Blind Pakistani Siblings Thrive at Carroll University
By Laurel Walker
Imran Ahmed, 23, and his sister Hina Altaf, 24, attend Carroll University in Waukesha. Photo/Karen Sherlock
Imagine, if you can, finding your way to a new college in a new country, immersed in an altogether new way of life as a Muslim in this Christian-dominant culture.
Close your eyes and imagine, while you're at it, that you're blind.
Not so easy, right?
Hina Altaf, 24, and her brother, Imran Ahmed, 23, are not at all intimidated.
The two, born and raised in northern Pakistan, have been blind since birth and are among 56 international students from 26 countries at the 3,300-student Carroll University in Waukesha. They're working on computer software engineering studies - an effort dependent upon them finding more financial sponsorship for their final year and a half.
If you look at where they’ve been, or where they want to go with their education, you can’t help but pull for them. These are, after all, adventurers who’ve jumped at such American experiences as snowmobiling, canoeing on river rapids, camping, bungee jumping and roller coaster riding with gusto.
“In Pakistan, we didn’t get these opportunities, and we’re taking advantage of it,” Hina said.
Friends such as Steve and Kay Fronk of Milwaukee’s Enderis Park neighborhood are pulling for them — and learning.
He’s an attorney for the city’s Fire and Police Commission who wanted you readers to get to know these two; she’s a self-employed interior designer. They fell into a friendship with the siblings two years ago when the couple volunteered to ride with them on tandem bicycles in an outing designed for the blind — an event repeated last weekend at Grant Park.
The Fronks have nurtured the friendship. They’ve invited the two to dinner and concerts, taught them cribbage, even taken them to mosque for Friday prayers and introduced them to the Islamic Society of Milwaukee.
“It’s an eye opener, to meet people who see things differently from you,” Steve Fronk said.
Hina and Imran said that in Pakistan, their family would be considered middle-class.
Their mother tends to the house and a younger brother and sister, and their father sells auto parts.
“In Pakistan, we never went anywhere alone, without our parents,” who did everything for them, Imran said. It’s understandable, perhaps, in a country where, they said, little accommodation is made for the blind.
The two were educated in a school for the blind through the equivalent of 10th grade. Then they went to boys’ and girls’ colleges for sighted students where “most of the people didn’t know how to deal with blind people,” Hina said.
They had to blaze a trail, since textbooks and tests were unavailable in Braille.
With few opportunities in Pakistan, the two wanted to study in America, and they’d learned about Carroll from a distant relative.
They were accepted three years before they found the money to attend — a sponsorship that ultimately came from a Pakistani doctor in Michigan who admired their goal.
They hope to develop “talking” computer software for the blind in Urdu, their native language.
The doctor sponsored them for a year as promised, and other relatives and friends from the Islamic Society of Milwaukee helped with the second year. They are looking for more help — combined they need $40,000 a year — and welcome conversation through their voice-enabled e-mail (Hina’s is email@example.com; Imran’s is firstname.lastname@example.org).
As international students, they said they can’t take jobs off campus, but they hope for unpaid internships. Carroll provides them with campus work study, at the information desk.
“When he’s working, I’m not,” Hina said. “When I’m working, he’s not.”
The pair each has a dorm room on campus, but the lack of regular summer food service, the availability of only a microwave, their Islamic dietary restrictions and their inability to get to a grocery store have added to their challenges. They practice Islam, praying five times a day, and when they can get rides, they attend mosque prayers in Milwaukee.
A blind friend in Waukesha is helping to teach the two how to get around Waukesha mass transit — a bus system they do not yet feel comfortable with. Yet they’ve traveled to other cities, in Indiana, Missouri, Kansas and New York, to visit friends and family.
Their father has been denied a visa so far to visit, though he hopes to come for their graduation. When they visited their family in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, this spring, Imran said his parents “were over the moon” with excitement.
They talk daily with family by Internet, which helps.
“When we came here, our parents were so scared,” Hina said.
Notice that she didn’t say that she and her brother were afraid. Imran explains why.
“We trust God,” he said. “And we trust ourselves and our abilities.” Courtesy JS ONLINE: NEWS: EDUCATION