First Person: English Language Study Transformed Me

Haris

Haris

By Haris, English Access Program Alumnus from Karachi

This is Haris, an English Access Karachi Alumnus of the 2010-2012 program. I live in an area of Karachi where there is a lot of waste of precious human resources. A number of my childhood friends are doing time in prison while many others struggle day to day just to exist. Very few of us have had a chance to get on track to a better life. Where I was raised, working at the age of 11or 12 is common.

So, instead of focusing on learning to make good grades or to prepare myself to be able to pursue my dreams, I was working at a bicycle repair shop, fixing the common man’s ride, for which I never got paid a penny because according to my boss, I was learning a trade, and that (of course!) was payment enough. Repairing bicycles all week earned me the privilege to try and sell two bicycles per week. Every weekend, I would ride two bicycles at once to take them to be sold at the weekly flea market of Korangi. I was paid around one hundred rupees (approximately $1 dollar) if I was lucky enough to sell both bikes. Later on, I managed to move up in the world when I got a job at a cell phone repair shop for the increased pay of 20 rupees (roughly $0.20) per day.

As a kid, my biggest achievable ambition was to run my own bicycle shop, and there was nothing to suggest that I would ever be able to do more than that. Yet, I had a dream — a dream to succeed in life. I was one of the best students in my school, making decent grades; however, I hung out in bad company. I didn’t know that life could ever be more than those 20 rupees a day, and I didn’t know what it was like to be appreciated for my work, nor did I know how I could personally be involved with benefiting others. Basically, I didn’t know that getting an education is not a geeky fashion — it is a necessity — and that I too, was not living, but merely existing.

Finally, in 2011, after clearing my 10th grade exams, I finally found my calling. I was selected to receive a two year scholarship to be part of the English Access Microscholarship Program funded by the U.S. Embassy. Through this scholarship I didn’t just learn English but was introduced to a totally new world. Because of Access, for the first time in my life, I had a chance to travel by air. I was selected to participate in a 14-day summer institute held in Islamabad for Access youth from all over Pakistan. After this, I took a part in a number of leadership training workshops, conferences, and social projects throughout the country, which transformed me into who I am today.

I realized that I was not made for repairing bicycles, motorbikes, or mobile phones, but rather destined for much bigger and better things. I realized that illiteracy in our society is like dirt, and I was living in it.

In 2012, I participated in a public speaking competition organized by the English Speaking Union of Pakistan, I was honored as the favorite public speaker by public vote. Then, I was awarded the title of “Best Debater” by Infaq Foundation. So, that led to the current me — Haris — the motivational speaker, youth trainer, influencer, and advocate for youth development, advocating for positive change and for growth. Like Michelangelo who painted, Beethoven who made music, and Shakespeare who wrote, each person needs to find his/her calling and then build on it, for “if you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall in someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”

I now have a team of change agents, and together we are bringing positive change in Pakistan by our initiatives. To continue to improve my skills, I am studying at FAST-National University, from where I have completed my first two semesters, and for both semesters, I was selected as an academic assistant in my department. This is just the beginning of my journey, and there’s no looking back. I am looking forward to achieving much more in my life.

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U.S. Embassy Islamabad’s English Access Micro-scholarship Program provides English language skills to 14-18 year old students through afterschool classes and summer learning activities. Students gain an appreciation for American culture and democratic values, and increase their ability to participate in Pakistan’s socio-economic development–and future U.S. exchange and study programs. Pakistan has the largest Access program in the world with more than 5,000 students in 18 locations across the country! To learn more, visit http://islamabad.usembassy.gov/english_lang_programs.html.

 

Workshop Introduces New English Teaching Strategies to Balochi Teachers

By Hira Nafees Shah

Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed oversees a brainstorming session during E-Teacher Professional Development Workshop for female teachers from May 5th to 10th, 2014.

Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed oversees a brainstorming session during E-Teacher Professional Development Workshop for female teachers from May 5th to 10th, 2014.

Prominent educator Nazeer Ahmed had noticed a trend during his years of teaching in his home district Pishin, Balochistan. Students would complete matriculation from schools but would drop out during their college years. When he inquired, Ahmed found out that the coursework upto to the level of Metric in Pishin, was in Urdu, but the syllabus for all subjects in college was in English.

