day Banaat was sent a single form by an NGO in New Delhi. In this scholarship only the students of class 10 are eligible but when the form reached Banaat, all the students of class 10 were busy with their annual exams.
“Our class 10 students were busy with exams so we had to select any other student. So, I and the principal of Banaat decided to select a student from 9th class. But then there were many toppers in that class and we had only one form, we decided to take Sufaira. Even if she was not the topper for that year but she has all the traits that fit her for this scholarship,” said Zahoor Ahmad Tak.
Finally, the name of Sufaira was cleared and she submitted her form. A few days later her name was shortlisted and she cleared the first step of the scholarship and soon she had to leave for Delhi.
Before leaving for Delhi, Sufaira recalls the administration at Banaat asked her to seek permission from her family, who were hesitant initially. Tak adds that after making them understand about the scholarship they allowed her to proceed. After that further process got started.
“I was very excited as I was travelling on a plane for the first time. But at the same time, I was worried because I didn’t know the other students who were selected. I was hesitant because unlike other students I was from an orphanage,” says Sufaira.
Four more students were selected for the same scholarship from DPS Srinagar and one from DPS Budgam. Among all these students, only two are going from DPS Srinagar, one from DPS Budgam and one is Sufaira.
But soon Sufaira started her journey and she met a girl, Bushra Nazir from DPS Budgam, who was also selected for the same scholarship. She says that Bushra was quite frank and there was not any difference between the two even if “she is from one of the elite schools in Kashmir.”
Once the flight landed in Delhi, all students were asked to stay in a school, from where the students along with their parents had to appear for the interview.
“I was interviewed and after that Papaji was also interviewed and I think we both did well. And after that interview I had to appear and pass almost 22 exams,” says Sufaira.
Finally, in March/ April 2013, Banaat hostel’s phone rang up which usually connects families with the girls reading in Banaat hostel but this time it rang to connect a girl with a foreign country which she had never imagined would happen.
“You won’t believe how excited and happy we were after receiving that call from Papaji’s office in Srinagar. The news that Sufaira has been selected for the scholarship still resonates in my ears. It was the time for celebrations and around a hundred girls celebrated it by remaining awake throughout the night.”
Sufaira is happy to achieve what was expected from her. “Entire administration said I am going to become the ambassador of this institute. And I think it always gives you pleasure if you can return something, a bit to the place which has helped you grow,” says Sufaira.
Sufaira is one among the six students who have been selected for the Global Leadership Education and Foundation (GELF) Scholarship 2013. It is a cultural programme in which 40 students are selected from India and USA who are then exchanged between these countries for one year. It is a government to government programme.
The scholarship comes under Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State, which provides scholarships for secondary school students (age 15-17) from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend up to one academic year in the United States. Scholarships for the YES Abroad Program are also available to U.S. citizens attending high school (age 15-18) to spend one academic year or a semester in selected countries.
Sufaira says that in this cultural programme students will learn about the culture of another country. Students are going to live with the families of those students who will be sent to India under the same scholarship. All these students will be joining the schools as well, in class 10.
2013 is the first year when Banaat has got selected for this scholarship.
This year 15 forms were sent to DPS Srinagar but only two students got selected – Haziq Qari and Assav while 03 forms were sent to DPS Budgam where one, Bushra Nazir got selected. The student exchange is going to take place in August this year and all students are busy in their packing but Sufaira’s trip is uncertain.
The passport of Sufaira is not ready. “Her file is still pending with the police department for verification. They are not clearing it because Sufaira’s younger uncle is a surrendered militant,” says Tak. He adds that he has approached the IGP who has promised him help.
“The NGO in Delhi also gave me an official letter addressed to the passport issuing authority Srinagar to speed up Sufaira’s issuing process but I think they will throw that letter into the dustbin,” says Tak.
Tak further says that they are still hopeful that Sufaira might get a passport and if she doesn’t then that is the destiny which cannot be changed. But ignorant of this reality, the girls in Banaat hostel keep on meeting Sufaira with their lists, that she has to bring from the USA for them.