From Pakistan to Chiang Mai to Harvard: An Interview with Advocate Myra LalDin
Myra LalDin is a young Pakistani woman who moved to Chiang Mai after her school was attacked by religious extremists. In fact, her entire school moved here to seek educational asylum under the umbrella of the Chiang Mai International School, and she was educated here for several years along with her friends and teachers from Pakistan.
Myra with one of her students in Chiang Mai
LalDin’s experiences in her home country and the opportunities she has had in Chiang Mai have made a dramatic difference in her life, catapulting her into her activism to promote quality education and development in Pakistan.
After receiving a degree in International Business Management from Payap University, she has now been accepted into a Masters programme at Harvard University, USA, studying Mind Brain Education. Today, LalDin is raising awareness and funds to help her achieve her educational goals and make a real difference to the marginalised children of Northern Pakistan, but she needs our help.
CityNews: First of all, introduce yourself! Where are you from, where have you been living and where have you just moved to?
Myra LalDin: I’m from Pakistan. For the past six years I’ve been living and working in Thailand. I studied for four years at Payap University International College and I interned/worked two years in educational institutions. Initially, at Transcend Academy (an education management firm from DC) and then as a sixth grade teacher at Prince Royal’s College. I just moved back to Pakistan to prepare for grad school.
Myra LalDin: I went to a school in Murree, Pakistan. In 2002, the USA attacked Afghanistan, after the 9/11 attacks. A few months later, on August 5th, radicals attacked our school in retaliation for the USA’s war in Afghanistan.
They stormed in, with bombs strapped to their chests, shooting our guards at the gates. They so adamantly believed in their cause that they were ready to blow themselves up for it. Six people were killed that day, all of them staff members. One was shot but survived. Fortunately, no students were killed as our teachers were quick to react to get us into safe-rooms.
Myra’s classroom at Prince Royal in Chiang Mai
CityNews: After the attack you came to Chiang Mai. Why Thailand and why Chiang Mai?
Myra LalDin: After the attack, we were obviously traumatized. After a debriefing, the psychiatrists recommended keeping the students together to ensure a proper recovery and to minimize our PTSD.
Our school looked at several options, including Cyprus and Penang. Chiang Mai fit best. We were able to move to Thailand and our school was under the umbrella of Chiang Mai International School (CMIS). For the first year we had our own classes in the educational center of Chiang Mai’s Community Church and the second year we joined CMIS.
CityNews: Did you come alone or with family? Was anyone left behind?
Myra LalDin: I came to Thailand with about 70 other students, including my two older siblings, and about 15 staff and teachers. Most student’s parents continued to work in Pakistan, keeping a low profile. My two younger brothers stayed in Pakistan along with my parents.
CityNews: After spending your teenage years in Thailand, what made you interested in education?
Myra LalDin: I did my 8th and 9th grade in Thailand, then our school in Pakistan reopened when I was in 10th grade. A small group of students went back, and I finished my high school in Murree, Pakistan. After graduation I returned to Chiang Mai and attended Payap University to study International Business Management.
I was not interested in education at this point, not until my first job actually.
CityNews: What was your first job?
Myra LalDin: So I’ve had a lot of internships with different relief and development organizations. My first job after university was more of a year-long internship with Transcend Academy. This is an education management company which had just opened an operations branch in Chiang Mai.
At this point I actually had little interest in education. Having just graduated with an international business management degree, I was working more on the marketing side of things.
I am thankful for this job, because this is what sparked my interest in the field of education. I remember reading one of the testimonials from a student Transcend had helped get into a college from a lower socioeconomic background. He had received a scholarship from Transcend and was accepted into a great university. It was amazing to see how education not only changed his life, but his family’s and his whole community’s.
I remember thinking, “This is it. This is what Pakistan needs. How have I not seen this before?” I had been searching since about 8th grade for ways in which I could help the development of Pakistan. I had initially thought of law (John Grisham was a favourite), then medicine, then international relations, but nothing stuck. And I’m glad. Looking at the trajectory of my life so far, it’s awesome to see how it has all fit together.
Myra with students in Chiang Mai
CityNews: What has been your best job so far?
Myra LalDin: I’ve only really had two full-time internships/jobs so I’m not sure I can say I have had the best job yet. Transcend was great because this is where I found my passion and also I had an awesome boss, Tina Neville. Through her I got to meet a lot of cool people like Alezandra Russell from Urban Light.
I think it’s cool to have met these two woman early on in my career. I think it’s been really beneficial in terms of having role models and someone to look up to. Without realizing it initially, looking back I see that it sort of showed me what intelligent, strong women can do. These women have their own organizations, they call the shots – in Pakistan you don’t get to see this very often. I’m really thankful for it, I think that has played a big part in my journey thus far and I’m sure it will continue to do so.
I taught a year at Prince Royal’s College. That was a HUGE challenge. I had 45 kids, and six classes each day with no assistants. It was a handful, but an amazing experience. I’m really thankful I got to work with these kids because it only solidified in my mind the importance of education and the value of a good teacher. I miss my kids a lot.
CityNews: What made you decide to return to Pakistan to help with the issues regarding education there?
