KARACHI: The little grey house in Block 10 of Gulshan-i-Iqbal wore a forlorn look on Saturday, with the eldest child — the light of the house — being no more.
Women quietly went upstairs to condole with her mother and younger sisters, while her father who looked visibly dazed was surrounded by mourning friends on the ground floor. He hugged back whoever wanted to hug him and listened quietly to whatever anyone had to say to him though he didn’t speak much.
“Abdul Aziz Sheikh is still in shock. Daughters are the favourite of the fathers. He didn’t sleep a wink throughout the night since he got the terrible news. And now he has become very quiet. What do you expect from a father who has just lost the firstborn?” said Abdul Salam Sheikh, the paternal uncle of seventeen-year-old Sabika Sheikh.
Sabika was one of the 10 children who lost their life when another student, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, went on a shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School in Texas on Friday morning. She was the only student from Pakistan and the only Muslim among the dead.
Visibly dazed parents dealing with the shock of daughter’s tragic death in Texas; efforts on to bring back her remains
She was studying in Texas under the Youth Exchange and Study (YES) programme, a US State Department-funded initiative providing scholarships to Pakistani students to attend high school in the US for a full academic year. The visiting students live with host families in the city they are placed in, and are immersed in scholastic and cultural programmes throughout the 10 to 11 months that they are there. They are youth ambassadors bridging people and cultures.
“Sabika was staying with a Muslim-American family in Texas. They were first to hear about the shooting, and knowing that she was in school at the time they rushed there immediately,” said Sabika’s maternal uncle, Colonel Haider.
“Her father, too, after hearing about it tried calling her on her phone from here. But there was no answer. Her death was finally confirmed to us by the YES programme coordinator a few hours later,” he said.
“The family she was staying with had also come to love her like a daughter in this short span of time and were already dreading her leaving them soon because the YES programme was also concluding and she was returning to Pakistan on June 9,” he said. “And here we were looking forward to seeing her back with us this Eid after she spent almost a year in the US,” he added.
Following the incident, Kennedy-Lugar YES programme manager Megan Lysaght in a letter sent to other students stated the programme was devastated by Sabika’s loss and would be holding a moment of silence for her.
Sabika was the eldest among the four siblings. She had two sisters and a brother. Even though she was still a teenager, her uncle said, he was often amazed at how mature her thoughts were. “She often spoke about issues such as women’s rights and women empowerment. She would speak to her cousins and friends about these things, too, trying to open up their minds to issues and good causes,” he said.
“She would say herself that she was not interested in studying medicine or engineering. She wanted to fight for people’s rights. We were sure she would grow up to be a social activist,” her maternal uncle said. “Who knew she had such a short life.”
“Everyone has their own way of dealing with tragedy. Right now everyone here is in shock. Her mother is still in the denial, still praying to God that there has been some kind of a mix up and Sabika is fine. But slowly we will come out of the shock as the pain we have to live with now takes over,” he said.
The paternal uncle then spoke again: “Sabika was born on the 4th of Ramazan and she was taken from us on Friday, the 2nd of this holy month.”
Sabika’s father then spoke a bit about his daughter saying that he did not remember a single year when she did not bagged a position at her school throughout her educational career. “My daughter was a brilliant student. She was doing her O-Levels at Karachi Public School in PECHS when she was selected for the foreign exchange programme. We were all so proud of her then. We are proud of her even today,” he said.
The family said the government was making all-out efforts to have her remains brought back home as soon as possible. Pakistan Ambassador Aziz Chaudhry has asked the Pakistan counsel general in Houston to remain in touch with the family as well as the relevant authorities in Houston with a view to ensure timely completion of all formalities for bringing back the deceased, add agencies.
Meanwhile, Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said the tragic death of the young student at Santa Fe was heartbreaking. He also prayed for the departed soul. In a tweet, he said, the Pakistan consul general was in touch with the family and the local authorities to arrange repatriation of her remains at the earliest. On her demise, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement sent to the family stated: “I send my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Sabika Sheikh.” He noted that she was in the US under YES programme, helping to build ties between the two countries. “Sabika’s death and that of the other victims is heartbreaking and will be mourned deeply both here in the US and Pakistan,” said Mr Pompeo.
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2018