Breswana, Jammu & Kashmir: Moved by the plight of her remote village in Jammu and Kashmir state, a Kashmiri woman born and brought up in Dubai relinquished what could have been a lucrative career and opened a school there to usher in "change".
Sabbah Haji was born in Dubai in 1982 where her father was a manager in a shipping company. In 1997, her family moved to Bengaluru, from where Haji did her B.Com and nursed dreams of becoming a chartered accountant.
She started writing and editing for online journals, and prepared for her professional exams alongside. But the death of her grandfather in January 2009 changed her life in more ways than one. She went to her village, Breswana in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir, and was immediately struck by what she saw.
"When I came here in 2009, what I saw was that nearly two generations of villagers had no education, due to the apathetic attitude of successive governments and militancy," Haji said.
Breswana is located some 2,100 metres above sea level. The village is about an hour-and-a-half's trek from the last motorable point about 43km from Doda town, which is 160km northeast of Jammu.
Government schools remained shut during the peak of militancy. But she said even after normality returned, the situation did not improve much.
"The teachers would not attend the schools. There is no accountability, especially in remote areas," she added.
"The improved situation now has not made a visible difference as teachers are abstaining like before from government schools. I hope the panchayat [village council] elected recently can bring in some checks and balances on corruption at the local level.
"I was deeply moved by the condition of the people in my village, which was engulfed by so many inadequacies."
Not content with just sympathising, she decided to do something.
"I thought of opening a school for children here as I feel that education is the base for progress and development," she said.
Haji Public School was opened in May 2009. Her mother Tasneem Haji joined her as the school's co-director.
"It was only two rooms to begin with and now we have six rooms, up to the fourth grade," she said proudly.
The school is built on her ancestral land. She plans to procure some more land as her "dream is to first take the school up to Class 10 and then finally to start a college by 2018-19". Haji Public School now boasts of 150 students and 15 teachers. "Getting staff in this area is a problem but I am managing it as young people are coming forward. We are providing boarding and stipend to them," Haji said.