With limited comprehension of the foreign language, students felt frustrated so that they preferred to discontinue their education, instead of mastering the new language. Dejected by seeing some of the brightest pupils giving up on their studies, Ahmed decided to take matters in his own hands. He set up the first English language learning center in Pishin and also worked as an English Access Micro-Scholarship Program teacher for two years.

Eventually he was rewarded for his efforts and went to the United States for an E-Teacher Professional Development Workshop at the University of Oregon, as part of the E-Teacher Scholarship Program. Learn more about the program at http://exchanges.state.gov/non-us/program/e-teacher-scholarship-program.

(From Left to Right) Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed and District Education Officer Kaleem Shah giving a certificate to a male participant

(From Left to Right) Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed and District Education Officer Kaleem Shah giving a certificate to a male participant

“I was the only Pakistani selected in a group of 620 people,” he said. “It was a very good experience and I gave a presentation on how to teach English in developing countries like Pakistan.”

Ahmed also learned how to make a project on English language teaching and implement it in his home country.

Upon his return to Pakistan, the alumnus put what he had learned in action and applied for a $5,000 Alumni Small Grant. All alumni of various U.S sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan are eligible to apply for the grant to enable them to give back to their communities.

The project consisted of two workshops spanning a period of two weeks from April to May 2014, one for female teachers and the other for male instructors. About 60 participants took part in the trainings and learned how to incorporate the four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing in their lectures, so that their pupils could become better English language learners.

“This is the first teacher training workshop of its kind ever in Pishin, Balochistan,” said Ahmad. “I decided to train the teachers so that they could implement the new strategies that they had learned, in their classrooms.”

Some of the activities involved role playing, listening to songs and repeating their words or finding out the correct pronunciation of words through the Internet. Ahmed primarily used English language teaching manuals from the State Department and Voice of America.

Farzana Alam, a participant, sharing her views during the workshop

Farzana Alam, a participant, sharing her views during the workshop

Lubna Khalid has been a lecturer in Pishin for four years and is currently teaching at a government school. She says the workshop was exceptional and educators had not been provided with such a platform before in the province.

“Through this project, our style of teaching has changed, and now students are participating more in the classes and their confidence level has increased,” she said.

Another professor, Ahmed Khan has also noticed a change in his students after he used some of the activities that he had been taught in the workshop.

“My students can speak English much better now as compared to the past,” he said. “Vocabulary used to be difficult for them so I would only write down words and their meanings on the blackboard, but now I let them make sentences.”

Khan also stated that before he had to do all the work in the class, but now he only has to give his students guidelines through which they form groups and initiate activities on their own, which in turn lead to greater learning. As for the next step, he hopes to launch a similar project in Quetta in the future, so as to benefit the teachers in that area.

Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed interacting with male students during an activity in the workshop

Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed interacting with male students during an activity in the workshop

“The best moment from the project was when I was given a chance to speak before the other participants,” said another workshop participant Mohammad Musa. “Before I did not use to be so confident, but now I can deliver knowledge without any hesitation.”

Farzana Alam, a middle school teacher applauded the workshop for its exclusive focus on providing English language instruction to female teachers.

“I have attended a number of workshops before, but this was the first workshop in which the focus was only on English and the methodologies associated with it,” she said. “This was also the first workshop which focused primarily on women and we learned so much that we have asked Ahmed to conduct more trainings.”

Another participant, Aziz-ur-Rehman says seeing the reaction of his students was priceless, after he modified his teaching method.

“I received a very good response from my class, when I applied the new English teaching strategies,” he said. “Infact now my class has become famous in the entire school!”

Group Photo of workshop participants with Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed after distribution of certificates at closing ceremony of E-Teaching Professional Development Workshop for male teachers on May 13th, 2014.

Group Photo of workshop participants with Alumnus Nazeer Ahmed after distribution of certificates at closing ceremony of E-Teaching Professional Development Workshop for male teachers on May 13th, 2014.

 

First Person:  Kumail the Community Leader

KumailBy Kumail, English Access Program Alumnus from Karachi

Today I am going to let you know why I am known as a social worker in my locality. In fact, most people from outside my area are surprised to hear that a student is a volunteer and the people of my slum area call me “Kumail the Community Leader.” I owe this to none other than the Access Program.

Some people look at me as a fool who is just roaming around. They think, “How can an English language program teach volunteerism?” My simple reply to them is, “If you want to, you can visit an Access center and see for yourself.” Without the motivation that I received from the Access Program, I wouldn’t even know that I could be a social worker, and working for my community is like a dream come true for me. The small community projects we did during the Access Program, like beach cleaning, park cleaning, tree planting, and others motivated me.

