Lahore Reunion celebrates Alumni Engagement in Punjab

Participants of PUAN Lahore Alumni Reunion

Participants of PUAN Lahore Alumni Reunion

More than one hundred and fifty Lahori alumni gathered for the annual reunion of their chapter to celebrate the success of the alumni-led programs in the past year.

In addition to performances by alumni, the event also included a “Peecha Kucha” presentation of slides featuring the variety of community service projects completed by alumni during the year.

Awards were also distributed to recognize how these programs have targeted mission goals of the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network and have made a difference for people hailing from underserved communities.

Management Officer Catherine McSherry presented “Emerging Leaders” awards to young exchange program participants who worked tirelessly in the past two years to support alumni engagement in Punjab. They bravely dealt with the challenge of harassment and continued the journey of assisting alumni network to conduct successful programs with transgender communities, disabled persons and children of sex workers among others.

Public Affairs Officer Rachael Chen connected with the audience via Skype, and thanked the alumni for their valuable contributions to Mission Pakistan.

To check out more photographs from the event, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.647867871997359&type=1

 

 

KP/FATA Chapter Reunion Pays Homage to Community Service Work Of Alumni

By Hira Nafees Shah

Group Photograph at PUAN KP/FATA Third Annual Reunion

Group Photograph at PUAN KP/FATA Third Annual Reunion

Keeping its fine tradition alive, the KP/FATA chapter of the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network held its third annual reunion in Peshawar on Thursday, October 23rd, 2014.

More than one hundred and fifty alumni enthusiastically took part in the polished event and paid homage to the resilient spirit of the people of the province.

“We are working in a hostile and risky environment, but still alumni members actively participate in our events.” said Faisal Shehzad, PUAN KP/FATA President, while addressing the audience at the outset of the gathering.

Shehzad’s words certainly rang true at the reunion as participants who went to study to the U.S on Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), Global UGrad, Study of U.S. Institute for Student Leaders (SUSI), Fulbright and International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), among others, all showed up to discuss their exchange experiences.

“I really like the reunion because it makes you feel as if you are a part of this special community, a part of this family,” said Bela Khan, a UGrad alumna.  “A lot of love and affection was showered on us at this event which has increased our feeling of belonging to the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network.”

This feeling of bonding was also mentioned by the chief guest U.S Consulate Peshawar Public Affairs Officer Raymond Stephens at the occasion.

“When you return to Pakistan from your exchange experience, you are an alumnus and part of our family,” said Stephens. “The alumni come back to Pakistan as citizens of the world; they have more confidence and understand Americans better.”

Chief Guest U.S Consulate Peshawar Public Affairs Officer Raymond Stephens doing the Cha Cha Slide with YES Alumni

Chief Guest U.S Consulate Peshawar Public Affairs Officer Raymond Stephens doing the Cha Cha Slide with YES Alumni

Showcasing Chapter Activities

The reunion featured video screenings of the work done by Global UGrad alumnus Farmanullah Mohmand and Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) alumnus Wasim Khan to motivate the audience to give back to their communities after returning to Pakistan.

An impressive lineup of chapter activities conducted with the supervision of the KP/FATA Alumni Coordinator Usman Saddique also spoke volumes of the amount of community engagement carried out by the chapter over the course of the previous year. Some of these activities included a Ration Drive during Ramadan, alumni visiting victims of the 2013 Peshawar church blast and Tech Week events that were held in four different cities of the province.

In addition to youth, senior exchange participants also attended the function, and brought a great deal of flair and sagacity to the proceedings.

“I was in contact with different people from the SUSI exchange program,” said Hadia Akbar, a UGrad alumna. “But here at the reunion, I also met people from more professional programs and this reunion has helped break barriers between students and professionals.”

“It is good to see the senior and professional alumni at the KP/FATA reunion because it has a trickledown effect,” said Arsalan Majid, a UGrad alumnus. “For example many YES alumni are asking me questions about how they can get into the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST).”

