Meet Ifrah Faiz, paratrooper, women’s rights activist, and one of the Asia Foundation Development Fellows. Determined to break barriers, Ifrah joined the Air Force and became the first female paratrooper in the General Duty Pilot branch in Pakistan. We asked her about her incredible journey.
Q: Ifrah, what motivated you on this path?
A: I was born in a place where the birth of a boy brings joy. A girl is considered a social burden. I saw people sympathizing with my parents for not having a boy. It was painful for me. I wanted to prove all these people wrong and be a source of inspiration for girls in my country. At 18, I joined a very male-dominated profession.
Q: Now you work with refugees, how did that come about?
A: One night I was at home with my family and two rockets fell in my neighborhood. The sound was so fierce, I felt paralyzed. I realized that life is very short. At that time, my province was hosting the largest number of Afghan refugees and displaced people because of the conflict. I wanted to work for women who’ve been affected.
Q: So, what did you do?
A: I designed a database to analyze all the Afghan refugee camps in the province. The survey provided details of adults, children, and women-headed households, so that they get health, education, protection, water, and sanitation. I met insurgent leaders’ wives, women who fled their husbands because of torture, bomb victims, children who had no one. I learned what it means to be a leader from them.
Q: It sounds like this inspired you to become an even more effective leader.
A: That’s the beauty of the Asia Foundation Development Fellows. It’s helped me solidify my network, to lead through adversity, stay resilient. I’ve learned to provide hope and possibility and to resettle people.
Q: How does The Asia Foundation train emerging leaders?
A: There are 12 of us and we connect with inspiring leaders and learn about their impactful work. We enhance our public speaking and leadership skills, assess our strengths, weaknesses so we can improve. It’s just amazing. Now I have a powerful network to give me a spark. Courage grows when you’re part of something bigger than yourself. The Asia Foundation Development Fellows has brought us together. It’s given us courage.