Before this motivation from my Access teachers through our community projects, I didn’t even know that I had this desire to be a volunteer and to serve my community, but slowly this desire was being built up inside me. I also remember the one-hour lecture of Sir Sarfaraz about how Access students can serve and help the community. In addition, during the Access Program, I was very motivated by celebrating many global days, such as Earth Day.

Just because of these activities during the Access Program, I developed a desire to volunteer, so my Access teacher suggested that I do some research about the lives of known social workers, like Abdul Sattar Edhi, Madam Theresa, and others. I kept thinking, “How we can serve my community?” And this became a goal in my mind. So, I started volunteering on a small scale, doing things like watering local plants and cleaning the local streets, but I didn’t have any proper training.  Thankfully, our school administration arranged an 18-hour training program on volunteering for us, during which we were trained by “Family Education Service Foundation.” Because I was so eager to do something for the betterment of my community, I was selected as a secretary of my group named Social Developmental Volunteers. I have also been getting help from my Access teacher who has suggested a project for us.

By the Grace of Allah and motivation given by my seniors, I am conducting some valuable projects. We are providing clean drinking water for those who do not have any possibility to get clean drinking water. Furthermore, through our fundraising program, we are lending small amounts for small businesses to those who are unemployed and want to have their own cottage businesses. In addition, we have contacted some NGOs, i.e., Bagh-e-Zehra Trust and received Rs.5000/- as a donation for our Fundraising Project, and United Bank Limited (UBL) called us for a meeting and invited us to plant 1,000 trees at UBL’s Sports Complex. We have also been invited to meet with the commissioner of Karachi to work on the physical appearance of Karachi. These are victories, and soon there will be more victories. I am also making people aware by blogging, which I also learned to do during the Access Program.

A guy who wasn’t even able to open his mouth to speak to anyone is now getting a chance to meet with the Commissioner of Karachi. The guy who started volunteering alone now has 20 more volunteers working with him, and all this became possible because of the Access Program and the confidence that it gave me. Personally, I am really thankful to the management of Access for providing a platform to the young generation of Pakistan to work for the betterment of Pakistan, and InshAllah Access will succeed at bringing positive change in Pakistan.

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U.S. Embassy Islamabad’s English Access Micro-scholarship Program provides English language skills to 14-18 year old students through afterschool classes and summer learning activities. Students gain an appreciation for American culture and democratic values, and increase their ability to participate in Pakistan’s socio-economic development–and future U.S. exchange and study programs. Pakistan has the largest Access program in the world with more than 5,000 students in 18 locations across the country! To learn more, visit http://islamabad.usembassy.gov/english_lang_programs.html.

Filmmakers Tackle Top Issues Facing Baluchistan

By Hira Nafees Shah

Participants learn framing and angle techniques from alumnus Dawood Tareen

Participants learn framing and angle techniques from alumnus Dawood Tareen

Film is one of the most powerful mediums to raise awareness of social issues and change mindsets. Across the whole range of cinematic arts, filmmakers can bring to life the dreams and struggles of everyday people, engage pressing questions, and stir audiences to take action.

That’s what motivated Dawood Tareen, an alumnus of the U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism (PPJ) exchange, to create and lead the spring 2014 “Film for Social Change” training program in Quetta, Baluchistan.

The idea for the training originated when Tareen heard many misconceptions about Pakistan and his home province of Baluchistan during his exchange in the United States, and he returned home with a desire to correct some of the misperceptions via film.

Alumnus Dawood Tareen

Alumnus Dawood Tareen

“When I heard people’s misguided notions about Pakistan, I thought our people are creative and I have to tell the world about it,” he said. “We can create a soft image through the medium of film, and empower our people.”

The Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network funded the project through a $5,000 dollar small grant. All alumni of U.S sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan are eligible to apply for the grant to enable them to give back to their communities.

“Such a project has never been held before in Balochistan, so it is a completely new concept and will help to improve the image of the province,” Tareen says. “Balochistan is an unexplored area in terms of story-telling, so it is very important to engage people here.”

About 30 students from six colleges and universities across the province took part in the training, including 10 women.  The four-month coursework consisted of script-writing, editing, audio-mixing and photography among other skills. Students worked in teams of three to co-produce a documentary film, as well as produce six short films of their own.  The films tackled current issues such as Baluchistan’s acute water shortages, and the controversial sport of dog fighting.

