So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable. It is rightly the case with Marvi Soomro whose apologue is not only stimulating but distinctive in its own way. Not many have the courage and guts to do, what this young woman has done and achieved at the age of 26. A normal, simple girl like any of us yet what made her stand out amongst all is intriguing and inspiring. Marv
Highly qualified and a full bright scholar Soomro was employed at the IT sector as an Oracle Financials Consultant. After spending good three to four years in the corporate world, it soon came to Soomro’s realization that this might not be her cup of tea. She was born to do something extraordinary and wanted more from life. During her work span, Soomro’s been associated with leading many big projects at the firm but nothing seems to satisfy this young girl as destiny had something else planned for her. Earning a six figure salary, which many of us might just be dreaming about at 26, Marvi left it all to pursue her dreams. She chose to dedicate herself to an utterly singular and a noble cause which is yet another eye opener for all of us.
She left her job as a software engineer and migrated to Misgar, a town valley in Gilgit -Baltistan near Afghanistan-China Pak border, to educate school children free of cost. She proves to be visionary and so wanted to reform the societies by empowering and educating children. She is self aware that the journey will be tough and so it will be a slow but surely a rewarding experience. She is also a visual story teller at heart; her Instagram is where all these story snippets from her travels go. She has also been associated with DAWN and contributed a couple of photo journalistic blogs for it.
We got pretty lucked out and had a heart to heart with Marvi Soomro to find out about her stirring journey and much more. Let’s take you through this.
- Earning a six figure salary and leaving it to teach kids for free! What interested you and how did you land up with the idea of IEI (Innovate.Educate. Inspire) Pakistan programme?
It was a Monday afternoon at work sometime around the afternoon, I was sitting at my work desk trying to get out of the travel zone and back to the 9-6 zone when I paused for a moment and realized there were 60 other people sitting on the same floor, doing the exact same thing I was doing. That was the moment of epiphany where I realized I really wasn’t making a difference that could actually have an impact on someone’s life.
The idea for IEI Program came into being after I spent 2 weeks in Misgar at an Artists Retreat held by Willow Tree Art Residency. I interacted with the community, photographed them and worked on a story about Misgar Valley. With the epiphany in place and the beauty of the people and terrain of Misgar, I just couldn’t go back to my daily life. I shared an idea for volunteering with the local schools principal and he welcomed me and said I could pick any house in the valley and they’d host me.
I came back to the city and decided to work on a program where more people could join me and volunteer to give back to people who live so far away but are still so close.
- What is the vision behind IEI?
IEI Pakistan has a very simple but focused vision – Education & Empowerment to build more empathetic communities while providing a platform for our youth to give back. We want there to be a bridge of empathy between people in our cities and far flung areas. Here’s our philosophy/vision:
We are a community building organization that uses academics and creative arts to engage the youth and build a more tolerant society. The organization is centered on four main philosophies:
- Creation of a platform that provides on-ground volunteer opportunities to active citizens with a desire to give back.
- Provision of education that is interactive and engaging.
- Use of Creative & Visual Art as an effective medium for self-expression, community building and therapy.
- Building and fostering all-inclusive spaces like libraries for children to learn and interact in.
Apart from this we also have a very strong focus on environment and creating environmental awareness. We are building libraries as part of our program. These libraries also emphasize on our focus on environment because they are built using recycled material and books that are received in donations. Our current program in Chipursan, starting 15th April, will also have a library and we are collecting book donations for it!
We built a library for Misgar Valley and equipped it with nearly 600 books donated to us by friends and family. The library shelves were build using broken furniture dumped in the school storeroom, the lights using reused bamboo – we want these valleys to know that if used the right way even old material can be turned into something beautiful and useful while being in cohesion with the natural environment!
- What is a typical day like in Marvi Soomro’s life?