KP/FATA Chapter Highest Recipient of Alumni Small Grants

Panel discussion on Alumni Small Grants

Panel discussion on Alumni Small Grants

A panel discussion at the gathering also revolved around the Alumni Small Grants administered by the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network’s office based at the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan.

“The KP/FATA chapter has the distinction of being the highest recipient of Alumni Small Grants,” said PUAN Alumni Outreach Officer Asim Hamza Gilani, while giving a breakdown about what makes a successful application.

The panel included four successful recipients of the small grants from the local chapter like Nabila Afridi (Crafts Bazaar), Ahmed Qazi (Model Provincial Assembly), Saeedullah Orakzai (Nat Geo Photo Camps Exhibition), and Mutawakkil Abbasi (Empowering Widows project).

The audience greatly benefited from videos that were aired about each respective project by the U.S Consulate Peshawar, so that they became familiar with the work of the grantees as they talked about it.

“I found the session on Alumni Small Grants quite useful especially the discussion related to making the budget in the application,” said Ikram Akbar, a UGrad alumnus, after the session.

Awards were also given to alumni for meritorious services that they had rendered for the chapter during the previous year. Sana Ejaz, a Pakistani recipient of the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) for the year 2014 was also among the prize winners.

AEIF Winner Sana Ejaz receiving an award from Deputy PAO Kedenard Raymond

AEIF Winner Sana Ejaz receiving an award from Deputy PAO Kedenard Raymond

Certificates were also given out to mentors and mentees who took part in the annual Mentorship Program. A hilarious skit and a YES alumni dance on Cha Cha Slide with the chief guest Stephens was the highlight of the reunion, and brought the function to its successful end.

“The U.S Consulate Peshawar is doing a great job especially the Alumni Coordinator who tries to engage every alum and keeps coming up with new activities,” said Humaima Ashfaq, an IVLP alumna.

“The reunion was an awesome event,” said Mohammad Asfandyar, a YES Alumnus. “It was very well organized and the sessions were very well executed.”

To see more photographs from the reunion, check out this link:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pakusalumni/sets/72157648610614829/

For more information, check:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/PUAN-Kp-Fata-Annual-Reunion-2014/1493430767571787

CCIP Alumnus Takes Journalism to New Heights in Gilgit Baltistan

By Hira Nafees Shah

Participants of the Youth Eye-Citizen Journalist Project with CCIP Alumnus Amin Muhammad

Participants of the Youth Eye-Citizen Journalist Project with CCIP Alumnus Amin Muhammad

College student Mohammad Kashif woke up at seven o’clock each morning during his summer vacation. Being from the Hyderabad area of Hunza, he spent over one-and-a-half hours traveling to Karimabad each day.

Kashif embraced the long ride and gladly gave up extra sleep to pursue his dream of becoming a journalist.

“I want to pursue journalism as a profession, that’s why I travel everyday from Hyderabad,” he said. “It has been an awesome experience which has exceeded my expectations.”

Kashif and a group of 44 other participants were selected out of scores of applicants to take part in a unique training with the Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) program “Youth Eye-Citizen Journalist.”  The two-week course promised to provide the students with all the ropes of video story-telling and included many active female participants.

Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) Alumnus Amin Muhammad

Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) Alumnus Amin Muhammad

Amin Muhammad, a Community College Initiative Program alumnus, launched the pilot project in November 2013, in three towns of central Hunza valley — Baltit, Altit, and Hyderabad. Baltit Rural Support Organization, Hyderabad Local Support Organization and Altit Local Support Organization stepped in to provide community ownership for the endeavor.

“I felt that trained human resource in the media sector is very limited in Gilgit Baltistan,” said Muhammad.  “I also wanted to highlight tourism, cultural diversity and the different traditions that we have in this region, so that Pakistan’s image can be changed in a positive way.”

The alumnus added that he was motivated by his exchange program in Madison, Wisconsin, where he worked with community access television stations.  Youth Eye is intended to pass his learning to the community that he grew up in.  He also expressed his opinion that the issues of Gilgit Baltistan region have long been ignored by traditional media outlets in Pakistan.

