Razia Shahab knew that pursuing higher education would come with obstacles.
In India, such an education often only goes to the children of wealthy families who can afford to pay high tuition fees.
Shahab wasn't in that club. Born into a simple family in Firozabad, India, where child labor is rampant in the city's famous bangle industry, Shahab's future seemed already determined.
But that plan changed course when she realized her dream of becoming a journalist might be within reach due to the generosity of a retired New York doctor.
"The advertisement said a scholarship would be offered to a Muslim woman who comes from a low-income family, so I called the school to ask about enrollment," said Shahab.
She was initially told the scholarship to the International Media Institute of India (IMII) in Delhi was no longer available. She prayed for three days, then decided to apply and write a letter to the scholarship donor anyway.
The letter landed on the desk of Dr. Najma Sultana, a retired New York psychiatrist who is originally from Hyderabad, India. The letter read in part, "From childhood, I have wanted to do something for my country and you can help me to fulfill my passion. I want to raise a voice against exploitation. I want to expose political crimes and propaganda. I want to check child labor," she wrote.
Moved by her determination, Dr. Sultana agreed to pay Shahab’s tuition for the 11-month course at IMII.
“When she wrote to me I liked her ambition to be a journalist. I was touched by her remarks," said Dr. Sultana.
But getting a scholarship was just the beginning of a long and challenging road. She had never left her hometown. So the chaotic streets of Delhi were daunting. She also had never used a computer.
"When I got a laptop at IMII, this was a new thing for me. I didn’t know how to open it. I didn’t know how to create an email account. My classmates helped me.”
She tackled many firsts, interned at the Hindustan Times newspaper and became a leader in the halls of IMII, which features instruction from veteran reporters and editors from the United States and India.
“Razia's influence over her colleagues grew over the course of the year, as more fellow students had a chance to work with her. They soon recognized her sincerity, intelligence and work ethic, and she became a sought-after team member, said former Knight International fellow and IMII academic adviser Jody McPhillips.
IMII celebrated graduation day on May 10th.
With her parents in attendance, and visiting Delhi for the first time ever, Razia Shahab not only received a diploma, she was recognized as IMII's student of the year.
“I would like to say that if a girl like me can come to a place like this anybody can come here, I think. The economic background doesn’t matter. If they have will power they should try," proclaimed new graduate Razia Shahab.