Fatima Mehmood

Fatima, 30, is a PhD student at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia.

I come from a large family with four sisters and two brothers. My father was a shopkeeper, while my mother was a homemaker. There were no individuals with professional careers within my immediate and extended family. Despite not having the opportunity to receive education beyond school, my parents had aspirations for their children to receive higher education.

During my early years of education, I attended a government-funded school that lacked adequate infrastructure. As a result, students were often required to bring rugs from home to sit on while the classes were held in the open air. However, changes were eventually implemented and new facilities were constructed such as classrooms, washrooms, and water coolers. These improvements were made possible through the intervention of the CARE Foundation, which had adopted the school. Additionally, I enrolled in the CARE Foundation’s Access to English program, which afforded me the opportunity to improve my English language and communication skills.

Fatima Mahmood

As the first member of my family to pursue a course in science, I excelled academically and achieved great results in matric exams. Despite the high cost of tuition, I was able to secure a scholarship from the CARE Foundation, which enabled me to continue my education and complete my pre-engineering studies at Punjab College of Science, Lahore. I got excellent results in my pre-engineering exams and then received another scholarship from the CARE Foundation to pursue my degree in B.Sc. Civil Engineering at the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore. There, I was among the 18 female students out of a batch of 250; I ended up getting fourth position among them all. Following my graduation, I gained practical experience by working as a junior expert for the NESPAK Foundation for a year. I then made a career shift and joined the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore as a lecturer, where I taught undergraduate students for three and a half years.

Pursuing a dream of obtaining a PhD in civil engineering, despite the limited representation of women in the field, I was fortunate enough to secure a scholarship to study in Australia. Prior to this opportunity, the thought of studying abroad had never crossed my mind as I was unsure of getting approval from my father, who otherwise has been instrumental in supporting me throughout my educational endeavours. Nevertheless, with his support, I was able to pursue this opportunity and have since been fortunate enough to have the unwavering support of my husband as well.

The negative attitudes and perceptions of my family and community served as a source of motivation for me to pursue higher education and prove myself. Despite my family’s financial and socio-economic limitations, I was determined to achieve my goals and prove those who doubted me wrong. Through hard work and perseverance, I have gained the respect and admiration of my family and community, who now look to me for guidance and support in their own educational endeavours.

In my current PhD research, I collaborate with industry partners in Australia to investigate the potential for utilizing waste rubber tires in railway sleepers to enhance the performance of rail tracks. This approach not only addresses the issue of environmental waste and landfilling, but also provides a potential solution for improving rail track performance. After recently becoming a parent, I plan to complete my PhD this year and ultimately aim to return to Pakistan to work at a university, where I hope to teach undergraduate and postgraduate students and contribute to the development of stronger connections between academia and industry. As an engineer, the ability to address real-world problems is a source of significant fulfilment for me.

As an individual who has overcome significant socio-economic obstacles, I take great pride in serving as a role model for young women. Through my personal experience, I am able to attest to the profound impact that organizations such as the CARE Foundation can have on individuals by providing access to education and resources. It is through the support of such organizations that I have been able to achieve my academic and professional goals. Without the CARE Foundation, I acknowledge that my own journey would have been vastly different and less successful.

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