Khansa Maria was born blind. During her childhood, Maria remembers rushing to get ready for her school interview but was always left disappointed as the school could not cater to her special needs.

“It was disappointing,” she says. “Mainstream schools were not willing to make the required adaptations or go the extra mile for someone like me. You can never forget an experience like that.”

Young Maria completed her early education at a school near her home in Lahore before she got enrolled at the Lahore Grammar School. Many people didn’t show any concern for her needs but there were some who saw her as an inspiration.

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Things changed for Maria. Today, the 21-year-old is a senior at Georgetown University Qatar, pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Foreign Service.

The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship selected her to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Maria is the first Pakistani woman with a disability to be named a Rhodes scholar-elect.

Campaigning from a young age, Maria has spoken at various conferences around the world calling for a removal of barriers people with disabilities face. Her own organization, “Hope for Tomorrow”, raises awareness about people with special needs.

Maria explains that the single biggest obstacle in Pakistan is the lack of people with disabilities in the policy making and enforcement processes.

“The disable community lacks a voice,” she said, “You just don’t see [disable] people on the mainstream level.”

She hopes to change that when she returns to Pakistan after completing her postgraduate at Oxford University. “It is important to start engagement first at the grassroot level.”