Myra LalDin: I was born in Abbottabad, the infamous place where Osama Bin Laden was found. In 1987, my family moved to the remote village of Ghari-Habibullah, in Northwestern Pakistan, where my father, a doctor, founded a small hospital to serve the marginalized people of the North.
From a young age, I learned from my parents the value and importance of equality for all people. Being a doctor, my father could have easily moved to the West and had a much more lucrative practice.
In Pakistan we are already facing a huge brain drain, anyone with any education or skills leaves – and its understandable – it’s hard to live in Pakistan.
But, I’ve always felt we need more people like my mother and father – people who chose to stay and take a stand for our people.
The work my father has done at the hospital has shown me the power of social entrepreneurship to influence society in a constructive way. I deeply desire to be part of this kind of social change.
Some of Myra’s students in Pakistan
CityNews: Are you not afraid of more oppression and religious attacks?
Myra LalDin: Yes, no doubt this will always be in the back of my mind. Last September a church in Peshawar was attacked, a lot of our friends attend this church. Over 200 people, mostly children, were killed.
It’s hard to explain, because so few people can identify with this. Basically, yes, I realize that every day something could happen. Whether it will be because of religious reasons or because they don’t want education influencing their children, I’m not sure.
What it comes down to is this; if educated people like myself do not take a stand, who will? People are leaving by the hundreds, who will be left? There are children here who have no hope for a better future. Who will care about them?
I’m afraid not so much about myself; I’m afraid for my loved ones, I would never want harm to come to them because of something I am doing.
But if I am not doing something to help these amazing Pakistani children, it doesn’t feel right. Everything else I could do pales in comparison. This is where I am supposed to be, so I guess I’m going to take that risk.
CityNews: You are currently fundraising to go and study in America, at Harvard University. Where was your Bachelor’s degree taken and how will the Masters help you on your journey?
Myra LalDin: I did my Bachelors at Payap University. My Masters will be at the Harvard Graduate School of Education studying Mind Brain Education – Educational Neuroscience.
Having worked closely with children I believe Pakistan is in great need of scholars and educators who understand cognitive neuroscience and psychological mechanisms. I believe I will need both the modern, scholarly knowledge of educational theories and the business understanding of entrepreneurship which I studied a bit at Payap to develop and implement effective educational policies in Pakistan.
Students in Pakistan
CityNews: When you have completed your master’s degree, will you go directly to Pakistan?
Myra LalDin: Everything I do will be working toward the betterment of Pakistan, that is my ultimate goal and that will not change.
Before I start my own projects, I do hope to work a couple years in developmental organizations or educational institutions to gain more experience and insight – I’m not sure where this will be.
I’m acutely aware that Harvard will be a life changing experience. If I had to sum up my goal there – I would say that I aim to discover the tools and opportunities that will help me to bring real, lasting change to my country. I don’t know what those tools are, or how the opportunities will manifest – but I feel sure that I will recognize them as I uncover them.
CityNews: What are your plans when you return to Pakistan? Will there be an organisation willing take you on once you graduate or will you go it alone to begin with?
Myra LalDin: My first goal is to start a model school in Pakistan based on educational neuroscience principles, which will also give me a better understanding of the needs at a local level. I want to take cutting edge educational theories and tailor them to meet our needs in Northern Pakistan.
The hospital my father started 26 years ago is under an organization based in Northern Pakistan, AKASH. They are looking to expand more into educational avenues now. At this point I think I would start educational initiatives as a branch of this organization, which the AKASH board is very open to.
I already have an amazing team backing me up now to raise funds – making a website, putting on fundraisers, making videos and spreading the word. It is truly amazing to see so many people care about this cause. It has been very encouraging for me. When the time comes for me to start the projects I am sure I will have a great team working with me.
Years down the road, when I have gained enough respect and credibility in my field, I hope to work alongside the Ministry of Education in policy reform. Real change in Pakistan’s education system will take place at the government level.
Myra teaching in Pakistan
CityNews: Do you plan to stay there indefinitely or will you visit Thailand again? Will your friends still be here?
Myra LalDin: Chiang Mai is a home away from home. I lived there for 8 years in total and it was extremely hard to leave. I love the people, I love the food, I love the people’s love OF food, I love riding my motorbike, the late night noodle shops, the fresh coconuts, the markets – I will dearly miss Chiang Mai. I could have stayed there forever, but it seemed like time to leave. My boyfriend loves Chiang Mai too, and we have definitely have plans to return at some point.
CityNews: You are currently fundraising for tuition costs to help you achieve your goal at helping young Pakistani boys and girls. What can our readers do to support you?
You can email us any questions you may have at [email protected]
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Otherwise, share and spread the word please!!! Raising awareness is very important too!
CityNews: Anything else you want to say?
Myra LalDin: I just want to give a shout out to my awesome team members/Thailand family, who have spent so much time listening to me, editing things, videoing, brainstorming and just working hours with me to start this. I am so blessed to have this group of people in my life. Alez from Urban Light, Bill, Caleb, Anya, Dom, Phil, Meghan, Aj. Esther, Aj. Rob and especially Ozzie, LeaAnn and Rob – you guys are all amazing. Thank you.
Students in Pakistan