A participant’s photograph showing Acute Water Shortage in Baluchistan

A participant’s photograph showing Acute Water Shortage in Baluchistan

“The medium of film is very important for Baluchistan to enable us to raise our issues,” said Najeebullah, an undergraduate student who participated in the training. “For example the province has many apple and grape gardens which are drying out because of power cuts, and through videos we can raise this issue so that the farmers realize their rights.”

“Outsiders’ fear of Baluchistan can be reduced, if we project the correct image of the province through films,” added Farida Mohammad Musa, a graduate student who participated in the training.

Another participant Samina Wajeed decided to focus on debate competitions held at her local university as the subject of her short film.  Film can do wonders in raising awareness of issues faced by women in Baluchistan like education and health, she said.

After completing production in June, Tareen organized a screening of some of the resulting films at a local school. More than 150 attended the screening, including parents and elders within the community.

Balochistan 1

Workshop participants receive training from alumnus Dawood Tareen

“The films had a very good impression on the audience,” said Amanullah Khan, the principal of the school where the videos were screened. “The issues touched upon in the movies were based on the needs of the locals, so we received a good response.”

As for Tareen, he is ecstatic with the rapid growth of the participants’ knowledge of filmmaking—as well as their potential for the future.

“My students have told me that in the past, they used to just watch films, but now they study the shots being used, so their perception towards movies has changed,” he said. “Of the six films made by the end of the project, three have been short-listed for screening at a film festival in Italy.”

Tareen also has plans to make his project sustainable. He hopes to hold a short film festival in Quetta in the future, and invite faculty from the National College of Arts and Indus Valley, so students have a chance to learn from Pakistan’s top experts.  But for now, the alumnus is content about what he has been able to give back to his community.

“I have a deep sense of satisfaction and I am delighted that my efforts have borne fruit,” he said.

First Person: Project Smile Empowers Youth via Skill Development

By Majid Mushtaq, 2013 Global UGrad alumnus

Project Smile 1

I belong to a rural area of Pakistan and my father, being a farmer, couldn’t afford my education expenses alone.  But then I started doing freelancing and for the last three years, I have been paying my tuition fee myself. I always thought if I, belonging to a rural area, can help my family, why can’t other young minds in other rural areas of Pakistan do the same?

Majid Mushtaq

Majid Mushtaq

I visited Farash Town with my teacher and came to know that there are many girls who have done M.A, B.Ed, or B.A. but due to family restrictions, are not allowed to work outside.

I decided to help them by introducing them to the concept of freelancing, and teaching them computer skills like data entry, article writing, etc.  The basic idea was empowering students, especially women, so that they can earn while sitting at home.

I applied for a “Project Smile” IREX grant under the title “Youth Empowerment through Skills (YES)” and my idea got accepted.  I conducted the first workshop in Rising Star School in May 2014, where 16 female students and teachers participated.

I introduced them to concepts of freelancing and guided them with sessions on:1) What is freelancing: How people can earn money through internet and help their family; 2)What are different freelancing platforms out there; 3) What kind of jobs they can get from freelancing; and 4) How to write a job-winning proposal.

Project Smile 3

May 2014 Workshop at Rising Star School

And later on in next workshop I moved to a step-by-step guide on getting a job in data entry. I also helped them out, from writing proposal to getting their first job done.

After conducting a series of workshops in Rising Star School in Frash Town, I conducted a June 2014 workshop in Ali Trust College Islamabad where I introduced 42 students to the concepts of blogging, web design, freelancing and how they can use internet to bring positive change in society.

I believe this project changed the lives of hundreds of poor families. After these workshops, students and teachers have started learning to apply for online jobs and started earning income through the internet. In the long run, what I see is this project will help Pakistan to come out of economic crisis by eliminating poverty.

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Project Smile, a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State and implemented by IREX, provides grants to alumni of selected ECA-sponsored programs to implement community service activities that will benefit an underprivileged group.

Photo Camps Showcase Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Diverse People, Places

By Hira Nafees Shah

Female Participants taking photographs during the Nat-Geo Photo Camps

Female participants take photographs during the Nat-Geo Photo Camps

Saeedullah Orakzai firmly believes in the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. But that becomes a big problem when many photos being disseminated of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) depict only conflict, the alumnus says.

Concerned that many photos often show only a one-sided view of life in the tribal areas, Orakzai decided to challenge those misconceptions by training the next generation of photographers to document FATA’s diverse people and culture, through a series of May 2014 photo camps.

