Remembring Arfa Karim, a bright light diminished too soon

It is not often that one comes across people who can be labeled prodigies, Arfa Karim Randhawa though was certainly one.

A young Pakistani student and computer prodigy who became the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) in 2004. She was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for her achievement.

She had summed up her life’s philosophy in an interview saying; “If you want to do something big in your life, you must remember that shyness is only the mind,” she said. “If you think shy, you act shy. If you think confident you act confident. Therefore never let shyness conquer your mind.”

Randhawa kept the title until 2008 and went on to represent Pakistan on various international forums, including the TechEd Developers Conference. She received the President’s Award for Pride of Performance by General Pervez Musharraf in 2005.

A science park in Lahore, the Arfa Software Technology Park, was named in her honor. When she was 10, Randhawa was invited by Bill Gates to visit the Microsoft headquarters in the United States.

After returning to Pakistan from a visit to the Microsoft headquarters, Randhawa gave numerous television and newspaper interviews. S. Somasegar, the vice president of Microsoft’s Software Development Division, wrote about her in his blog.

On 2 August 2005, Arfa was presented the Fatimah Jinnah Gold Medal in the field of Science and Technology by the Prime Minister of Pakistan Shaukat Aziz at the 113th anniversary of Fatima Jinnah’s birth. She also received the Salaam Pakistan Youth Award in August 2005 from the President of Pakistan.

Randhawa received the President’s Award for Pride of Performance in 2005, a civil award usually granted to people who have shown excellence in their respective fields over a long period of time; she is the youngest recipient of this award to date.

Randhawa represented Pakistan on various international forums and was invited by the Pakistan Information Technology Professionals Forum for a two-week stay in Dubai, where a dinner reception was hosted in her honour; Dubai dignitaries, including the Ambassador of Pakistan, attended.

She was presented with various awards and gifts, including a laptop. In November 2006, Randhawa attended the Tech-Ed Developers conference themed ‘Get Ahead of The Game’ held in after receiving an invitation from Microsoft. She was the only Pakistani among over 5000 developers in that conference.

In 2011, Randhawa was studying at the Lahore Grammar School Paragon Campus in her second year of A-levels. On 22 December 2011, she suffered a cardiac arrest after an epileptic seizure that damaged her brain and was admitted to Lahore’s Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in critical condition.

On 9 January 2012, Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, contacted Randhawa’s parents and directed her doctors to adopt “every kind of measure” for her treatment.

Gates set up a special panel of international doctors who remained in contact with her local doctors through teleconference. The panel assisted in diagnosing and treating her illness. Local doctors dismissed the option of moving Randhawa to another hospital due to her being on a ventilator and in critical condition. Members of her family have lauded Bill Gates for offering to bear her treatment expenses.

Randhawa died at a hospital in Lahore on 14 January 2012, aged 16. Her funeral, which was held on the following day, was attended by the Chief Minister of Punjab.

Arfa Software Technology Park is the country’s largest Information and Communications Technology Park located in Lahore. The seventeen-storey building is the first international standard facility in Pakistan. The project was started under the name of “Lahore Technology Park” before being renamed “Arfa Software Technology Park” on 15 January 2012 to commemorate the childhood prodigy.