Despite death threats, she's still teaching. And a global online community has her back.
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Facebook #SheMeansBusiness

Sister Zeph remembers the moments that changed the course of her life.

For nearly 20 years, she has been a teacher running a school for girls in Pakistan, but she recalls the day that started a chain reaction for her.

When she was 13 years old, she gave a speech in class, but dared to sit in her teacher's chair.


"When the teacher came she started beating me ... in front of my classmates. She abused me and all the girls made fun of me. I was just crying and crying. I did not talk to anyone for days," she told Upworthy.

It turned out to be a pivotal moment for her.

"I decided to surprise everyone. I decided to do something that nobody expected. At that moment I decided to leave school and to become a teacher myself ... to make a school of my own.

In the beginning no one trusted me. No one was ready to join my school because I was just 13 years old. But I kept going, I did not want any child to experience what had happened to me."

20 years later, Sister Zeph remains the founder of Zephaniah Free Education, a school in rural Punjab, Pakistan.

The school serves 200 students seven days a week — amid threats and resistance — in a building that's only 12 feet by 15 feet.

Students in class at Zephaniah Free Education. All images from Zephaniah Women Education and Empowerment Foundation, used with permission.

In the Gujranwala region of Pakistan, where the school is located, only about half of women over the age of 10 can read.

Sister Zeph wants more people to understand this and other everyday realities for women in her region in Pakistan.

A photo of Sister Zeph's students!

In an email to Upworthy, Sister Zeph lists the jarring, and often unspoken, confines of being a woman in her area of the world.

"People do not know that they cannot laugh without permission, cannot speak loud, they cannot sing a song, they cannot have a dream in life, cannot wear clothes of own choice, cannot raise a question, cannot do a job ... their purpose of life is only to serve the husband, to produce children and to [run a] household."

Sister Zeph helps create opportunities for girls and women through education. Technology and online communications are a large part of that.

By educating women and showing them the opportunities that life has to offer, Sister Zeph hopes to change these circumstances.

"My calling is to empower each and every woman on this earth and to make them feel that they are not a property of men they are complete human beings equal to men," she said.

Pretty great mission, huh?

Well, not according to everyone. Sister Zeph and her students have met with opposition — and even threats — every step of the way. Sister Zeph's home was even attacked with guns in 2006 and 2013.

In addition to traditional school curriculum, Sister Zeph's school also teaches (and values) art!

Sister Zeph had been teaching for 13 years, keeping her head down and her school open, when she started using Facebook.

When she was able to access an online community, the obstacles didn't lessen, but the opportunities, support, and love increased exponentially ... and inspirationally. She told Upworthy of the transition from hopeless perseverance to determined tenacity.

"I had been teaching in open air for about 13 years. I was alone, there was no support, no help, and no hope. I was attacked by gunmen in 2006 but there was no notice of this thing, but then I joined Facebook. I started posting our activity on daily basis. I was admired from around the world. I was given financial and moral support."

Students with their artwork.

By sharing her story, her ups and her downs, Sister Zeph found a global community. Online, she also discovered World Pulse, a social networking platform connecting women worldwide for change. World Pulse's training, combined with Facebook's access, multiplied the outpouring of love from the online community around the world almost miraculously.

"I must say that Facebook is a most powerful tool to make a change in the world; my life is its proof," she added.

In the classroom.

Sister Zeph's story is so inspiring and so simple. Her example shows that so much is possible, even if you're 13, with no experience — just a lot of grit.

Here's hoping that her school creates an entire generation of strong leaders for her region, for Pakistan, and for the world. In her words:

"Education is a light and illiteracy is a darkness. And darkness cannot face the light, you know."

Students of Sister Zeph's students are models of strength!

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Often, parents of children with special needs struggle to find Halloween costumes that will accommodate medical equipment or provide a proper fit. And figuring out how to make one? Yikes.

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Photo by Tod Perry

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