From Mariabad to Harvard University

It is a feel good story. A student from an underdeveloped town in Baluchistan, Mariabad, attends Harvard University for his MBA and now pursues his PhD from USC. Maria Waqar shares his story in Tribune.

Like most poor people, their aspirations rarely go beyond sustaining themselves in this underdeveloped nook of Balochistan. Many of them live and die in Mariabad (or Maree Abad) — unaware of the complex concerns and tremendous pace of life in urban centres like Karachi and Lahore.

But one student — the son of a trader who sold Quaid-e-Azam style caps in Mariabad for a living — dared to tread a radically different path. Karrar Hussain Jaffar transcended the confines of an obscure town in Balochistan, where people rarely educate themselves beyond matriculation, to study at the prestigious Harvard University. His story — a narrative about the wondrous possibilities of equal educational opportunities — is truly inspirational.

“My childhood friends, with whom I spent my youth playing cricket, drive suzukis and rickshaws in Quetta for a living, while I am a PhD student in the US,” says Karrar in a humble tone. “I often wonder why God chose me, out of all the people in my community, to get ahead in life?”

Karrar attributes his educational achievement to his father’s passion for his children’s higher education. He vividly remembers the chilly morning when his father showed him the ad for Lahore University of Management Sciences’ national outreach programme (NOP), which aimed to sponsor education and living expenses for capable students who could not have afford to pay.

“I was doing my FSc at Cadet college and didn’t even know a single thing about LUMS at that point in time,” he fondly recollects. “I didn’t take the ad seriously because LUMS did not offer engineering, the field I was interested in.”

When he returned back to college from his winter break, he attended a presentation by a LUMS’ faculty member, who introduced students to the national outreach programme.

“At the end of the presentation we all took a pre-screening exam,” he explains. “A few weeks later, I got a letter from LUMS inviting me to attend sponsored classes for SAT preparation.”

During the four weeks he spent rigorously studying for the SATs, he fell in love with LUMS. To him the institution seemed otherworldly; its grand building, spacious classrooms and impressive teachers fascinated him.

“I never knew things could be so orderly and perfect; it was like I was in a foreign country,” he remarks.  “I felt very motivated to study hard and join the institution.”

But his herculean struggle with English often left him frustrated.

“I had always dismissed English as a colonial remnant in our country so I really struggled while preparing for the test.”

Yet with utmost dedication, Karrar managed to clear the screening exam at the end of the four-week training and was selected to take the SAT exams, sponsored by the university. After obtaining an impressive score in his SATs, Karrar got admitted in LUMS and was offered a full scholarship and a monthly stipend.

“I came to LUMS in very high spirits,” reminisces the bright student.

But Karrar, who had attended the NOP training program at LUMS during the quiet summer break, had never seen the institution in full semestral bloom. When he saw throngs of students, clad in western wear and fluent in English, emerging from every nook and cranny, his excitement gave way to culture shock.

“I was used to wearing shalwar kamiz, but at LUMS most people were wearing jeans. I would greet people by saying salaam, while the other students would ask ‘what’s up?’” he recollects in an amused tone.

Often feeling like a misfit during his first year at university, Karrar mostly spent his days with other NOP students. “But after a year I managed to befriend other students from Lyceum and Karachi Grammar school.”

He sheepishly adds, “After a year I figured out that ‘what’s up?’ is equivalent to saying salaam.”

Karrar graduated on the Dean’s honour list, with a cumulative grade point average of 3.7 and 3.68 in his majors, Maths and Economics, respectively.

“I got job offers in the banking industry after graduating but I turned them down because I wanted to tread an academic path,” he explains in a categorical tone.

A year after graduating, Karrar got a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US.

“I simply told the interview panel that I want to come back to Balochistan after completing my studies. That’s where my home is; that’s where I belong,” he explains passionately.

But perhaps the most memorable moment in his life — an incident he recalls quite animatedly — was when he found out that he made it to Harvard University.

“I had no internet at home in Mariabad so I walked 15 minutes or so to a nearby internet cafe to check my email for Harvard’s decision,” he explains. “When I saw the acceptance email, I just thought it was too good to be true.”

Yet after he raced back home to reveal the news to his parents, his moment of rapture soon transformed into a session of lengthy clarification.

“My mother asked me what Harvard was and my father asked me to wait for potential offers by other universities” he says with a laugh. “It took a while to convince them that I got into the world’s top university.”

But ironically for a student, who was left disconcerted by the ‘westernised’ student body at LUMS, adjusting to life at an American institution was smooth sailing.

“After LUMS, I was very used to being around different types of people so studying and living in the US was not such a problem.”

Karrar completed his Master’s last year and is currently pursuing a PhD in Economics from the University of Southern California.

What does he want to do with all the knowledge he is amassing?

“I want to increase educational awareness in Balochistan—particularly amongst people from my community,” he says.

The young academic’s goal might seem like the reiteration of the clichéd promise of “development” that many educated Pakistan promise their country. However, Karrar is actually a first-hand witness of how education can revolutionize communities and places.

