LAHORE, Pakistan—Many people with a Microsoft Professional Certificate are in their 20s, with the exception of Arfa Randhawa. In 2004, the young girl who lives in Pakistan made international news when she earned the certificate at the age of nine.
Arfa’s achievement was so unusual that it set her apart from the majority of young girls in the world, let alone Pakistan—a country where over 50 percent of young girls her age are illiterate. At the same time, Arfa’s success is also a testament to her family who saw her abilities and nurtured them.
Now 13, Arfa remains a very confident and articulate person. She welcomed me into her family’s living room in Lahore, where we sat down to chat about her success and future plans.
According to her grandmother, when Arfa was two-and-a-half she could memorize written and spoken passages in different languages. At the age of eight, her father noticed she was able to do extremely advanced tasks on the computer, like operate Microsoft Office fluently. He took her to the local computer institute in her home city of Faisalabad, APTECH (Applied Technologies) Computer Institute.
At the Institute, her talent was quickly recognized and soon she was teaching other, older students basic computer language. In 2004, a teacher, Mr. Sohail, encouraged Arfa, who was nine at the time, to take her first exam to get a Microsoft Professional Certificate.
As news spread about her achievement she was invited to visit Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, where she met Bill Gates. She was interviewed by many international news agencies and received numerous prestigious awards at home.
After meeting Arfa, Mr. Somasegar, Senior Vice President, Developer Division at Microsoft, wrote about Arfa on his blog. “I had a lot of fun in meeting Arfa and getting a chance to understand what motivated her to strive for such an accomplishment at such a young age,” reads Mr. Somasegar’s blog. “My hat’s off to Arfa’s parents for nurturing her passion and talent and providing her with opportunities to learn and excel.”
Arfa’s parents were indeed instrumental in more ways than one in helping her to develop her talents with computers. Arfa’s mother, Mrs. Randhawa, exudes an air of calm and determination, especially when it comes to her children.
“I don’t work outside the home, but am devoted to meeting the needs of all three of our children so they can reach their highest potential,” says Mrs. Randhawa.
Mrs. Randhawa shares that she used to drive Arfa one hour each way from Rawalpindi to Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad so she could attend school. In order to save money and put it toward her children’s education, she chose to drive the children herself. In Pakistan, most women don’t drive such long distances and are more likely to employ a driver.
Arfa’s father has sold much of their property to pay for Arfa’s education. He also recently retired from the Pakistani military so the family can be in a position to immigrate to Canada for the sake of their children’s education.
Leaving Pakistan is not Arfa or her family’s first choice, but they understand that Arfa and her brothers need resources and an environment that will help them develop their talents. They feel that the quality of education, for the most part, is not as good in Pakistan, as in the United States, nor is it recognized internationally.
“Gifted children need to be challenged, otherwise they will get bored and [get] into negative things,” says Arfa.
“Pakistanis are not bad people, they are just not farsighted,” comments Arfa on her thoughts about why the Pakistani government has not supported her financially or otherwise. Mrs. Randhawa thinks Pakistan, as a nation does not understand the importance of nurturing and supporting talented youth and what it can mean for the country’s success.
Arfa is on a fast track to finish her high school degree in Pakistan, and then she hopes to attend MIT or Harvard University in the United States.
She now wants a mentor, like her parents and her earlier teacher, Mr. Sohail at APTECH, to guide her on the rest of her professional journey.
“I need polishing, like a black diamond needs polishing so its true beauty can be seen,” exclaims Arfa.
Arfa also says she wants to use her talents to better humanity.
“My aim is to get into a position that can enable me to help the people, especially the children of Pakistan,” states Arfa.
In fact, the Randhawa family has already begun to help Pakistani children. Arfa and her parents started a nonprofit organization called The Arfa Kiram Welfare Foundation in her family’s village, near the city of Faisalabad. The foundation provides computer education to young school-aged girls, and has a fully equipped computer lab run by a female teacher at the local girls' high school.
Though Arfa’s story is uncommon, it is not hard to imagine that there are many more potential girls and boys in Pakistan that might blossom if given a nurturing environment, resources, and family that recognizes and supports their talent.