Tooba is more than just a Muslim name, it is the Arabic symbol for the tree from heaven. And like that beautiful tree in heaven, I know my name, my being, is meant for great things. I may not have grown up in heaven, but I grew up in a beautiful place that taught me to be a good person with big dreams. So here I am, a 22-year-old woman from Pakistan who grew up into a beautiful, and despite being forced to leave my beloved home, I am and will continue to grow into something bigger and stronger than myself. I want to practice medicine, I want to offer support to those who need it most and I want to be the person, the symbol perhaps that other women can turn to when they need support most – like the rare and beautiful tree in heaven, I will be the rare and beautiful tree here, on earth.
My beloved Pakistan was an incredible place, I grew up in a small town called Rockford just outside of Lahor. I was raised in a Muslim community, and unlike popular belief, Muslims are not all the same. Different Muslim communities have their differences not only in their beliefs and values but also in their perceptions of the world we live in and of that around us. But growing up in a Muslim community is also so much more than religion and animosity towards different religions. Despite being apart of a minority group and having a missionary father which later triggered the need for my families departure from our beloved home, being from Pakistan is also about so much more. Our culture is about eating good, spicy food and about having a good education, one that prepares us for a world bigger than our own.
Back in Pakistan, I was studying in an English school, one in which our exams were conducted in a way to prepare us for university. Before I even reached university, I had already had a taste of the intellectual challenges higher education would offer, and I loved it. Even as a child I always knew I would pursue my education. My grandfather is a homeopathic doctor and I have heard so many unbelievable stories about his work that have inspired me to want to study homeopathy, just like him! My mother is also really smart and full of wisdom. I am inspired by both of them, and I know the day will come, where I will make them proud of my academic and medical achievements. As a child, whenever I or my brother or sister would fall ill, we would be taken care of not only through homeopathy methods, but by the love from our mother. It worked every time.
But these days, the days in which we were all together and life seemed simple and planned are long gone. Gone yes, but not over. Leaving my home was difficult, and knowing my father is still there alone makes it hard. But I try to stay positive so I will focus on this. I am in Germany now. I came to Germany in September of 2016 about three months after my family. So while my father remains in Pakistan continue his missionary work, at least I am with my siblings and my mother. I also have a surprising number of cousins in Germany. So while the culture, the language and lifestyle is completely different, I feel it was easier to adjust to my new life, thanks to my family. I live in Duisburg near Frankfurt, and although it was really hard at first, my German has improved a lot! In my first days and weeks in Germany I felt so lost. Without communication, I was nobody, I had no voice, no way of learning…I hated it! In my first year I was determined to learn the language, so I did. In my first year here I have already achieved a C1 level – this is a great accomplishment for me! Now that I know the language, I feel really good here, Germany is safe and really accepting and for this I am grateful.
I know there are people in the world that have problems with Muslims, especially women who wear a hijab, but here, I don’t feel discriminated against. And even though I am saddened by the thought go people not liking me for the way I look, I am understanding. Everyone is entitled to have their own thoughts, so if this is their choice, then I will not waste my time and energy on them. Instead, I have focused on my dreams, to pursue education and become a homeopathic doctor! I found out about Kiron in my first few months here. I was desperate to find a way to continue my education, so I started to Google random social work and medicine courses online, and when I stumbled across Kiron, I couldn’t believe something so amazing was so accessible and easy. I applied immediately and began taking social work courses. And it was free! This still amazes me! Kiron was for me a miracle, it opened the door to amazing people and incredible online courses.
I took courses for over six months and even attended the Kiron Women’s Week Event and I loved it! I felt like I could be myself there, be the strong, able and determined young woman my parents raised me to be. Especially as foreign women, we need to be proud of our strength and independence and exude the big hearts we were born with. With love and acceptance we can do anything! This is my advice to every woman, no matter your religion, your culture or your identity…remember your worth and your strength and use that empowerment to follow your dreams. That is exactly what I am doing.
I know it will take time, but I am patient. To be able to help others understand their own social behaviors and the power of self awareness through homeopathic methods, this is something worth investing time – I know it. I can see it already, 10 years from now I will be at a research institution and I will open my own clinic. My clinic will be free and I will treat patients who need it most but have the least resources to get the help they need. I am simply a kind person who wants to put the well-being of others before me. Like the tree in heaven, I want to be the steady and strong tree here on earth for those who need some support. I think my parents knew that I would be gifted with the strength to help others, after all, I am the Tooba of the earth. And if I believe in myself, then anything is possible.
Interview by Flora Roenneberg #Education4Integration campaign, sponsored by H&M Foundation