I had turned 17 and barely completed high school. I grew up following a tradition of the girl child demonstrating obedience. I was married to a man who I had not known. His family and mine decided to get us married on 6 January 1989.
My story is hereafter.
A beautiful room set in a soft pink décor welcomed me. My bridal dress swirled around me in the typical silhouette that befits a bride. My fingers were adorned with bright diamonds. The fragrance of pink roses embraced me. The Chanel, the Estee lauder, the Poison, all sat smiling at me. Clark’s, Bally and Cartier, so I was heartier.
A week passed. My bridal days crawled. I was struggling. The exquisite jewels burdened me. The Estee Lauder, Chanel, Poison all remained laid on my dresser, complaining. I could hear them speak. I could hear them weep.
My pink room was not pink anymore. It had the stove, the oven, the fridge. My untamed hands churned fresh milk. The clothesline needed to look perfect. The buckets, the starch, the blue and I had no clue. The diamonds left me. My hands were losing their softness and would crack soon, I thought. The starch would kill them, the blue would blue them and blues I had.
In February 1999, my husband died in the most traumatic incident and one has to have immense courage to even word it. Widowed after ten years of a difficult marriage, two little children, basic school education left a decade ago, were in no way indicating potential for survival. My children and I were evicted from the family house. We found ourselves on the street with no belongings and no shelter.
I was in a broken state of being and there seemed no way forward. Community elders got together to explain to me that I need to work outside the house now. A bag of crisps, they said will cost and you cannot let the little ones feel lost. I was thus advised to study when I took up the international Curtin program. I started by failing the aptitude test and being admitted into the degree program based on humanitarian grounds. Simultaneously I picked up a sales job with an insurance company that would foot our basic necessities and my first year’s fee came from borrowed money.
Four years of shuffling between work, class and children left me drained. It was a matter of our survival and I took it very seriously. I graduated in 2003 and was awarded a gold medal by the then mayor of the city. The ceremony was attended by Curtin’s faculty and Dean.
While I had spent time selling insurance, I thought I would be better off working with my aptitude. By the end of the degree program, I had some standing and wished to move to a respectable career.
In 2003, I sat for an entrance exam conducted by a large local bank. The venue of the test was packed with graduates much younger than me. A batch of 16 out of the hundreds were employed and I was one of them.
The bank sent me to Cape Town to work with Fairisaac (a consultant) to develop my country’s first chip-based credit card system. The card was launched and I got an offer from HSBC to work in Corporate Banking as a Relationship Manager.
In August 2008, I was employed by the country’s largest private bank. I worked in Risk Management. Here, I was responsible for putting together a Credit and Portfolio Management unit. I was supported by 11 analysts and economists. Together with the young graduates as my team, we developed real-time systems linking internal trade and treasury desks.
This was a tall order, given that the institution was large and worked in the international markets. I must make mention of how my Curtin knowledge on Data Analytics came in handy.
I am now in my 21st year of career with financial institutions and each one of them has added value in me. Each assignment I undertook remains very close to my heart. The journey from little or basic school education to having a Curtin degree in hand completely changed people’s perspective of me in society.
My children took their education seriously, having seen my journey. My son, Saad holds a Master in Economics and Finance from University of Leeds-UK and now works on the FX Treasury desk at a large bank. My daughter Rabbya, won a scholarship and studied Economics at Sabanci University-Turkey and works at an A-level school as an academic counsellor.
I was able to document my life story and called it ‘Faith’, sponsored by one of my employer institutions.
I must make specific mention of the importance of physical and mental well being, while you pass through life storms. I had my fair share too but I did make sure none of these stand in my way ever. Stones in my way, milestones today!
There was an interim period where the immense stress caused my health to be affected. I realized failing was never an option and so I did not.
Grateful to all those who supported this journey.
About this story
Halima Ahmad is a Curtin alumna and Bachelor of Business (Information Technology) graduate. She studied from her home in Karachi, Pakistan and received her Curtin degree (with high distinction) in 2003. The degree is now known as the Bachelor of Commerce (Business Information Technology)(Professional).