On a path from Pakistan

20-something Saiyna Bashir values her independence
On a path from Pakistan
Paulius Musteikis
Sainya Bashir

Saiyna Bashir saw a different life for herself than the one she was living in Pakistan. A 20-something, she moved to the U.S. to pursue a career and a life not possible in her native country. Born in Karachi and raised in Pakistan’s capitol of Islamabad, Bashir, now 27, studied at one of the only liberal arts colleges at the time in Laehore, the second largest and most populous city in Pakistan. She grew up in a family with Western ideals and was encouraged to get an education and live on her own.

“I never covered my head in Pakistan. My mother and grandmother don’t either. My grandfather–he was in the British army and was very cultured and very educated–really empowered my grandmother and his daughters, which is not normal for people of his generation,” says Bashir.

Pakistan, which had state-run media until 2001, wasn’t offering the career opportunities she envisioned.
With strong encouragement from her grandmother, Bashir moved to Chicago in 2014 to earn her master’s degree in journalism public affairs on a full ride to Columbia College. “It’s very rare for women in Pakistan to make this journey and get out of Pakistan and live on their own,” she notes.

But making the trek to the United States wasn’t her endgame–it was a starting point for Bashir’s career. She wanted to be a respected photojournalist covering historic moments and underreported stories. In July 2014, Bashir covered the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Aside from the physical danger of the assignment–which is where Bashir says she was teargassed for the first time–it was a huge risk for her. “My professor told me, ‘You cannot get arrested. If you get arrested, they can deport you because you’re on a student visa.”

But that’s what it took to start a portfolio in the photojournalism world, and this was one of the many times Bashir would feel as if she was doing something truly meaningful. After that experience, Bashir has continued to build her career: She was accepted into two highly competitive workshops: The New York Times Student Journalism Institute and the Eddie Adams workshop. She has also completed an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times and currently lives in Madison working at the Cap Times as a photographer. She’s also working on a documentary project that brings her back to Pakistan to document acid attack victims rebuilding their lives after surviving one of the worst forms of domestic violence happening in India and Pakistan.

While Bashir sees herself marrying someday, hitting milestones by the 30-year-old mark isn’t important to her. “I really want to take advantage of this freedom that I have right now with zero responsibilities except for myself because this is the time where I can achieve what I want to achieve.”