Baloch boy from poor Awaran, dreams big, makes it to Columbia University

A young man from one of Balochistan’s poorest districts who “dreamed big” is excited over having been accepted into Columbia University – one of the top Ivy League Universities in the United States with a very low acceptance rate of just six percent.

“Almost five years ago, I told my family that I had won a highly sought-after fellowship to study at SUNY Plattsburgh for one semester; they immediately warned me against scams, a common occurrence in Balochistan where I grew up,” said Zahid Ali in a Facebook post. “My family did not believe in their good fortune until I arrived in the United States.”

Ali said Awaran, where he was born, is particularly one of the most underdeveloped and insurgency-hit regions in Pakistan. “My parents and siblings had no formal educations which greatly limited their opportunity. As a result, I had very few opportunity for formal educational growth. No one ever thought I would be able to attend a school even in Balochistan,” Ali said.

Awaran was worst hit in a devastating earthquake that struck Balochistan four years ago leaving hundreds dead and injured, according to the BBC. Public sentiments against Islamabad’s brutal army rule of Balochistan runs high there. Pakistan army has killed 35,000 Baloch and forcibly disappeared at least 21,000 more since the beginning of a bloody insurgency in 2005.

“Dreaming to come to the United States and getting into an Ivy League university was something I could never think of.”

He said after he decided to stay in the United States at the age of 19, his educational goals were literally put on hold for years, as he attempted to build a life while adjusting to a new culture and new land “This decision was the hardest yet most pivotal one. It made me dream big! it made me grow intellectually and see the world in a very different perspective.”

Ali is thankful to his family, his professors and his friends, especially Niki Worthman, who he said was like one of his family members.

“Finally, I thank the United States of America from the deepest chamber of my heart. I look forward to embarking my journey to Columbia University in the Fall of 2018.”

Ali’s achievement sent a wave of joy among Baloch academia.

“What an incredible journey for a young Baloch boy who comes from one of South Asia’s most backward regions and makes his way to one of the best universities in the world,” commented the community group Quetta Online.

“Success story,” said Professor Akhtar Baloch, vice chancellor of Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University in Lyari, Karachi. Prof Baloch himself is a self made man and beat odds to become a Baloch academic.

“He’s a young, dynamic and talented person. There are very few opportunities because of the state injustices and traditional system out there,” said Kamal Khan, a Baloch human rights defender who now lives in Hamburg, Germany, and who has known Ali for four years. “Concentrating on education is must for Baloch emancipation as Balochistan needs researchers to upgrade its profile. How can we tell the world ur story, when Baloch don’t have qualified researchers,” Khan said.

Ali’s is a second success story from Balochistan. Couple of years back Panjgur journalist Malik Siraj Akbar, who too comes from a modest background, got his Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.


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