MSc Economics  2008Description: Karrar Hussain Jaffar (left) at his commencement at Harvard University. PHOTO KARRAR HUSSAIN

Located on the outskirts of Quetta, is the barren valley of Mariabad where the Hazara lead slow-paced lives. These tribal people, living in narrow brick huts speckled along the rugged hillside, typically sell loose cloth, sweaters or tea for their livelihood.

But one student — the son of a trader who sold Quaid-e-Azam style caps in Mariabad for a living — dared to tread a radically different path. Karrar Hussain Jaffar transcended the confines of an obscure town in Balochistan, where people rarely educate themselves beyond matriculation, to study at the prestigious Harvard University. His story — a narrative about the wondrous possibilities of equal educational opportunities — is truly inspirational.

“My childhood friends, with whom I spent my youth playing cricket, drive suzukis and rickshaws in Quetta for a living, while I am a PhD student in the US,” says Karrar in a humble tone. “I often wonder why God chose me, out of all the people in my community, to get ahead in life?”

Karrar attributes his educational achievement to his father’s passion for his children’s higher education. He vividly remembers the chilly morning when his father showed him the ad for Lahore University of Management Sciences’ national outreach programme (NOP), which aimed to sponsor education and living expenses for capable students who could not have afford to pay.

“I was doing my FSc at Cadet college and didn’t even know a single thing about LUMS at that point in time,” he fondly recollects. “I didn’t take the ad seriously because LUMS did not offer engineering, the field I was interested in.”

When he returned back to college from his winter break, he attended a presentation by a LUMS’ faculty member, who introduced students to the national outreach programme.

“At the end of the presentation we all took a pre-screening exam,” he explains. “A few weeks later, I got a letter from LUMS inviting me to attend sponsored classes for SAT preparation.”

During the four weeks he spent rigorously studying for the SATs, he fell in love with LUMS. To him the institution seemed otherworldly; its grand building, spacious classrooms and impressive teachers fascinated him.

Yet with utmost dedication, Karrar managed to clear the screening exam at the end of the four-week training and was selected to take the SAT exams, sponsored by the university. After obtaining an impressive score in his SATs, Karrar got admitted in LUMS and was offered a full scholarship and a monthly stipend.

Karrar graduated on the Dean’s honour list, with a cumulative grade point average of 3.7 and 3.68 in his majors, Maths and Economics, respectively.

A year after graduating, Karrar got a Fulbright scholarship to study in the US.

“I simply told the interview panel that I want to come back to Balochistan after completing my studies. That’s where my home is; that’s where I belong,” he explains passionately.

But perhaps the most memorable moment in his life — an incident he recalls quite animatedly — was when he found out that he made it to Harvard University.

“I had no internet at home in Mariabad so I walked 15 minutes or so to a nearby internet cafe to check my email for Harvard’s decision,” he explains. “When I saw the acceptance email, I just thought it was too good to be true.”

 “My mother asked me what Harvard was and my father asked me to wait for potential offers by other universities” he says with a laugh. “It took a while to convince them that I got into the world’s top university.”

 “After LUMS, I was very used to being around different types of people so studying and living in the US was not such a problem.”

Karrar completed his Master’s last year and is currently pursuing a PhD in Economics from the University of Southern California.

 “I want to increase educational awareness in Balochistan—particularly amongst people from my community,” he says.

Karrar confesses that most of his family and friends cannot even comprehend what his life is like in the US. But he is fairly confident that after he returns, he can change that.