Mukhtar Mai’s smile lights a room. She’s recently arrived in Los Angeles and when we speak she chats about her eagerness to see Thumbprint – the opera her life inspired – and meet with friend Freida Pinto who lives in the area.
For those of you who haven’t heard of Mukhtar Mai, she’s an incredible woman.
In 2002, Mai became the first woman in Pakistan to bring her rapists to justice. She used the money she received from the government to found a girl’s school in her hometown of Meerwala, Pakistan. Over the past 15 years, she has built several schools and formed a women’s shelter under the Mukhtar Mai Women’s Organization, a non-profit which works to “eliminate violence against women through education and advocacy.”
“When I started my first school, I had only one teacher, and I myself was uneducated,” recalls Mai, who was a fast learner. She jokes, “Whatever my teacher would teach me, two classes later, I would then teach the other students.”
Now, Mai’s school has more teachers – some of whom were once students – and she’s made an impact on how many in her community view girls education. She estimates that because of her work over a hundred girls have received education – in a variety of subjects from languages (Urdu, English) to geography and history.
When asked what she’s most proud of, Mai thinks for a moment, then answers: “There was a time when every time I used to leave the country, I would come back to find that fourth and fifth grade girls were pulled out of school and married off. I used to get very concerned and I spoke up against this to put an end to the practice. Now, when I return to Meerwala, young girls in my school have not been married off in my absence.”
Mai has seen a lot of change in Meerwala since she started her work. While there’s still more to do, Mai takes everything one day at a time.
“Every time I achieve something, I see the next step ahead of me,” says Mai. “I initially started out with a primary school, and then prayed for a middle school to be established. Once that was done, I prayed for a high school. Now, we are opening other schools in other areas [of Pakistan], and girls completing high school want to go to college for further studies. Every step opens something else for me to aspire to.”
Even so, Mai does have one dream. To have enough resources to open a hospital in Meerwala. With so many accomplishments and her status as an international champion for women rights, there’s no doubt she will do her best to achieve this dream and any other next steps she sees ahead of her.
To hear a talk back with Mukhtar Mai and the creative team behind Thumbprint, click here.
To learn more about Thumbprint, click here.LA Opera is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good.