The U.S. Department of State administers the AEIF grant which funds proposals submitted by U.S sponsored exchange alumni in ten key areas including Freedom of Expression.

“The AEIF is a global platform and projects are selected on open competition,” said Muhammad. “$25,000 is also a handsome amount to create positive impact within the community.”

Students Learn Video Story-Telling:

Students shooting interview with a female carpenter

Students shooting interview with a female carpenter

In the backdrop of snow covered mountains and open skies, a group of youngsters can be seen carefully managing the camera while an energetic female student balances a boom pole near their subject. The subject is a female carpenter who sits shyly in front of the citizen journalists, ready to be interviewed on tape. A number of other female carpenters are sawing wood in the background.

As the director shouts roll, the pupils begin their interview with supervision from the organizers of the project.

Numerous Organizers and trainers most of them U.S State Department alumni– including Majid Ali Khan, Hina Farman, Atif Ahmed Qureshi, Manzoor Alam, Samiullah Qara Baig, Najeebullah, Naveedullah Baig, Faiza Iqtidar, Sahar Naqvi and Alicia Dean all contributed to the event’s success.

“The training has been a very good experience,” said Sultana Ahsan, a participant. “My confidence in collecting visuals has dramatically increased and I have learned a lot through practical work.”

Students learning video editing from Trainer Majid Ali Khan

Students learning video editing from Trainer Majid Ali Khan

The course outline of the project included sessions on Field Reporting and Event Coverage, Script Writing, News casting/Anchoring, Production Techniques, Video Editing and Graphics, Documentary Storytelling and the Effective Use of Social Media.

The sessions took place from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday to Saturday in the month of May, and included students ranging from 18 to over 50 years of age.

Maula Maudad works as a Tour Guide at the scenic Baltit Fort, which was built 800 years ago on a hill with a breathtaking view of Hunza Valley.  He joined the project because he wanted to relate the history of the fort in a much more compelling way to its visitors and thought that storytelling classes were the best bet in helping him to achieve his objective.

“I am interested in storytelling and joined the program to gain clarity,” he said. “The project taught me how to capture shots and edit properly.”

“I enjoyed anchoring the most during the project and I received a platform to do it in a talk show that we organized,” said Nida Jafaq, another participant.

Lectures, presentations; film screenings, group work, field assignment and studio work were all part of the training, which helped introduce the students to the different forms of video shooting and production.

“I can tell if the person handling the camera is eligible to use it or not when I watch dramas, and now see them just to understand the various shots,” said Hina Alam.

March towards Community Television:

Students shooting a mock talk show on camera

Students shooting a mock talk show on camera

Some participants also highlighted a void in the local community that Youth Eye has the potential to fill.

Herika Bano was displaced with her family when the Attabad incident took place in Hunza. The lake was formed due to a landslide in the Attabad village which killed a number of people and blocked the flow of the Hunza River.

“If I had been trained before as a journalist, I could have informed people when the Attabad incident took place, and we might not have ended up as internally displaced people,” she lamented.

But Bano is also hopeful for the future.

“When I heard that such a project was being launched in Hunza, I left my papers and came here,” she said. “We can show the world that there is no war here and we are living together peacefully in Hunza.”

The closing ceremony of the venture took place at the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network’s Islamabad chapter reunion. Amin Muhammad and his participants took an arduous 19 hour road trip to reach the capital, but it proved to be worth it.

Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Williams complimented the alumnus for the successful screening of his project during the event.  The students were also overjoyed at the opportunity to showcase their work in Islamabad.

“It felt very good to see people watching our citizen journalism videos,” said Masooma Masum, a participant. “Some of them also came to us and asked us how we had made the videos.”

“No project of this kind had ever taken place in Hunza before,” said Abdul Rauf. “This venture has helped to bring potential journalists forward and now people know that citizens of Hunza also have talent.”

