Meet Lozina Shoaib; 32 and disabled by birth. She is barely four feet tall and her movement is minimal. She sits on an armchair with her tiny feet on a foot rest. She suffers from osteoporosis, arthritis and cardiac problems. Her bones have given in, even after twenty life threatening surgeries; there are four more to go.
‘I love you for that’, she says to her mother, as she hands Lozina a bottle of water.Her left arm has been pale since she fell off her wheelchair about a month ago. ‘I am stuck in a sitting position so when I fell I couldn’t help myself off the floor. My left hand is completely not working. ’ she explains ‘It’s embarrassing when the secretary asks me if she can turn the page for me and I have to say yes’.
The last time I saw her, she was on stage with Noor-ul-Hassan at the Yaum-e-Shuhda, narrating the story of her brave father who was martyred two years ago in the Parade Lane attacks in Rawalpindi. She left an audience of twenty thousand people in tears not only because she is the daughter to a very brave soldier but because she has achieved so much more than most woman her age, despite her disability.As I sit across her in her parents’ room, I am overcome with two feelings: the warmth with which she and her mother let us into their home and a sadness that comes when you lose a loved one.
Maj (r) Shoaib Shaheed and Fauzia were 21 and 19 when Lozina was born. She weighed only two and a half pounds. Many believed she wouldn’t survive. ‘We decided not to have any more children. It was a difficult decision because we were both so young’, explains Fauzia. That day, Maj (r) Shoaib Shaheed and Fauzia decided their daughter was not going to miss out on anything in life.
Lozina was born with a rare physical disability but she had an extraordinary brain. She started talking in full sentences by the time she was nine months old. ‘Back in ’79, when I was born, there was no concept of an inclusive system but my parents decided not to put me in a special school. I was told right from the day that I started understanding… that I am different. I started learning about good things. That was a huge part of building my confidence’ explains Lozina ‘I remember the first day I went to school. I saw that everyone else was alike and I was different.’ But that did not trouble her. Lozina would remember the bedtime stories told by her father every night. She would gather all her classmates the next day and retell the stories. She slowly won them over and soon enough no one was riding the swing for Lozina couldn’t.
n 1999, Lozina graduated from C.B. Cantt College with a Bachelor’s degree. Not much later, she gave an entrance test at Fatima Jinnah University.‘ I was busy having fun with my cousins when my friend called and told me about this test the next day.’ Lozina tells me ‘I had no time to prepare but I went anyways. A few days later, I got a call from my class fellow while I was sleeping’. ‘Your name is the first name for the interview’, her friend screamed over the phone. Lozina thought it must have been a mistake because she performed so miserably at the test. As it turned out, it wasn’t. She showed up for the interview next morning. One interviewee after another, the long line pulled in. They all told her how easy the interview was and all they were asked were simple five minute IQ questions. Then it was Lozina’s turn.Her interview went on for one and a half hours. They picked her brain and all her theories on Computer Sciences. They wanted to know if she was capable enough to deserve a seat in the Master’s programs. They had their doubts because Lozina was disabled and on a wheelchair. At the end, they offered her a seat in the MBA program but that was not what Lozina wanted. She left the interrogation room, as she calls it, and never looked back.
She went on to get a double Masters in Computer Sciences and Software Engineering at Muhammad Ali Jinnah University. Her everyday health issues and complicated surgeries meant she never spent much time in class. Her doctors advised her to stay at home and rest but Lozina never gave in. There were times when she had to give her finals on a stretcher.
In 2008, Lozina was awarded the National Youth Award by Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani and was named the “Most Inspiring Lady” by Dawn Television. Now a PhD student at School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences (NUST), Lozina also works as the Assistant Director at Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education.
When asked how she finds the strength to go to work every day, she says ‘I used to walk independently, then I started walking with clutches, then I started walking with other aids and then I was on the wheelchair but I enjoyed every bit of it… with love, happiness and joy. But things are different now.’ Ever since the martyrdom of her father, Lozina and her mother are alone in this fight with life. Her pains are getting worse every day. Lozina’s father was her best friend, brother, her guiding hand and her strength. ‘Daughters are always closely bonded with their fathers’, Lozina tells me ‘but there are daughters like me who (have a) one-soul-two-bodies sort of (a relationship).’
She explains how her faith in Allah gets her out of bed and keeps her going. She gives inspirational lectures and does shows on the radio every Sunday, something she started with her father.
Lozina has also had her fair share of luck, good friends and even… romance. She recalls from her days at C.B. Cantt College, ‘One day as I was sitting with my friend and this guy comes up to us and says “Excuse Me?”’ She recognized him. He was the lonely kid in class who never talked to anyone. ‘I didn’t reply. I assumed he was talking to my friend. But he repeated again “Excuse Me?” My friend nudged me and whispered, “He is looking at you!” I was perplexed. I said, “Yes?”’ He asked her if she knew how to make a Hotmail ID. It would have taken Lozina a long time to go up to the lab and explain it on a computer, so she drew him the instructions. He was back the next day explaining how he couldn’t manage to get it right. Lozina went to the Computers Lab with him later and explained the process, step by step. They became good friends from that day forward.
‘The sweetest part was that he owned his own software house back then. It was funny and sweet.’ Lozina laughs. He proposed eventually, she declined.
She gives me the analogy of a broken doll, something her mother taught her early on. ‘Would you buy a broken doll even if it was the last piece in the shop and it couldn’t be repaired? I have to be practical, you know.’ she explains.
Lozina believes the women of Pakistan don’t realize how beautiful and important they are. She explains that a girl with good education that sits at home and does nothing for her country has wasted many years.
‘I have seen mothers who leave their children to maids and don’t care what or when their children are fed. It is very wrong. What are you a mother for?You’re so important.’ She says in her message to the women of Pakistan. ‘Every female, no matter what the age, is so important. I don’t understand why women like to hide their inner strengths. Every woman should stand on her feet… because she can. It will not only influence her children but will make our society a better place for everyone.’