07 April, 2012
by Hannah Cattanach, AusAID
Noor Jehan in Canberra. Photo: AusAID
Noor Jehan from Peshawar in Pakistan has faced many of the challenges confronting people with disability in developing countries. Awarded an Australian Development Scholarship, Noor is now studying in Canberra and is committed to using her experience to help improve the lives of people living with disability.
Growing up in Pakistan, where not quite half of all girls receive a primary school education, the challenge of being a
female was compounded for Noor by being vision impaired and a wheelchair user.
Poor infrastructure meant that Noor couldn’t travel five minutes outside her house in her wheelchair without getting stuck and needing assistance. Once at school, there were no books designed for the visually impaired or any services to support students with disabilities.
“The challenges are everywhere, but the biggest obstacle is overcoming attitudes” says Noor.
“People on the street would stare at me. There was an expectation that I should just stay at home. Being a female and also a wheelchair user it was assumed I could never contribute financially.”
While harrowing at times, Noor drew on these experiences to stubbornly carve out new opportunities and prospects for her future. By the time she completed high school, infrastructure in Peshawar had been further ravaged by war and women
wishing to work were physically at risk.
“I learnt that if I want to live independently as a woman with a disability then if I need to leave somewhere, I’ll leave. If I need to crawl, I’ll crawl! I’ll do whatever it takes to show I’m capable and to make my way in the world.”
Noor completed a postgraduate degree and took a job working with a disabled persons’ organisation. It was during this
time that Noor first learnt about AusAID, which was developing a strategy to ensure that people with disability would benefit equally from Australian aid.
“The biggest constraint to disabilityinclusive development is reaching people with disability. In Pakistan, many of them are hidden away or separated from society,” says Noor.
“What I liked about AusAID’s approach is that they were seeking out the views and interests of people with disability—they were asking us what we needed and not making any assumptions.”
Even working in the disability sector, Noor sometimes confronted discrimination for being a woman. In spite of this, she worked hard and became an accomplished member of staff. She also had a boss who was committed to her achieving her
professional goals and who became a strong mentor.
“My boss was incredible. He offered me a career, he offered me training and one day he came by my desk and offered me a brochure—on how to apply for the Australia Awards!”
In line with the AusAID disability-inclusive strategy, Development for All, AusAID actively encourages people with disability to apply for Australia Awards and supports them throughout their study in Australia.
Information about Australia Awards can be found at www.australiaawards.gov.au
Noor applied for an AusAID-funded Australian Development Scholarship and in 2011 arrived in Canberra to begin a
Master of Public Policy at the Australian National University.
“Being in Australia is amazing—the university provides everything I need to do well in my studies. I can get around by myself, and people are understanding and supportive,” says Noor.
“I worked hard every day through school and in my job in Pakistan and I’m so proud to be here. I appreciated all the support that I got while in Pakistan—from my family and from my boss in particular, and now I’m so thankful to AusAID.
“Now that I’m here, I want to use my studies to help people like me get the kind of support and opportunities that I have been given.”
Last Reviewed: 30 March, 2012