She exuded a warmth that could melt the iciest of hearts with an endearing smile and a charm that few could resist. Yet, when provoked there was no one quite as fiery as her. Driven by passion and undeterred by obstacles, educationalist Parveen Kassim was born to lead. And a leader she remained right till the end, as she sought to inspire radical changes within the sphere of education through innovation and shared learning, never once allowing her recurring cancer to deter her from her goals, diminish her zest for life or defeat her fighting spirit. Her approach to the affliction mirrored her approach to life, which was filled with a deep sense of purpose, and a fierce determination that fuelled her to make each day count. Nothing was impossible for her. Or beyond arm's reach. Full of enthusiasm and an inexhaustible energy to elevate her school towards excellence, she would wake up each day with a new idea, that she was ready to explore the next minute. So whether it was a video conferencing project involving participation with schools across the UK, a partnership that gave her students the opportunity to play baseball world-wide via the Little League USA, or her very own Educational Olympiad; throughout the course of her entire lifetime, Mrs. Kassim continued to explore learning avenues that changed perspectives, crossed geographical boundaries and cultivated life-long friendships.
Even so, that was still not enough for her. A stickler for detail and a perfectionist through and through, Mrs. Kassim settled for nothing but the best when it came to her beloved Karachi High School. From classical music taught by some of the greatest ustaads of the country, to mass communication lessons imparted by veterans, her school was her pride and her connection to the world, where she found new ways to derive meaning from life.
For the students and teachers of Karachi High School, Mrs. Kassim was their steady oak who gave them the courage to live life fearlessly -- with aplomb and gusto. For the thousands of young people who performed at the International Schools Educational Olympiad that was her brainchild, she was the woman who gave them inspiration and a voice.
To me, she was the Rock of Gibraltar and the infallible mother figure, mentor, guiding force and Principal who showed me the way to a truth that I had always known and shied away from.
As an educator, Mrs. Kassim took her role as a guiding force for the youth very seriously. "It is up to us to pave the way for the next generation of leaders by conveying the message of love, peace and harmony to our students. But these values cannot be taught and can only be instilled in children, if adults and teachers serve as role models that they can look up to."
Her approach to life both fascinated and bewildered me. I was in constant awe of her strength, and her ability to translate ideas into action. "You are coming with me to India where we are going to win the debates competition in QUANTA." she announced one fine day. Stupefied, I gaped at her, wondering if it would really happen. But the next minute she was on the phone with my father, informing him to make the necessary arrangements for a trip to Lucknow, where we competed against 22 countries, and ended up winning the trophy for the Best Speaker Award, exactly what she had aspired for.
For me that was a turning point in life. Mrs. Kassim's confidence gave me the strength to believe in myself. But I was just one of the many thousands of lives she had impacted during the course of her lifetime. We last met in April just a day before my departure for the US. Embracing her, I was overcome by a rush of emotions. I wanted so much to spend more time with her, but she rushed me home, chiding me for driving alone so late in the night.
Ironically, the year 2012 proved to be the most significant year of Mrs. Kassim's journey, even if it marked the end of her life. Her life-long efforts to promote innovation in education were hailed at the 7th Annual United Nations Conference on Teaching Peace and Human Rights, where she was nominated for the Global Educator's Award just two months before her sudden departure in June.
Earlier this year, she also had the honour of receiving the Sonia Gandhi Award ‘Beyond Borders’ in Calcutta, India in the presence of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi for bridging distances to promote learning. The St Joseph’s Convent School from where she received her early schooling, also acknowledged her contribution to education by nominating her for the Woman of Substance Award. But although these accolades are a tribute to all that she sought to uphold and achieve as an educationist, no award or tribute can ever do justice to all that she stood for her as a woman of substance. Rest in peace Mrs. Kassim -- you will be always be missed.
By Aaliya Rahim Bondrey, colleague and friend