By Fatima Arif
Sabiha Zaman works as a field assistant in the Nathiagali office of WWF-Pakistan. She joined the organization in 1997 and was the first women from her generation who came out to work. Her commitment to nature conservation enabled her to receive the Falcon Foundation Award for Conservation in 2000. Yesterday, on the 70th Independence Day of Pakistan, she received an award for her contributions towards the cause of climate change by Pakistan Women Festival.
In her own words, when she was a young girl women were not allowed to get out of their homes in order to peruse professional careers or education for that matter. This was the reason that she did her Matriculation as a private candidate and didn’t study any further. However, she is fluent is all the scientific names of plant species of Ayubia National Park.
“At that time education for girls was considered a taboo.”
Despite all the restrictions, it was her passion to work. As luck would have it an opportunity presented itself in the form of a project focused on the Ayubia National Park by WWF-Pakistan. For this a local woman was needed. Mr. Arshad in the Peshawar Office referred Sabiha to the team and she was selected.
She started working with the team but didn’t sign an employment contract because she was waiting for her brother to give his consent. On first hearing about her job he asked if she was doing it for money and if so he would deposit a considerable sum in her name right away. When she convinced him that it was not for money but because of her passion for conservation he agreed and since then has been a constant source of support.
The projects that Sabiha has been a part of include the Ethno-botany project since 2005. From 2005 to 2008 she was part of the Common Leopard project and since 2009 to date she is working with the Water Stewardship project.
“WWF-Pakistan has taught me a lot. I didn’t know a lot about field work when I joined but now I am able to manage all field and community related activities.”
Talking about the progress that she has seen in the area over time, in her opinion it was the lack of education that caused destruction of the natural resources. Locals mostly relied on the surrounding forest
for resources and would not let any organization come in their area. However, now all of this has changed. People are keen on educating their girls and boys, and they willing to work with organizations like WWF-Pakistan. The locals now have a lot of awareness and they actively take part in conservation.
When asked if she has ever thought of leaving the organization she replied that WWF-Pakistan has given her the opportunity to work for the betterment of her community and was a stepping stone for her and therefore, she has never thought of leaving.
“I own WWF-Pakistan, I don’t take it just as a job, and I consider it a responsibility and want respect for the organization. For me anyone who respects the organization is respecting me.”
What are some of your most memorable experiences while working for WWF-Pakistan?
“During the Ethno-botany project we had an M.Phil student from Quaid-e-Azam University who was here for research. Many a times during the field work I had to save her from falling off the terrain and in the process many times I fell myself.”
Someone who has developed an understanding of the importance of research, Sabiha shared that she encourages people to come join WWF-Pakistan, especially students as they have a lot of opportunity from the perspective of research. The organization will help them grow as a professional as well.
Fatima Arif is Senior Officer Digital Media, WWF-Pakistan.