Members of Youth Eye Citizen Journalist led by CCIP Alumnus Amin Muhammad with Minister Counsel for Public Affairs Thomas Leary at Islamabad Chapter Reunion

Members of Youth Eye Citizen Journalist led by CCIP Alumnus Amin Muhammad with Minister Counsel for Public Affairs Thomas Leary at Islamabad Chapter Reunion

The Islamabad trip also included a visit to the local park for the students, where the recording of a live PTV show was going on, so that they experienced how a professional shoot takes place.

As for Muhammad Amin, he feels that this is not the end of Youth Eye Citizen Journalist project, but only the beginning as the studio that he had set up is still being used by his pupils to produce more content.

He also happily recounts that a number of the participants have gone on to become contributing reporters for local news outlets like Pamir Times and GB TV, so that they are getting hands on training in how journalism is practiced in the real world.

For the next step, Muhammad is striving to turn his initiative into a Community TV, so that his pilot can be replicated in all seven districts of Gilgit Baltistan. But for now, he feels proud and grateful at having being able to successfully give back to his community.

“Parents in our area don’t have resources to send their children to do courses but my students received this training at their doorsteps,” Muhammad said. “My pupils told me that before they could only think about doing such work, but now that they have received this training, they are very thankful.”

To find out more about Youth Eye Citizen Journalist project, check out this link:

https://www.facebook.com/YouthEyeHunza

CCIP Alumnus Empowers Women of Sukkur

By Hira Nafees Shah

Emerge Pakistan 5

Project Advisers and Participants of Emerge Pakistan

On a hot and humid afternoon in July, about 30 female activists  set up a medical camp with a volunteer doctor in a local high school.  The women went door-to-door encouraging others to visit the camp, which was free of cost.

Though medical camps like this are relatively common in Pakistani urban centers such as Islamabad and Lahore, for these women from Sukkur it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The medical camp was made possible by a team from Emerge Pakistan – a project established by Ali Channa, a Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) alumnus through an Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) grant from the U.S. Department of State to educate young women about community participation, volunteerism, and the democratic process.  AEIF grants sponsor projects in ten key areas, including women’s empowerment. U.S sponsored exchange alumni like Channa are given up to $25,000 to run their projects.

Building a Democratic Student Organization

“When I went on my exchange program and saw the community involvement of women, it inspired me,” said Channa. “If it’s possible in America then why not here.” Channa added that he also “wanted to reduce the gap between parliamentarians and the common man so that they can also become leaders.”

CCIP Alumnus Ali Channa speaking at the Pakistan U.S. Alumni Network Islamabad Chapter Reunion

CCIP Alumnus Ali Channa speaking at the Pakistan U.S. Alumni Network Islamabad Chapter Reunion

Students from four government colleges in Sindh took part in the training. The group was divided into four sections, each with their own female mentor.  Ali’s yearlong project began with curriculum development, translation of course materials into Sindhi, and selection of government colleges. Potential participants were selected through a rigorous screening process.  Afterwards, a student governing board was established at each college to select its president and general secretary. Each chapter also chose a speaker, deputy speaker, parliament, and opposition leader to teach the students about democratic norms.

Emerge Pakistan held a total of 12 conferences, covering issues including public speaking, parliamentary procedure, media and messaging, and fund raising.

 Democracy Training Opens Doors

Managing a student organization and running a student parliament helped the participants discover skills and talents they never knew they had.  Many participants praised the Public Speaking session.

“I did not think that I could speak in front of so many people,” said Bakhtawar Baloch, a participant. “But after attending the conference, my confidence has developed and my knowledge has increased.”

She also declared happily that going forward the attendees of the project have proposed to set up a women wing in a local girls high school in Sukkur, so that they can work on issues related to females in the district.

Participants of Emerge Pakistan taking oath of office of Young Women Leaders Parliament

Participants of Emerge Pakistan taking oath of office of Young Women Leaders Parliament

Keenjhar Soomro, one of the advisers, said that at the outset of the project, the thinking and demeanor of the girls demonstrated the lack of opportunities that they had for personal development, but this changed as the trainings continued.

