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Pakistani Disability Rights Activist Takes Home Prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

A Georgetown University Qatar student named Khansa Maria just made history by becoming the first woman with a disability in her entire country to win a Rhodes Trust Scholarship.

The high-achieving Lahore, Pakistan, native is one of just 27 Rhodes Scholars to ever come out of her university. She will be pursuing her master’s degree at Oxford University next fall. As someone who was born blind, Khansa is ready to use her scholarship to make waves in the disability rights movement.

Though she is still an undergraduate, Khansa has already made giant strides as a disability rights advocate in her role at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar. She has organized and spoken at multiple conferences focused on inclusive policy creation.

“The cultural perception of disabled individuals is integral to shaping the mindsets of policymakers, implementers, and enforcers,” Khansa told Georgetown University. “I began to recognize from my classes the inextricable link between the culture that shapes us, and the policies that we hope will shape our future.”

During her sophomore year, Khansa, who is majoring in both culture and politics, was given an Undergraduate Research Experience Program grant from the Qatar National Research Fund. She used this grant to dive into the employment challenges that people with disabilities face in Qatar.

For her honors thesis, Khansa chose to explore the progression of the disability rights movement in South Asia and the impact it’s had on people with disabilities.

“Despite her young age, Khansa already has an enviable and seldom-seen grasp of many basic theoretical paradigms … and seems at home in discussing their many complexities,” said Ian Almond, a professor of world literature at Georgetown Qatar. “She has an incredible hunger for anything new – and it is heartening to see this in a student.”

Khansa put her passions into action early by founding Hope for Tomorrow in 2016. The initiative is working to break down stigmas around disabilities and provide individuals who have special needs with practical skills and professional development courses to equip them for the future.

“I call myself a disability rights activist, but I know that this is not enough. It takes all of us working together to make the changes that we want to see,” Khansa said.

My Georgetown journey taught me that fighting for my rights and against internalized structural ableism never gets easier, and yet it is up to us to fight against all odds.

The ambitious undergrad is excited to expand her knowledge and mission even further as she pursues a master’s degree in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation at Oxford University next fall.

“For an undergraduate applying to graduate school, there are few distinctions that can surpass a Rhodes Scholarship in prestige,” Georgetown Qatar Dean Ahmad Dallal said. “We look forward to following her academic journey beyond Georgetown as she builds on the important policy research that began right here at Qatar Foundation.”

There’s no doubt that Khansa’s presence on campus will be sorely missed. She has served as vice president of their Student Government Association, copresident of the Georgetown Debating Union, and a member of the Georgetown TEDx Club.

The incredible student has every intention of returning to Pakistan in the future to put into practice everything she has learned.

“I hope to return to Pakistan and assist in drafting legislation guaranteeing equal educational opportunities to people with disabilities so they may acquire the skills necessary to become part of the workforce with legal protection,” Khansa explained.

She hopes to continue transforming the mindset around people with disabilities from “special people” who are achievers in the face of obstacles to people who are just achievers – full stop.

With her unshakable determination, passion, and drive for excellence, we have no doubt she’ll do exactly that!

“What I’ve learned along the way is that no matter the challenges you face, you must never let the expectations of others define what you want to pursue for your future or what your goals are,”Khansa said. “Go for it with all you’ve got because you can make opportunities regardless of the obstacles.”

Share her empowering story with a friend today.

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