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A legacy of excellence

February 07, 2010


Every so often, a generation is blessed with extraordinary individuals who redefine their chosen sphere. However, it is only at the end of their lives that one can truly appreciate their achievements and the legacies they leave behind in the hearts and minds of those touched by them. Prof Mrs Zia Aly was one such person.

Prof Aly, an educator, staunch social reformer and intellectual, died on Jan 2 in Manchester, England, at the age of 75.

Prof Aly was born in Agra, India, on May 26, 1936. Her father, Khan Bahadur Syed Zaheer-ul-Hasan Rizvi, was a police superintendent who passed away before she saw her first birthday. Such trials and tribulation would prove to be a common feature of her life, but she rose above them.

Prof Aly received her early education for St Anthony's Convent School, Agra, and graduated from the acclaimed Kinnaird College, Lahore in 1956. She completed her MSC in Botany from Govt. College Lahore in 1958.

In 1959 she was offered an admission and full scholarship to complete her PhD from the Harvard University (USA) but chose to fulfill her family obligations first. After getting married she commenced her teaching carrier by joining her alma mater, Kinnaird College, Lahore. In 1960, she settled in Karachi and joined PECHS College for Women in 1963. The 33 years of her life were dedicated to education. She eventually retired in 1996.

First and fore mostly a teacher par excellence, Prof Aly was renowned for her logical argumentation, dispassionately elucidating knowledge on a step by step basis. This combined with discipline and a genuine desire to better her students, she was well respected and a firm favourite amongst her students. Post teaching, Prof Aly chose to delay her well-deserved retirement and devoted the rest of her life to the realm of social work. She became the president of Bazm-e-Amina Trust in 2004, which is a private registered, multi welfare, charitable organisation. Bazm-e-Amina depends entirely on generous donations from private sources for implementation of their dual welfare programmes. She was in many ways the organisations' heartbeat, setting ambitious goals and expanding the realm of possibility.

Prof Aly played a leading role in the setting up of the Amina Public and Amina Medical Centre in Orangi Town, Karachi. The school and medical centre have proven to be a boon for the local community and have acted as a dynamic force for social change in the area.

Amina Public was initially founded with 40 students but it has now quickly grown to an institute of 525 students, supplemented with a dedicated staff of 32. To keep pace with growing education standards, the school offers a state of the art computer lab, fully stocked library as well as an array of dedicated science laboratories. The students are charged nominal monthly fees of Rs25, and in return the young scholars receive a top class education along with free uniforms, stationary and meals.

The school also provides free after hour tuitions to the students, which has translated into results. At the intermediate level, 86 per cent of the latest batch received 'A' grades. Needless to say, Prof Aly was extremely pleased with these results. It was a culmination of the standards that she had set for the school.

Amina Medical Centre is a nine-room mother and child certified health care centre, providing family planning services by qualified medical professionals. It is to date the only medical facility servicing the area. Some 500-600 patients benefit from its services every month.

Prof Aly believed in providing opportunity to those unfairly denied, to educate those who otherwise would remain disenfranchised. She has left behind a husband, three sons and a generation of students steeped in her legacy.