“I noticed a change in my students that as the sessions progressed, they became more confident,” she said.

Soomro also gave the example of one of her trainees who she had striven to bring out of her shell.  Initially she was very quiet, but by the end of Emerge Pakistan she was able to deliver a speech in front of an audience, which the adviser hails as a great achievement.

For Sehar Bilal, Skype conversations with guests from America were the most fruitful learning experiences at the conferences. She also applauded Channa’s choice of educational institutes for the program.

“I really appreciate Ali for not going to the best colleges in Sukkur, and instead selecting public colleges which have never experienced such an opportunity before,” said Bilal.

Another student not only thanked the organizers for their efforts in holding Emerge Pakistan, but also suggested a way forward.

Participants from Emerge Pakistan listening to a Skype conversation with Newton Gaskill, a Diplomat at U.S Consulate General Karachi

Participants from Emerge Pakistan listening to a Skype conversation with Newton Gaskill, a Diplomat at U.S Consulate General Karachi

“I want that a similar program should also be held in Larkana and Jacobabad on the lines of the trainings that we received in Sukkur, so that girls in these areas can also be educated,” said Momal Mendhri.

She said that the role playing activities associated with many of the sessions really helped to drive the messages of the program home for her.

Moving Forward

Ali Channa and his team showcased their work at the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network’s Islamabad chapter reunion at the end of their project. The participants were not only excited to visit the capital, but met with the Deputy Chief of Mission Thomas Williams, were interviewed by media, and received great feedback from participants in the function. “I enjoyed the conference on culture during the project and here at the reunion, we learned how to adjust with people from different cultures,” said Rabia Mirani.

CCIP alum Ali Channa is also ecstatic about the difference he sees in the lives of his students.

“When we started, in the first few conferences, many of the girls could not talk,” said Channa. “But in the last few conferences, I could hardly get a word in!”

He is also thankful to the U.S. Department of State for the AEIF funding that enabled him to realize his goal.

Emerge Pakistan team with U.S Assistant Cultural Affairs Attaché James Cerven and CCIP Alumnus Ali Channa

Emerge Pakistan team with U.S Assistant Cultural Affairs Attaché James Cerven and CCIP Alumnus Ali Channa

“The AEIF funding was very beneficial because it helped me to put my ideas into action,” he said. “We taught 30 girls, brought social change to the area, promoted volunteerism and involved colleges in the legislative process all through this project.”

As for Emerge Pakistan, Channa believes this is not the end of his initiative, but that it would continue to grow and his participants would inspire other females, which might end up bringing a democratic revolution in Sukkur.

For more on Emerge Pakistan, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/EmergePakistan

Islamabad Chapter Reunion Hails Distinguished Alumni

By Hira Nafees Shah

Participants of PUAN Islamabad Chapter Reunion carrying Pakistani and American Flags

Participants of PUAN Islamabad Chapter Reunion carrying Pakistani and American Flags

For the fourth year running, the annual Islamabad-Rawalpindi Reunion was a marquee event for the Pakistan-US Alumni Network in the capital.  This year, nearly 700 alumni of U.S. exchange programs braved road closures and heavy traffic to celebrate the achievements of their colleagues.

Participants came from a wide diversity of programs, including Youth Exchange and Study (YES), Community College Initiative (CCI), Fulbright, Humphrey, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), Legislative Fellows, English Access, Global U-Grad, Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI), International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), and Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute (PELI).  Alumni were honored for several major PUAN initiatives, including this year’s Music Mela Festival and Social Media Summit, as well as for community service programs, mentoring, and alumni small grant programs.

The reunion brought together alumni from all walks of life — civil servants, working professionals, students, and journalists.  “It’s great to be here at the reunion and meet old friends and see new faces,” said Waqas Rafique, a journalist exchange program alumnus. “It’s nice to see alumni involved in strengthening the beautiful Pakistan-U.S. ties.”

