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Hajira grew up in Charsadda with wealth and privilege but always had the acute sense that something was missing. From a young age, Hajira was precocious. She spent hours wondering about the complexities of life, and this thoughtful little girl eventually grew into a young woman who wanted more than to just live in her dad's big house with money and comfort. Within her grew a need to build an identity of her own and do something extraordinary.

"Jinakey khu engineering na kai," he told her, and that was that. Girls don't study engineering.

But Hajira was adamant. Although somewhat deflated by the disapproval, she didn't cease her prayers. She continued to argue her side until one sunny day, her cousin came over to break the good news. The family had rallied behind her and submitted her documents for admission at CECOS University in Peshawar.

Four years later, Hajira graduated with a BSc in Software Engineering.

The Program

Late one evening, Hajira opened her inbox to see an encouraging email from a teacher, with an application for Code for Pakistan's KP Women Civic Internship Program attached. So much about the program seemed perfect: her father would never oppose the all-women nature of it, and the program was remote so she could participate from the comfort of her home. Hajira applied, not realizing how different her life would become in the next few months.

Soon after getting her degree, Hajira got married and settled with her husband in Peshawar. But she was only a few months into the marriage when she lost both her father and father-in-law. Hajira was grief-stricken. This was made more complicated when, in the middle of that storm, she found out that she was expecting a baby. A pregnancy marred by complications followed, made all the more difficult by the fact that she was still mourning.

It was at this miserable stage in her life when Hajira received a call from Code for Pakistan. What would have been happy news amidst happier circumstances, Hajira felt like taking the offer would be all wrong.

"Look at me. Who would want to work with me? I'm a mess," she said to her husband, Shayan.

But Shayan didn't want her to give up on something he knew she'd regret later. He encouraged her to move forward with the offer, telling her it wouldn't be right to back out of a commitment like this.

"Even if you make it only 1 step ahead, at least you're moving forward, right?"

Building Apps

Hajira joined the program, but now there was a new beast to tackle: making time and actually learning while juggling her role as a new mom to her baby girl, Laluna. So began a grind that Hajira described as an effort to manage everything together, because, she says laughingly, "I wasn't actually able to manage much, I think."

After figuring out Laluna's schedule, Hajira had to change her first mentor to make this new balancing act work. Sir Aizaz, her new mentor, would have an online class with her weekly at 3 pm while Laluna was napping. During other nap times, Hajira would work on the tasks that were assigned to her.

Through the internship, Hajira attended multiple online sessions with professionals on topics such as communications skills, freelancing for beginners, civic technology and more. Most of her knowledge at this point was theoretical, but over the course of the internship, Hajira was able to put that theoretical knowledge to practice. She got a chance to polish her practical skills by designing the website frontend for the Halal Food Authority's online page.

Frustrated when she couldn't make any progress, she'd confide in Sir Aizaz, expressing feelings of self-doubt. She found it impossible to juggle both work and baby.

"Give yourself some time. You've only just started," Sir Aizaz would reassure her. "Take a step back, use the frameworks I've taught you, and keep practicing."

And so Hajira marched on. She continued to practice. She made time to code during Laluna's nap times, or in the evenings with her tea, while her husband and mother-in-law would watch the baby.

Despite her strong support system, mom guilt ran deep for Hajira.

"I am still Laluna's mother," she explained. "She is still my responsibility."

During those tough, mom-guilt moments, Hajira was grateful that the internship program was remote.

"I couldn't imagine being away from Laluna for a full 9-5 commitment."

Moving Forward

Happy with the valuable experience the internship program has given her, Hajira is hopeful for the future.

"Now I have all the knowledge and skill. It's just a matter of practicing and using that knowledge to grow into a better frontend designer."

In her desire to be extraordinary, Hajira's got a little further to go (by her own admission).

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