Building a Better Future for Children in Pakistan 

Thirty-two percent of primary school age girls are out of school in Pakistan, compared to 21 percent of boys. By grade six, 59 percent of girls are out of school, versus 49 percent of boys. Only 13 percent of girls are still in school by ninth grade. Both boys and girls are missing out on education in unacceptable numbers in Pakistan—22.5 million in total—but girls are affected most. And it’s no coincidence that in Pakistan, honor killings, sex trafficking, child marriage, child labor, rape and kidnapping are also happening at extremely high rates.

Sister Zeph was determined to create a solution—no matter what it took. 

Zeph was persecuted in her school when she was just 13 years old. She could not bear that insult, and decided to make her own school in the courtyard of her house instead. Creating an atmosphere of love and respect, she set out to teach herself, as well as other boys and girls, providing a haven from the discrimination and persecution that was pushing them out of their own classrooms, too. She started visiting families door-to-door in order to recruit her students. In the beginning, no one believed her. They made fun of her because she was just a little girl. But that did not stop her.

First, her younger sister joined the ranks. Then, her playmates. Then, girls from 10 villages. In just a few years, Zeph’s courtyard was full of students. At this time, her mother was working as a laborer, and her father was in bed for years following an accident. When Zeph realized she didn’t have the funds to fulfill her mission, she took on a job paying $6 a month to buy supplies for her students. For the last 18 years, she’s worked full-time, six days a week, to support her cause. (While she was running her school, she also got two master degrees from the University of Punjab.)

In 2014, Zeph won the Lynn Syms Global prize, and with the money she bought a small parcel of land and built a two-room school. Then, she began expanding. Now, Zeph offers free skills trainings to women at night to empower them to pursue dress designing, make up, hair dressing and IT in order to earn money and support themselves and their families. Her friends from different countries have come on board, offering health education, self-defense training and art classes to girls over Skype. 

Today, Zeph’s free school gives boys five years of education and girls 12. She has enrolled 200 students in the school and over 400 young women in the skill center. Her students are professional beauticians, tailors, teachers, nurses, administrators, healthy and educated mothers. They are college and university students. Most come from extremely poor families, or are orphaned and homeless. Now, they are able to earn and support themselves and their families. 

Sister Zeph has been attacked by gunmen twice and continuously faces down death threats. But they’re no match for her daily mantra: “I was born to transform lives through education and empowerment, and I will do it as long as I am alive. Nothing can stop me from my calling.”


Debra Dion Krischke is the Founder of Pittsburgh-based "Inspired Women Paying it Forward" Giving Circles, creating space for women who have more in their lives to take action on behalf of women who have less.