An alumnus of a photojournalism training program with National Geographic, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Orakzai was ideally positioned to leverage lessons learned from his U.S. exchange program to lead the the workshops.  The Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network funded the project via an Alumni Small Grant.

Nat-Geo/Internews and USAID Photo-Journalism Alumnus Saeedullah Orakzai

Nat-Geo/Internews and USAID Photo-Journalism Alumnus Saeedullah Orakzai

“I wanted to give the youngsters a platform and teach them what photo-journalism is,” he said. “I also wanted them to display positive images of society.”

Orakzai and his fellow organizers received more than 300 applications from potential participants, demonstrating substantial local enthusiasm for the project. After in-depth interviews, Orakzai shortlisted 70 students, from more than 10 universities across Peshawar, to take part in the training.

The alumnus’ project consisted of two workshops in which participants learned the nitty-gritty of photography like camera setting, framing and lighting, etc. The second workshop witnessed the students receiving advanced photography training in the local Bara Gali tourist spot, so they could practice their craft with their subjects in a new setting.

“It was a great experience taking part in the workshops,” said Summan Imtiaz, a Fine Arts student at the Peshawar University. “We were very happy to receive this platform, because generally there are not many opportunities in Peshawar.”

After the photo camps, the organizers displayed the participants’ work in the form of a Grand Exhibition June 10-11, 2014, at Peshawar University, and awarded prizes to the top three photographers: 1) Nacir Aly, 2) Sara Ali, and 3) Syed Hanif Raza.

One participant Syed Hammad Shah from the Islamia College of Peshawar says he took up photography some time ago, but Orakzai’s workshop helped him take his skills to the next level.

“The organizers taught us how to deal with people and respect them in photography, so that they willingly allowed us to take their pictures,” he said.

Another trainee Ahmed Hassan said he previously was unfamiliar with how to use the settings of a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera before the photo camps, but not anymore.  “Now I know how to take photographs to make my subjects look attractive,” he said. “I feel very motivated because everyone has been coming up to me and appreciating my photos.”

For Mohammad Arsalan Khan, the photo camps have not only imparted new skills, but he is also happy with the message that his photos have the potential to convey. “We can show the peaceful nature of Peshawar through our photographs, because it is a city which has history and a beautiful architecture,” he said.

A visitor to the Grand Exhibition taking a snap of a student’s photograph

A visitor to the Grand Exihibit takes a snap of a student’s photograph.

He is also looking forward to the future, as he hopes to conduct a similar session in his hometown of Swat valley. Apart from the participants, audience members also enjoyed the exhibition.

“The photographs are quite creative,” said Saqib Iftikhar, a local lawyer who attended the exhibit. “Some of the snaps also show old agricultural tools that I did not know were still being used, so clearly there is a lot to see here.”

One student and spectator Qaisar Azam Afridi praised the photographers’ positive and harmonious depictions of Peshawar. “These photos show the peaceful and the brotherly side of the people of Peshawar,” he said.

As for Saeedullah Orakzai, he is ecstatic with the response that he has received from his students and from the exhibition’s spectators, as well as offers from potential partners to continue the project.

“My students are so passionate that they are even willing to pay me and the other organizers to hold similar events in the future,” he said. “We have received offers from GIKI Institute Swabi and from Gomal University to conduct similar projects at their universities.”

If the efforts of Orakzai and other youngsters like him bear fruit, these exhibitions can go a long way of presenting  a more complete picture of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s diverse people and cultures—and the country.

Judges, Organizers and Participants of the Nat-Geo Photo Camps and Grand Exhibition

Judges, Organizers and Participants of the Nat-Geo Photo Camps and Grand Exhibition, June 2014.

To take a closer look at the students’ work, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Model-Nat-Geo-photo-camps-and-a-Grand-Exhibition/1423012524615863

 

International YES Reunion Develops Activism Skills of Young Alumni

By Hira Nafees Shah

U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson with YES alumni from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India.

U.S. Ambassador Richard Olson with YES alumni from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India.

When Airokhsh Faiz arrived in Islamabad June 26 with her fellow Afghani alumni, she didn’t know quite what to expect. But setting aside her busy university and community service commitments, she felt she could not pass up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the International YES Reunion in Pakistan.

“Reunions are very important especially now when Pakistan, Afghanistan and India have a very difficult political relationship,” Faiz said. “Building relationships today can have better outcomes for countries in the region in the future.”