There are actually two versions of a typical day in my life. When I’m in the mountains and at work, my day starts with making fresh parathas or omelettes (I learned how to knead dough and make parathas on my program :P) with the help of my volunteers, for breakfast. Followed by taking classes at the school, enjoying a cup of namkeen chai with local bread called Phitti during the break with the local faculty, organizing & managing volunteer tasks and operations, washing dishes or cleaning the house, and occasional treks on the nearby mountains.
When I’ve to return to the city due to lack of funds or volunteers, my days are spent trying to reach out to people for funds, look for collaborations, go through volunteer applications, hold fundraisers & basically all the prep work before I can return to the mountains and my work.
- Did you face any reservations from your family? How did you convince them?
I did, my family initially thought I was going through something that had led me to this decision or I was just being impulsive. They were worried about my career which was going really well. Being the eldest daughter among three, my parents were also concerned with what they would say to people in the society.
Well, I can’t say it was all rainbows and butterflies – the convincing. We had fights and arguments, I tried to tell them this was bigger than me or us. Eventually I think they realized I was going ahead with it no matter what, so they gave in.
- What challenges did you face when you moved to Misgar? How did the natives respond?
The natives were very welcoming as a community. They helped us in everything from setting up the house to sending us vegetables from their gardens. There were some who were a little skeptical about our work approach or our presence, because it was hard for them to understand why someone would come to their small town and work for their children.
The children however were super excited and they helped me address the skepticism very easily. As we progressed in the program and parents saw how excited their children were and all the things they were learning, they became comfortable too.
Challenges in Misgar, well in a remote area like that you have very basic facilities. Warm water is a luxury so washing dishes or clothes means frozen hands for hours, we even spent an entire week in candle light because there was no electricity, food supplies are very limited – potatoes are your best friend and the cold oh how I missed heaters!
- Where do you see yourself in the next five years and what are your long term goals?
I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, that is reach children and educate them. Marvi Soomro as an existence is very tiny compared to the objectives of this work. The work I have started will only yield results in long term so I’d rather answer where I’d see these children in the next 5 years and it is my utmost desire that each and every child I work with gets to have a world of opportunities that they can explore.
- How has this job affected your lifestyle?
I’ve stripped the city lifestyle and adapted to the lifestyle in these valleys, I like simple living and simple food now. A cup of namkeen chai and bread is more comforting than a fancy lunch at an expensive restaurant. When I’m at work, I’m in no network or internet zones so my connection to the rest of the country or the world is very limited hence my social ties have also become less. Most importantly my work has taught me that to be happy, you don’t need much!
- Is there something that you wish you had done differently when starting out?
I know that I’m on a journey of learning myself, so I’m pretty content with how things have gone. I do wish I’d started this work earlier!
- From your perspective what are the major frustrations or stressful situations that you have to undergo on regular basis? How do you calm yourself?
I think finances and having to manage these programs in very limited funds (donations from friends and family) gets frustrating at times. Sometimes I have to tell a team member not to say purchase a grocery item because we need to put that money to buy a box of paint for the library. The best part about working in the areas where I am is that calming yourself really is as easy as trekking on a nearby mountain. Looking out to the magnificent ranges and the natural beauty, you realize you are not magnificent – you are just a speck so why worry!
- What personal attributes you believe contributes or is required for this kind of work?
Adaptability! That is the key to this work. If you cannot let go of a certain city lifestyle, a certain food item, or a certain bathroom facility you cannot be consistent in this work.
Another important attribute is, you have to let go of material aspects. You have to detach yourself from the idea of material happiness, I haven’t earned in nearly a year now and am running on very limited pocket money from my parents but I have reduced my needs accordingly because this is bigger than me, this is for my people.
- Do you have any special words of warning and encouragement as a result of your experience to give to the youth who aspires to do the same kind of work?
It is a beautiful experience, khidmat, and is something in which you are taking away much more than what you are giving. It is satisfying and fulfilling and our people need it. It is high time we stopped criticizing and waiting for things to get better around here, lets roll our sleeves and get to it people!
I think everyone figures out things based on their experiences but you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and your tiny bubbles to do something like this.
All images are provided by Marvi Soomro.