QATAR’S GIRL WONDER CONQUERS THE WORLD


MARSON KIEL LUMANGLAS
DOHA
The Akram residence was flooded with tears of joy upon confirmation that Nawaal Akram, one of the six children of Mohammed and Saima Akram, was recognised by the BBC as one of the 100 most influential and inspirational women of 2017.
Qatar Tribune was the only newspaper to interview Nawaal, Qatar’s sole representative on the prestigious BBC 100 Women List, the very next day that the much-anticipated announcement was made to the public.
Nawaal, a 19-year-old social media influencer and rights activist, was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy Duchenne (MDD) at the tender age of six. Narrating to Qatar Tribune what it was like in their humble abode the night before BBC’s formal announcement, she said, “The evening of September 26, I couldn’t sleep! While my parents advised me to just keep it cool, I just couldn’t.”
“When I opened my phone the next day, it was exploding with notifications from BBC twitter, Pakistan twitter, etc... they knew it before me! When I cleared myself of doubt, that’s when I finally left my bed to inform my parents and younger siblings, but to my surprise, they knew about it already as well! I was like... seriously?! But it was really fun and worth the anticipation!”

AGE DIDN’T MATTER
The BBC 100 Women 2017 list includes the likes of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf, and astronaut Peggy Whitson who has spent more time in space than any other American astronaut.
At 19, Nawaal is the youngest female who has made it to the list. “Age didn’t matter to the committee, that’s why I made the cut. Right now, I’m not yet thinking about the pressure, I’m more focused on the little things.”
For Nawaal, the biggest reward is the fact that finally, she is able to give back to her parents who mean the world to her. “I want to make my parents prouder,” she declared.
She also considers herself lucky because she has the rare chance to represent two communities in a positive way – Pakistan, where both of her parents are from, and Qatar, her country of birth.

NATIONALITY DILEMMA
When asked about how the BBC addresses her nationality, Nawaal said, “In their official email, I was listed under the Middle East category, meaning I am officially representing Qatar, the country where I have spent almost my whole life. I mean, I know the culture here; I abide by the country’s laws; my whole family lives here; and my heart beats for Qatar.”
However, the BBC still recognises that she is Pakistani.
“I’m basically a Pakistani girl representing Qatar. So to make things official, I am being recognised in the culture and country where I was born in, and that is Qatar,” Nawaal declared with a wide smile on her face.
Nawaal also hopes that the current Gulf crisis is resolved at the earliest, as, “different nationalities should come together and support each other, and the community as a whole.”

FAMILY’S SUPPORT
Besides campaigning for disability, Nawaal also does stand-up comedy and part-time modeling as part of her awareness drive against discrimination on people with disabilities (PWDs).
During her free time, Nawaal attends charity events for Qatar Foundation which gives her a chance to interact with all kinds of people. She said the experience she has gained while volunteering and doing stand-up comedy for Qatar Foundation has been an “eye-opener” at so many levels.
When asked about her goals, Nawaal said, “I just want to gain formal education, hopefully with Qatar Foundation.”
Nawaal has not been able to complete her secondary education due to her situation. This pushed her parents to settle for home-schooling, which Nawaal, of course, didn’t like.
“When Nawaal was diagnosed with MDD, her everyday routine was completely changed. Home schooling was the hardest adjustment for her because Nawaal loves making lots of friends, and was an active part of extra-curricular chores at school,” said Saima Akram, her loving mother.
Saima also shared to Qatar Tribune that this turning point in Nawaal’s life brought her to depression, which became a huge challenge for the whole family. Saima could only think of one other way to save Nawaal from the pitfall, and that was to keep her busy.
“We enrolled her in yoga classes, art classes, Arabic classes, and even scuba diving. Luckily, Nawaal slowly learned to accept everything. And eventually, it’s as if nothing has happened. All these hurdles have made her stronger and braver,” continued a teary-eyed Saima.
On the other side of the room was Ramer, Nawaal’s younger brother who has just arrived home from school.
“With this new recognition that she is getting, Nawaal just proved all her doubters wrong,” Ramer said about her elder sister.
On hearing her mom and brother’s complements, Nawaal just kept quiet in one corner, probably still trying to comprehend the big responsibility that lies ahead of her in the coming weeks or so.
“They’ve been with me through highs and lows and seeing them appreciating the fruit of my hard work makes me so happy. My mom and dad keep reminding me that I am in this position because I worked hard for it,” Nawal said.

ROLE IN THE BBC
“Qatar’s girl wonder”, as some colleagues in the comedy and social gathering industry call her, added, “I never thought that my name would be listed alongside some of the most prominent women in the world.”
The BBC revealed on September 27, 2017 the first 60 who made it to the 100 Women 2017 list. Taken from across all spheres of modern life – from engineering to the creative industries, from sport to business – these women represent the global wealth of female talent.
Qatar this year had Nawaal serving as its sole representative on the prestigious list. Nawaal is joined by two more delegates from the Middle East.
“It’s exciting because I will be part of the #TeamRead, meaning I will be promoting female literacy,” said Nawaal, who has almost 17,000 followers on Instagram. The primary reason she got into the media was because she advocates the need for formal education for people with disability. She firmly believes that education is a basic human right whatever condition one might be in.

GOALS BEFORE TURNING 21
The focus of Nawaal’s future plans centre around widening her campaign and finding fresh avenues to further promote the cause she holds so dear. She’s seeking to establish a Youtube channel wherein she could have the chance to collaborate with big companies to create awareness about her cause on a mainstream level.
“I am tired seeing PWDs on hospital advertisements. I want my fellows to conquer fashion, commercials, public events, magazines, and every single advertisement that can empower them to their fullest potentials,” stressed Nawaal, who also aspires to have her own show before turning 21 and to get recognised by Forbes magazine. We wish her the best of luck.