TCF alumna, Dr. Sidra Saleem has come a long way! From a kindergartner at the TCF-Crescent Steel Campus, clutching her mother’s finger and peering into a classroom for the very first time, to topping in high school and making it into Karachi’s prestigious DOW Medical College against great odds. Last year, Sidra completed a rotation for pediatric neurology at the University of Illinois. Currently, she is interviewing for residency programs in the US. We were delighted when Sidra visited the TCF-USA Chicago office. Confident, grounded and focused, Dr. Sidra Saleem spoke to our TCF-Chicago team members, Hasin Farzana and Amena Khan about her incredible journey and what drives her to excel, and how TCF is at the very essence of who she is today.
1. What is your earliest memory of a TCF School?
I still remember the newly constructed TCF primary school in my area of Ibrahim Goth in the year 1997. The fascinating new building, chairs, and teachers who would eventually go on to support the pathway to my career. At that time, TCF teachers used to visit homes in my area to create awareness about the importance of education, and to provide assurance to families that TCF schools will provide education free of cost. In Ibrahim Goth, the idea of getting an education in a clean, airy building with trained teachers was only a dream until the first TCF school was introduced to the slum dwellers.
2. Who was your favorite TCF teacher growing up and how has she made an impact on your life?
I have always respected all my teachers and they have certainly impacted my life in a positive light. But if I were to choose one, it would be my Urdu teacher, Miss Huma. Having taught me from grades 6 to 10, she was a mentor for my ethical and personal growth. Her words of advice still resonate in my mind, “Sidra, at any point in your life, never compare yourself on the basis of finances and resources, always compare yourself on intelligence and hard work.” These words have stayed with me throughout my education and career life.
3. Where do you see yourself ten years from now? Share with us your goals.
I aspire to complete my residency and fellowship, and work as a good physician in an academic institute. I also have a vision of starting a TCF ‘Doctors’ Chapter’ with enough alumni doctors from TCF.
4. How do you intend to give back to the community?
I think there is no specific time to give back. Even while I was in grade 7 at TCF, I was involved as a volunteer tutor, making myself available to all surrounding students. I would help solve their issues, which brought them closer to reaching their academic goals.
In the future, I want to build a hospital dedicated to my parents, for my community, who even now must travel miles to access basic health facilities. Many people are still dying of chronic illnesses because they are not getting treatments on time. I want to assure them that they have a qualified doctor at home and they will not die due to a lack of timely medical resources. I feel really glad when the people from my area consult me and I am able to help them with a diagnosis or a good referral.
5. How has TCF impacted your outlook towards education and its importance in a person’s life?
I am fortunate to feel the difference that education can bring in communication, in living, in understanding life; to explore, solve, realize and feel. I would simply say education is like oxygen to the brain and without it the brain will be dead. Believe me, TCF was not only a school for me, it was a school, home, tuition and a moral training platform. In short, it was everything for me, where besides academic education, teachers were trained to boost morale, give confidence, identify talents and guide career avenues. They encouraged us to be responsible human beings and citizens, and build personalities, while also making opportunities available and visible to students who were completely alien to these concepts. I can never forget those 11 academic years in TCF which clearly reflect who I am. TCF removed class barriers, inculcating hope and courage to move forward and compete on the basis of a quality education, knowledge and intelligence.
6. As an aspiring doctor, what has been one of the most rewarding experiences so far?
I was extremely glad the first time I had the chance to wear my white lab coat, hold my stethoscope and enter one of the most famous medical colleges in my city. I not only competed with my fellows from elite school backgrounds but defeated them and stood among the first 10 students of Dow who were selected to rotate at the University of Illinois, Chicago. However, the most rewarding time was when I was in my 3rd year of medical school. At that time, my father was severely ill and everyone was just giving him symptomatic relief. Then I got some basic tests done and found out that he was suffering from chronic liver disease. I consulted one of my teachers at Dow and my father received the right treatment and was prevented from a terrible disease like liver cirrhosis. The timely cure of his disease saved his life.
7. What is the motivation behind the success of you and your siblings and the way you have created your own career paths?
I think our driving force was the immense deprivation that we were surrounded by. Since we lived in a katchi abaadi area like Ibrahim Goth which was not authorized by the government, we were not lucky enough to enjoy basic facilities. This included a lack of sanitation, water, electricity, and transportation—simply put, there were no utilities. There were multiple challenges that we had to face on a daily basis. All these things taught us one simple theory, that the motivation to do better can take us ahead. So, we just simply acted on that, to do better today than yesterday.
8. Growing up in a Katchi Abaadi, what do you think your educational opportunities would have been, had you not chosen to go to a TCF school?
When I started to go to school, TCF was not a choice, it was the only option because the other school was 4 miles away and there were no modes of transportation. It was the government school where my elder siblings used to go before the building of the first TCF school in our area. Its standard of education was so low, that when my sister joined TCF, in eighth grade, she didn’t even know basic four-line concepts of English writing and parts of speech. So, it is really scary to think how life would have been like for me, if there was no TCF.
I realized the importance of TCF even more when I qualified matriculation with distinction and had to get admission into college. I faced many difficulties because the study environment in college was not as conducive as the one I had in TCF. I still remember consulting my school teachers even when I was in college. At that time, I was worried about how my father will bear my medical test preparation expenses. TCF bore those expenses and supported me until I got admission into one of the best medical colleges, Dow Medical College, to pursue my childhood dream.
Without any exaggeration, being in TCF means being protected, pampered, guided and secure like in your mother’s lap.