“I chose to invest in my siblings’ future” – Sumera’s story

Youth Skills in South Asia

UNICEF Pakistan
Sumera sits on a bed with a colorfully-patterned quilt, the wall behind her is bright blue but faded. She is wearing a green hijab with a floral design while embroidering a bright blue, shiny fabric with sequins.
UNICEF Pakistan/2019

30 September 2019

Ghotki, Sindh, Pakistan – In a small village in Pakistan, 17-year-old Sumera is stitching her family back together.

“I was six-years-old when our father died of diabetes,” Sumera said. “My sister dropped out of school early on, while I was enrolled until recently. Our mother is old now, and she cannot work all day – her health does not allow it anymore. I dropped out of school three months ago and learned to make embroideries from a woman on our street.”

Though most of Sumera’s neighbours make their living by farming and raising cattle, a small sect of women earn money by creating and selling colourful embroideries.

“I learned fast,” Sumera said. “I started stitching clothes for women in our neighbourhood. Now, I receive orders from shops. I use the money I earn to pay the school fees for my youngest brother and sister, who are both enrolled in a private primary school.”

Against the odds, Sumera made it to the 11th grade and she is now returning a favour once paid to her by her oldest brother.

“After my father’s death, my brother played a key role helping my mother raise my siblings and me,” Sumera said. “He worked at a mechanic shop nearby while supporting her with daily chores. She wanted me to stop my education to clean houses in the neighbourhood, but he insisted that I shouldn’t drop out. My brother was instrumental in forcing my mother to keep me in school. Having studied until high school, I plan to pay the school fees of my other siblings.”

Thanks to her brother, Sumera was part of a tiny fraction of Pakistan’s girls that receive some form of secondary education. Throughout the country, only 13 per cent of girls are still in school by ninth grade. Though Pakistan’s out-of-school rate is high for both genders, boys still outnumber girls in every level of the education system. In some districts of Pakistan, 75 per cent of women have never once stepped foot in a classroom, compared to 40 per cent of men.

“People in our area still struggle to understand the importance of education.”

— Sumera

“It is difficult for people to choose between education and work,” Sumera said. "When you have scarce resources, no amount of work is ever enough to earn a decent living.”

Sumera did not have a chance to finish her secondary education or transition to university. Even so, she is using what she did learn to transform her own life – and the lives of her siblings. After learning to stitch clothes and embroider, Sumera started receiving orders from shops, which helps her earn even more money during the wedding season and religious festivals. Each month, Sumera makes about 4,000 rupees, the equivalent of $24.

The same scene as the above photo. Instead of looking at the camera, Sumera is actively sewing.
UNICEF Pakistan/2019
Sumera is embroidering a piece she will sell to support her siblings' education.

“I wanted to continue learning, but I had to make a choice: pay for my education or for the education of my siblings,” Sumera said. “I chose to invest in my siblings’ future. They are going to a good school, where the quality of education is much better than in the other schools. I want their lives to be better than mine. I don’t want them to have to worry about school fees and how to meet daily expenses.”