Reaching for the stars!

Norina Shah

Astronomy has been my passion since childhood. I used to love stargazing. I was interested in learning how stars are born and how they grow from young stars to adult stars and much more about planets and galaxies. In primary grades, I was always curious to study the first chapter which was often an introduction to the universe and the outer space.

However, given my interest, the first problem I faced was that nobody had much information about astronomy. When I told my parents that I wanted to become an astronomer, they weren’t happy either (at the beginning at least). They became concerned about me and told me of their wish to see me as a doctor. Everyone around me kept telling me to keep astronomy as a hobby and not as a career path as, according to them, I was wasting a lot of time in a field which, while interesting, would never enable me to make a decent living.

When my teachers asked me my ambition in life, I never truly expressed what I aimed for, fearing that they would disagree and discourage me. On my 12th birthday, I demanded astronomy books from my father as a gift. They were not available in any stationery or book shop of Quetta. After much struggle, I found some books from the scrap collector (old newspapers and books collector). I started to read a book every day to learn new things. When I got the accessibility to the internet for the first time, I never stopped learning about new things so my next stop was none other than Wikipedia.

To try and make up for the lack of support and encouragement around me, I created a Twitter account to connect with people across the globe so I could share my dream of becoming an astronomer and receive motivation. Then, as time went by, I got a DM (direct message) on Twitter from the UK-based Eduzine magazine (that says it is promoting and celebrating achievements of young people across the globe) asking me more about my interest in astronomy. I told the whole story about myself and of my passion for astronomy. They responded, saying they would like to publish my story in their magazine as it will inspire others. Moreover, they gifted me a telescope (Celestron 70mm) and offered to assist me in pursuing higher studies in the UK. I couldn´t believe this because mine was just an ordinary story regarding a subject that interests me.

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My parents completely understand my passion now and have been supportive in every step of the way of my dream. On Oct 11, 2013, International Girls Child Day, my story about astronomy was featured and it earned the attention of senior UN officials too. At the age of 14, I was appointed as Eduzine’s Global Young Ambassador for Asia. Being ambassador I got to meet many inspiring young people whose stories conveyed a strong message to others.

Being part of a society with high levels of illiteracy and male dominance, our talented young generation especially girls face a wide range of challenges including stereotypes, where they are usually not encouraged to pursue their career thus preventing them from achieving their goal and diminishing their ability to get ahead in their careers. Sometimes they are less likely to be taught or mentored. This often dampens their passion and ultimately they give it up. I didn’t get much support at the beginning and was always discouraged from pursuing astronomy but I followed my passion. Yes, the internet was the only platform for studying and searching content about astronomy. If there was no social media and support from my family, I would have faced hardships too.

There are many female teenagers who don’t have internet access nor encouragement from their families and peers, but are passionate about fields not much known in our society. I would like to do something for them because they need an opportunity and platform to excel and given a chance to talk about their dreams and to make the world better. Their stories and concerns highlight issues that need to be addressed. We need to stop actively discouraging youngsters from following their passions and provide them with avenues to help them achieve their full potential.

The writer is 18 years old and has completed her Intermediate. She intends to apply for a BS in space science. She is a resident of Quetta, Balochistan.

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