“Because of all that I achieved, my parents allowed my sister to get college education in Lahore and my brother got the motivation to get a scholarship to study in Australia,” he says with a hint of pride.

Karrar confesses that most of his family and friends cannot even comprehend what his life is like in the US. But he is fairly confident that after he returns, he can change that.

“I can make them realise the value of education,” he says.

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11 Comments to "From Mariabad to Harvard University"

  1. Danyal Syed's Gravatar Danyal Syed
    January 2, 2012 - 21:44 | Permalink

    Beautiful words of encouragement if really put to action can change the lives of poor people in Baluchistan and of course Pakistan. I hope and pray for your continued success in your professional career as well as dedication in uplifting the state of your village, town, city , province and the great country of Pakistan. There will be hurdles, headaches but with dedication, hard work and devotion you will inshaAllah overcome them all. Smile your journey has just begun. The journey from Mariabad to Harvard was just a prelude to the real journey of Life.

  2. sumera kashif's Gravatar sumera kashif
    January 3, 2012 - 04:53 | Permalink

    words cant explain how proud i am of u as a pakistani :) My Allah always help u achieve ur goals… and my heartiest congrats to ur parents who raised such wonderful kids :)

  3. saadat baloch's Gravatar saadat baloch
    January 3, 2012 - 05:26 | Permalink

    wonderful things as we are happy for every one,but my dear selector friend have you ever send a poor baloch,a citizen of balochistan, expect those hazaras,afgan, and settler who get the scholarship,and in front of world every one say that people of balochistan has got scholarship instead a people from punjab,sidh,khyber paktoon kwa, and afgani settler from afganistan took thier right and make their future bright

    • sanam's Gravatar sanam
      August 17, 2012 - 14:40 | Permalink

      Hay, Before becoming jealous of other nation. U should know abt the requirement of Harvard University and LAMS.

      Harvard give open scholarship to most genius people around the world. They don’t think whether student is baloch , panjabi, pakhtoon or settler. I don’t know him personally but I am proud to his mother, father and his nation to produce such a brilliant student in the history of pakistan. Tell ur baloch nation to get those open scholarship if they can we will be proud of him as well buddy

      Really appropriate every one comments except yours. As i come to know why Balochistan is the backward province of 3rd world country(Pakistan) is because of ur and others thought.

      May Allah help to think right for the others

  4. Khurram Shahzad's Gravatar Khurram Shahzad
    January 3, 2012 - 07:48 | Permalink

    Mr. Karrar is a symbol of pride and encouragement for my city Quetta (Balochistan) and I hope that thousands will follow his dream Inshallah. AZARAH or HAZARAH tribe from Quetta balochistan is contributing actively in the development of this province and their young blood including girls are taking part in different fields.

  5. Manzoor Ahmad's Gravatar Manzoor Ahmad
    August 11, 2012 - 10:25 | Permalink

    Young motivated people like Karrar should be given a prominent role for promoting education in Baluchistan. His making to Lums and Harvard had a lot to do with his getting into one of the cadet colleges.

  6. Rajab's Gravatar Rajab
    August 11, 2012 - 16:52 | Permalink

    salam , It’s really inspirational to read karrar’s story and reminds me of the career counseling seminar our seniors held before Karar’s departure to US in our community , there Karar explained the exact same account of story to all of the FSc. and matric students sitting and passionately listening to him and other presenters who were enrolled in different professional engineering, IT , and medical universities of Pakistan . Balochistan as a whole is a deprived and educationally backward province but our community that is the HAZARA has the highest probably literacy rate in Pakistan with a lot of Hazara boys and girls seeking education in different universities across Pakistan . That has more to do with the importance of education and the attention our elders give to it .Karar’s story is surely a driving force for most of the underprivileged students urging them and giving them a hope to move forward in life !!!

  7. August 12, 2012 - 03:34 | Permalink

    We are really proud of you Brother, wish you a very successful future in your career as well. You make us proud and what I feel is that there thousands of Hazara community (including Professionals, Students, Teachers) who are serving and making Pakistan proud due to their Behaviour…. Wish you again a best luck.. :)

  8. Amjad Ali's Gravatar Amjad Ali
    August 12, 2012 - 09:19 | Permalink

    Very nice article , and Good luck for your future endeavours. Very good decision to study PhD. Proud to have you in my community but I would request you to stay there and strive for more knowledge and success, this way you will be able to produce individuals like yourself. You will not get anything in Quetta.

    Amjad Ali

  9. TAQI KHAN's Gravatar TAQI KHAN
    August 13, 2012 - 22:08 | Permalink


  10. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    August 14, 2012 - 23:12 | Permalink

    salam. feeling very proud to know that we people who are in minority in a country like this and specially in such a backward place in comparison to other parts of pakistan are having such talented youth…proud of such outstanding students…u r no doubt an inspiration for others and i request u to guide others too so that the chain shouldn’t stop and we could proof ourself to the world…i m also in the same path and hopefully i could do something for my people…congratualion and once again proud of such talented hazara youth…:)

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