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March 09, 2020 4 min read

“All the men I ever encountered never let me speak this is why i began to write”

Sara Bawany’s work as a social worker is deeply rooted in coming to terms with her own personal struggles. As a Muslim Pakistani-American girl, the world she grew up in looked vastly different from her own. With a childhood that was characterized by failing to grasp what “home” was, as well as by domestic violence, this ambitious young woman was determined to rise up so that she could further help others. 

 Growing up, Sara and her family moved around often due to her father’s work. Both moving and being Muslim played a huge role in her relationship with her peers and her teachers. Sara was known as the smartest person in the classroom as a child — she was often found helping her classmates with homework assignments, playing the role of the “second teacher”, and knowing all the answers — which made being a brown Muslim girl in a small Texas town, amongst other places she briefly lived in, a very unique experience. 

“As self-conscious as I was about looking so different from people around me, I was always reminded about how smart I was. And that was enough,” she said. 

At the age of 12, Sara switched over to a new school and made the decision to wear the hijab, inspired by her mother.

“She wore her hijab with such pride and I looked up to her so much,” Sara said, smiling. “She was substitute teaching so people were used to seeing her around and it seemed to make my transition to hijab a lot easier.”

Although Sara was determined to go into the medical field, her path quickly diverted when she became the Public Relations Director of her MSA in undergrad, and decided to focus on issues that weren’t always discussed in Muslim communities due to the stigma associated with them. Through the MSA, she hosted a fundraiser for the Survivors Fund of Voices Against Violence, a campus organization that provided support for student victims and survivors of domestic violence. Her team raised nearly $5000.

“I thought to myself, I’ve never felt so passionate about anything in my life,” Sara said. “I want to work in something related to domestic violence and mental health.”

She also mentioned that her undergrad years were the most difficult years of her life. 

“My whole identity changed — what I was doing and what my purpose was,” she said. “And I’m a very purpose-driven person.”

Sara’s first few poems were written in middle school and early high school, and they were about her parents — the first about her father and the second about her mother — subjects that were distressful for her at the time. But Sara loves the way writing could turn something painful into something beautiful.

Later on, while Sara was absorbed with the new challenges she faced in graduate school, her poems became social justice oriented. She also began to understand and develop her passion for fighting against domestic violence, which is how she found her way into social work. It was around this time that Sara created an Instagram page which allowed her to grow a platform, further paving a way for her to write and publish a book. She realized how many poems she had, and thought it would be an injustice to her work to not have her poetry compiled into a book and then published. 

On September 17, 2018, after nearly 10 years of writing and a year of compiling her work, Sara self-published “(w)holehearted: a collection of poetry and prose.” The book was edited by a close friend and published poet, Huda Bint Adnan (@hudabintadnan_), and the cover was designed by her best friend Amina Choudhury (@aminatheartist), a talented calligraphy artist. Last, but not least, the cover was put together by her husband, Usama Malik (@usamso), a photographer and graphic designer. To date, “(w)holehearted” has sold over 800 copies, in both paperback and Kindle.

After publishing her book, Sara took about a year’s break of writing. She is just now picking it back up again and is excited to see where it will take her.

“Right now, I’m more into spoken word,” she said, excitedly. “I think I am absolutely terrible at it — I’m not where I want it to be, but I’m pushing through that insecurity. I’m not shutting the ideas down, but I’m exploring them instead.”

Sara currently works at Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE), a non-profit organization founded in 2017,  which aims to foster safe community environments by holding abusive and community leadership accountable (@facingabuse). She knew the founder of the organization, Alia Salem (@aliarsalem), for nearly 15 years. Sara was a local supporter for a while and even held a fundraiser for the organization. FACE then invited Sara to join their board, and finally, a staff position opened up. She now works full-time as the Case Manager, where she provides victim support by connecting them with paid-for mental health services, and helping the organization grow in numerous ways. 

To stay up-to-date with Sara’s work as a writer + social worker, check out her Instagram page, @sara.bawany.

Irum is a writer, photographer, and author of 'Nothing to Summit' - a collection of short essays on gaining strength, fighting against one's fears, falling, regaining hope, and ultimately finding inner peace before the cycle/climb begins again. She received her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Michigan State University and is currently dabbling in several photojournalism and writing projects, while also working as a communications specialist.


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