“This reunion is a step in the right direction and more regional cooperation is needed,” added Kazi Tanjeed Nawaz, a Bangladeshi alumnus.

Stressing the importance of regional cooperation, peace-building and people-to-people contacts, the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network (PUAN) organized the International Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study Program (YES) Alumni Reunion June 26-28, 2014 in Islamabad. The YES program sends students between ages of 15 to 17 for one year of high school study in the United States.

U.S. Ambassador Olson addresses YES alumni, June 26, 2014.

U.S. Ambassador Olson addresses YES alumni, June 26, 2014.

More than 350 alumni from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India enthusiastically took part in the conference, which featured delegates like Faiz and Nawaz. The hashtag for the reunion #YAR14 topped the list of Twitter trends in Pakistan for several days.

“We admire you and your work, and we are grateful that you are willing to work hard to improve your communities throughout this country and the South Asian region,” said the chief guest U.S Ambassador Richard Olson, at the reunion’s opening ceremony.

Alumni from the four neighboring countries paid homage to this U.S exchange experience by sharing stories about how the YES program had changed their lives.

“My YES experience was a year of self-discovery and I was able to explore my own potential,” said Mohammad Umer Janjua, a recently returned Pakistani exchange participant. “I became open to more opinions and have become more willing to listen to people to arrive at a logical conclusion.”

“I learned the importance of giving back to the society through my YES exchange experience,” said Devaraj Nandini Vignesh, an Indian alum.

U.S Embassy’s Assistant Cultural Affairs Attaché Jennifer McAndrew shed light on the success stories of some YES alumni in Pakistan including that of Sher Bano in Peshawar who has led blogging workshops for local social media activists. “YES Alumni are the most vibrant and energetic in the country,” she said.

iEARN-Pakistan Executive Director Farah Kamal also paid homage to the community service work done by her students, while announcing the launch of a YES book about community service, titled “Reach Out.”

Pakistani Pop Singer Shehzad Roy serenading U.S Embassy’s Cultural Affairs Attaché Jennifer McAndrew and iEarn Pakistan Executive Director Farah Kamal

Pop Singer Shehzad Roy serenading U.S Embassy Cultural Affairs Attaché Jen McAndrew and iEarn Executive Director Farah Kamal.

During the three-day reunion, alumni participated in workshops on activism, entrepreneurship, leadership, and civil society development; enjoyed cultural and music performances; and brainstorm ideas for community service projects.

Famous Pakistani pop singer and humanitarian Shehzad Roy was the keynote speaker at a session on “Inspiring Today’s Youth to be Tomorrow’s Leaders” and detailed his journey on how he became a pioneer of education reform in the country.

“Until you try to break myths, you cannot move forward,” said Roy. “But I feel that Pakistan is changing and I see a bright future.”

Alumna Syeda Abeera Zainab was full of praise for the singer’s motivational words. “Shehzad Roy was amazing,” said Zainab. “I really like how he has used his celebrity to give back to the country.”

Max Becherer, a critically-acclaimed photographer presided over a jam-packed hall during a breakout session on “Social Change and Global Issues Photography.” He displayed photos from his coverage of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and stressed the importance of knowing one’s audience when taking snaps.

Meanwhile, noted journalist Fauzia Shaheen and Abrar Ul Hassan, founder of the 60 Second Film Festival explained how traditional and new media could be effectively used to highlight unknown stories about the country during two breakout workshops.

The Social Entrepreneurship Panel featuring (from left to right) Muniba Khurrum,Zeba Husain, Anusheh Navash, Humaira Bachal, Rakhshinda Parveen and Maimoona Sattar.

From right to left: Muniba Khurrum, Zeba Husain, Anusheh Navash, Humaira Bachal, Rakhshinda Parveen and Maimoona Sattar.

Many alumni pointed to a social entrepreneurship panel with six inspiring women leaders as their favorite session of the day. “The Social Entrepreneurship panel was the best session of the reunion,” said Rabiya Zahid Khan, a participant. “It really motivated me to do something valuable in life.”

The entrepreneurship panel included the following outstanding women: Humaira Bachal, founder of the Dream Schools project in Karachi, Muniba Khurram, a disabled artist and motivational speaker, Zeba Husain, the director of the Mashal Model School, Maimoona Saatar, CEO of Sattar Enterprises, Anusheh Ashraf, Community Engagement Manager for micro-finance organization Invest to Innovate (i2i), and Rakshinda Parveen, author and founding director of Creative Anger.

