Husna Awan, 18, and Hafsa Awan, 16, are two athletically gifted sisters who practice karate, play badminton like professionals, and leave all their peers behind in track and field events. Still the talented sisters are struggling to make sports their career. Despite the odds being stacked against them, winning sports laurels for Pakistan is a cherished dream for the two.
The sisters hail from a very poor family of Peshawar. Their father makes kites for a living. Their mother keeps unwell. Sometime ago she also lost her eyesight.
With their mother’s mobility restricted, Husna and Hafsa have taken on all the housework and provide care for their parents. They also learned how to make kites from their father. These days they make and sell kites to meet their education and sports-related expenses, along with supplementing whatever little their father makes.
The sisters’ sports journey began a few years ago when they begged their father to let them join the martial arts academy near their little home in Sohail Abad, on the outskirts of Peshawar. The father agreed because the girls were doing well academically. This was how the girls were able to receive karate training under a qualified instructor.
Two sisters, who make kites for a living in Peshawar, are also fine sportswomen with big dreams of making a name for their country
This was also when, to ease their father’s financial burden, Husna and Hafsa learned the wonderful art of kite-making from their father at home. “And then we were making a collective 300 kites per day, which we would take to Yakatoot Bazaar, a big kite market, to sell,” says Husna, the elder of the sisters.
“It helped us to some extent, but we are still in need of financial assistance to support our parents as our mother is bedridden now and our father is [practically] jobless,” says Husna. “He has no income other than what he makes by selling kites. It is not enough because he also has to take care of our mother’s medical expenses.”
The sisters are often seen participating in the Under-21 provincial games for different sports such as badminton, volleyball, track and field events and, of course, martial arts. They have won several gold, silver and bronze medals along with commendation certificates in martial arts.
“Despite everything, our parents have always encouraged us to strive hard,” says Hafsa, the younger sister. She adds that both of them also attend college and after their classes, they hurriedly head to the Peshawar Sports Complex for practice in various sports. Their days are busy. From the Peshawar Sports Complex, they head to the martial arts academy. Then they finally go home for an early meal after which they settle down to make kites.
“Life is hard but we have to excel in this journey. Otherwise success will only be a mirage. We are determined to succeed in our mission to make a name in sports,” says Hafsa. “It has always been our cherished dream to feature in international sports events and bring medals to Pakistan. We also want to set an example for other girls like us that hard work pays off. If we could excel in both academics and sports, so can they,” she adds.
Husna and Hafsa’s father Mohsin Ali Awan says that he wants his daughters to focus on their education and sports but not struggle to earn a living at such a young age. “If a stipend is granted to them by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, my girls can scale the heights of success on both fronts,” he says.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Director Female Games Rasheeda Ghaznavi says that they would soon be awarding cash prizes to wining female players at the divisional level. “It would motivate and provide incentives to more girls from the province to take part in sports activities,” she says, adding that they also introduced a sports scholarship for talented sportswomen in 2015, which can help girls like Husna and Hafsa.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s sports directorate is said to have increased incentives and facilities for females. Recently, around 1,710 female athletes turned up for the provincial U-21 Women Games-2022, which included volleyball, cricket, badminton, tug of war, netball, table tennis and athletics. The huge sports gala was conducted in three districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, namely, Swabi, Charsadda and Peshawar.
The promise of proper training, sports facilities, sports kits, monthly stipends and hefty prizes amid good security played its role in motivating many young girls from all over the province to take part in the event, in an otherwise conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Hafsa and Husna were also among them. However, their father along with the parents of the other winning girls in the Games complained that the cash awards were still awaited and that there is no longer any mention of the scholarships or stipends.
The young female athletes of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have demonstrated their drive time and again at sports events. With a little support from the government, athletes such as Hafsa and Husna can certainly make the country proud.
The writer is a freelancer who writes on literature, culture and sports.
He tweets @sheralamshin
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 26th, 2022