Rida - CAI Summer Intern

Get to know our summer intern: Rida

Each summer, Central Asia Institute welcomes students from around the country – and the world – to work as summer interns. Our internship program not only affords students the opportunity to work alongside our team and gain firsthand experience in international development and non-profit management. It also provides CAI with valuable input and support from extremely talented and accomplished young people who represent the next generation of leaders and change makers. This summer, we’re thrilled to have several very special interns joining us from Afghanistan and Pakistan who are studying at U.S. universities.  

CAI’s Executive Director, Alice Thomas, recently sat down with one of our interns, Rida, to learn more about her and what drew her to CAI’s mission of advancing education, especially for girls. 

Q: Tell us more about yourself and where you’re from.
A: I’m Rida, originally from Quetta, in Pakistan. I grew up as the eldest among my two younger siblings and was raised by a single mother. As a first-generation student, I’m humbled by the opportunity to break barriers and forge a path for my family. My upbringing in Quetta has instilled in me a deep sense of humility and community, guiding my journey as I strive to make a difference.

Quetta is located in southwestern Pakistan and is situated near the border with Afghanistan. Growing up there, I was surrounded by beautiful mountains and a rich culture. Quetta’s culture is made of different traditions, languages, and customs, all because of its diverse population and long history. The people of Quetta are renowned for their warmth and hospitality. Unfortunately, the city has faced security challenges due to its proximity to conflict zones and geopolitical tensions.

Q: What brought you to the United States?
A: I’m here in the United States on a Fulbright Scholarship, pursuing a Master’s degree in International Development Studies at Ohio University. My focus is on the intersection of gender and development, exploring how global politics and collaborative efforts can effectively address pressing issues for sustainable development. Additionally, I’m passionate about leveraging technology for social impact and how we can use it to bridge the gap between global policies and grassroots initiatives to ensure that development efforts are inclusive and impactful.

I came to the United States initially as a cultural exchange ambassador at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2018. During my semester there, I found the experience incredibly enriching and realized that I wanted to pursue further education in the U.S. That’s what led me to return.

Q: As a woman from a culturally conservative part of Pakistan, tell us what it means to you to get an education?
A: Education has been a transformative force in my life. Throughout my life, I have studied on scholarships that have granted me access to education in a society where opportunities for women are often limited. Education has served as the key to unlocking incredible academic and professional opportunities. These opportunities have enabled me to come to the United States all the way from Quetta, Pakistan to pursue my passions. It’s through education that I’ve gained the personal freedoms to shape my own future.

In Balochistan, where UNICEF reports a shocking 78 percent of girls are out of school, the urgency to address this issue is undeniable. This is why my internship at the Central Asia Institute resonates so deeply with me; it offers a direct avenue to confront this pressing challenge head-on. Drawing from my own journey and the lasting impact education has had on me, I am excited about the opportunity to utilize my skills and passion to contribute to efforts aimed at removing obstacles to education, especially those hindering girls’ access and empowerment.

Q: What are some of the challenges girls in Pakistan face that Americans might not be aware of? 
A: Well, while Americans may be familiar with some of the hurdles girls face, such as systemic lack of resources and limited educational opportunities, especially in rural areas, there are additional complexities that deserve attention. Let me share a memory from my school days that sheds light on the challenges faced by girls in Pakistan. I had a best friend, someone I’d known since the first grade. She was a remarkable girl with big dreams. I remember her vividly, always talking about Benazir Bhutto and how she aspired to be a leader like her one day. But then, in 8th grade, she told me she wouldn’t be coming to school anymore because her family had arranged her marriage. It broke my heart, not only because I was losing my friend, but also to witness her aspirations being taken away at such a young age. Here was this bright, intelligent girl with big dreams, suddenly being forced into a life she didn’t choose. 

And that’s not the only story that stays with me. I had another friend, someone who was practically a member of our family. He had a daughter, just three years old a couple of years ago. He used to talk to me about wanting to give her the same opportunities I had – a chance to study, to learn, to grow. But his hopes were dashed by the oppressive values that still prevail in our society. His family and extended relatives ridiculed at the idea of sending a girl to school, labeling it as dishonorable. Despite his best intentions, he was caught between his desire to give his daughter a better future and the weight of societal expectations.

These stories are all too common in Pakistan. They show the hurdles girls face in pursuing their education and realizing their potential. But they also fuel my determination to advocate for change and work towards a future where every girl has the opportunity to achieve their dreams.

Q: What do you like most about the United States? What do you miss most about Pakistan? 
A: One of the things I appreciate most about the United States is its diversity and inclusivity. Being able to interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures has broadened my perspective and enriched my overall experience. Additionally, what I like about the United States is the vast array of opportunities it provides. Here, I’ve always felt that my voice is heard and that I have the chance to pursue opportunities based on my efforts.

Nonetheless, I do find myself missing the warmth of my homeland, as well as the strong connection to my roots and the family ties that are deeply ingrained in the culture. There’s a warmth and closeness in relationships back home that I sometimes find myself longing for. And of course, I miss the delicious Pakistani cuisine!

5 responses to “Get to know our summer intern: Rida”

  1. This is so wonderful, infact Islam encourages women to be practical and progress in life, however it’s the cultural and society’s pressure which doesn’t support such ambitions. Once we’ve the Islamic system as culture and social systems, all these obstacles can be handled.

  2. Reidah, my Baloch Bobcat, your journey from Quetta to OU lights the path for others. With each step, you bridge worlds and empower change. Keep shining.

  3. Rida is truly a remarkable and impressive human being! It’s an honor to call her a friend.

  4. In this short interview, Rida, you have described the conundrum of wide opportunity and close family and cultural ties. I hope you find a way to retain the warmth of family and community supporting you while at the same time you are able to make your contribution to the world. May it be big and impactful, but if in the end it is only small and impactful, that will truly be enough for you will have dropped your stone in the pool of humanity and the kindness and the encouragement to others will ripple out to change lives. May you accomplish your dreams!

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