“If you have a positive intention and dream with a good heart, then your dreams will be fulfilled,” said Bachal, as she described the hardships that she had faced while setting up a girls school in her area and taking its enrollment from 10 to 350. Her project has recently been featured in a documentary film called “Dreamcatcher” by Oscar-winning director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

Alumni participating in an brainstorming energizer.

Alumni participating in an brainstorming energizer.

Community service work is an important component of the YES program, which was also a focus of the reunion.

“After coming back from YES, I have conducted a number of projects for underprivileged people,” said Mir Falak Sher, an alum from Quetta. “For example I conducted a project in Sanghar district in Sindh in which I donated backpacks, stationary and furniture to a school.”

Another alumnus also shared his story on how he is giving back to the society after doing similar work in the United States.

“I conducted a Tech Week in which I reached out to 200 poverty-stricken children including Access students in four cities in my region such as Peshawar, Abbottabad, Manshera and Nowshera,” said Shaiyan Sikander, an active member of PUAN’s KP/FATA chapter.

In order to take the community service work of the alumni to the next level, the reunion featured thought-provoking breakout sessions to give alumni the tools to put their ideas into action.

“In Community Engagement, don’t make promises that you cannot deliver,” said Bilal Khan, a prominent YES alumnus who recently represented Pakistan as a youth delegate to the United Nations. He led a workshop on how to mobilize your community around a cause.

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YES Alumni June 28, 2014 in Islamabad.

“I am thinking of doing a community service project about the lack of clean drinking water in Azad Kashmir,” said alumna Lubna Noreen after the workshop.

Humphrey alumnus Dr. Saqib Amjad offered words of wisdom for his workshop on fundraising, as he explained his motive for setting up the micro-finance organization Akhuwat, and the procedure for obtaining small loans.

President of Pakistan’s Global Entrepreneurship Week and IVLP alumnus Kashif Khan also lead a workshop on how to write a business plan for alums are are ready to translate their entrepreneurship ideas into reality.

The reunion also included energizer and team-building activities in which the participants networked with each other, brainstormed ideas for cross-border service projects, and shared their cultural heritage through song and dance. But some of them were already looking forward to the future.

“I found the USEFP panel session most informative because now I know how to apply for scholarships in the U.S,” said Mahrosh Shami.  The USEFP panel session included advisers from Education USA who spoke about different scholarship opportunities available to students in Pakistan and the procedure of getting into universities in the United States.

“The people reading applications at the universities are reading many at the same time so make yourself special and stand out,” advised Judith Ravin, U.S Embassy’s Deputy Cultural Affairs Officer during the discussion.

Khadija Mushtaq, principal of the Roots School System held a career counseling session at the reunion. She said young people should be passionate about the careers that they choose and pursue them patiently.

“Think about how you can contribute to society while applying to international universities,” she said.

‘Khumariyan’ giving a rocking performance on second day of International YES Alumni Reunion 2014, June 27, 2014.

‘Khumariyan’ giving a rocking performance on second day of International YES Alumni Reunion 2014, June 27, 2014.

A rocking performance by hyper-folk band from Peshawar Khumariyan closed the night on day two of the reunion. The alumni danced to the tunes of the traditional rabab and rhythm guitars and the halls repeatedly rang out with cheers of “once more.”

For the third and final day, the reunion culminated in a collaborative art project with local schoolchildren, which taught the alumni how to use art as a tool for community engagement.

YES alumni welcomed under-privileged kids from Mashal Model School with open arms for an innovative arts bazaar, energetically participating in face painting, origami, dance and art activities including collaborative murals and making Eid cards. In the spirit of Ramadan, YES alumni donated school bags to the children, as well as the resulting murals.

As participants from all over Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India parted at the closure of the event, they said the friendships they had developed and the stereotypes that had been challenged were the best takeaways from the reunion.

“I don’t have as many stereotypes about Pakistan as before and I felt very welcome here,” said Devaraj Nandini Vignesh, the Indian alum. “Platforms like this reunion highlight the importance of inter-dependence and stress that the only way we can live is by living together.”

For more photos from the YES Alumni Reunion 2014, check out this Flickr link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/109908453@N05/sets/72157645028634329/.

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Kids from the Mashal Model School wishing “Ramadan Mubarak” along with YES Alumni at the last day of the reunion.