Distinguished Alumni and Young Emerging Leaders with DCM Thomas Williams

Distinguished Alumni and Young Emerging Leaders with DCM Thomas Williams

One distinguished award winner, Professor Talat Khurshid, helped set up the constitution of the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network and twice conducted elections under it. He highlighted the importance of holding reunions like the one held in Islamabad.

“Reunions bring people together, help in generating new ideas and put new life in the alumni chapters,” he said.

The Reunion Welcomes Guests from Afar

Among those honored were two Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) recipients for their programs “Emerge Pakistan” and “Youth Eye – Citizen Journalist.”  Participants in those programs — 40 young women from Sukkur-Sind and 40 young citizen journalists from Gilgit-Baltistan — attended the program and showcased their skills in civil society development and journalism.

Despite intense September heat, Rabia Mirani, a 23-year-old MBA student, made her way to Islamabad from Sukkur via train to raise awareness of the “Emerge Pakistan” project, which aims to educate the women of Sindh about their democratic rights.

Emerge Pakistan team with Project Head Ali Channa and U.S Assistant Cultural Attaché James Cerven

Emerge Pakistan team with Project Head Ali Channa and U.S Assistant Cultural Attaché James Cerven

“We had a very good experience in Islamabad,” said Mirani. “In Emerge Pakistan, we had a conference on culture and here at the event, we learned how to adjust with different cultures.”

A Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) Alumnus, Amin Muhammad, was the brains behind Youth Eye Citizen Journalist” — another program funded through AEIF.  About 40 participants from the Hunza Valley learned the ropes of local video journalism through this year-long program.

Muhammad and his team showcased their work during the Islamabad chapter reunion. “It feels very good to see people at the reunion admiring our citizen journalist videos,” said Masooma Masoom, a Youth Eye member. “People came to us and even asked us how we had made our videos.”

“No initiative of the sort had taken place in Hunza before,” said Abdul Rauf, a participant. “But now the Youth Eye Citizen Journalist project has brought people forward and the attendees of the reunion also saw that Hunza has talent.”

Members of Youth Eye Citizen Journalist, led by CCIP alumnus Amin Muhammad, with Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Thomas M. Leary

Members of Youth Eye Citizen Journalist, led by CCIP alumnus Amin Muhammad, with Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Thomas M. Leary

Alumni Reflect on the Value of Community Service

The event was also a chance for alumni to reflect on the value of U.S. Exchange programs and community service.  Afreina Noor, a founding member of PUAN who went to the U.S. on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and a Fulbright scholarship, commented on the scope and outreach of the alumni network.

“The Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network provides access to great human capital throughout the country,” she said. “As for the reunion, it makes me realize that I am part of a much larger family, enables me to put faces to numbers and meet new and old people.”

Reunion organizers also remarked on the talent of the young alumni who received awards.

“I think the Emerging Leaders award was encouraging for youth and was given to the right alumni,” said Asma Mohsin, a Legislative Fellowship Program alumnus. “The award will also encourage more alumni towards innovation.”

After all of the awards and speeches, the alumni enjoyed a musical performance by the participants from Hunza, which ended in an impromptu dance session.  Male and female attendees of the event, joined by the U.S. Assistant Cultural Affairs Attaché James Cerven, broke out in dances that represented both Sindh and Hunza. Together they paid homage to the power of people-to-people contacts in bringing Pakistan and America together.

To take a look at the photographs from the reunion, check out this Flickr link:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pakusalumni/sets/72157647596523587/

First Person: Learning, Fun and Exposure SUSI 2014

By Maham Zahid, Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) Alumna

Maham Zahid, SUSI Alumna 2014 receiving certificate on completion of exchange program from Macon E. Barrow, ‎Academic Exchange Specialist at State Department

Maham Zahid, SUSI Alumna 2014 receiving certificate on completion of exchange program from Macon E. Barrow, ‎Academic Exchange Specialist at State Department

I am a strong believer that “you can go as far as you dream, think and imagine.” My dreams came true when I was selected as a principal candidate for SUSI 2014. The first four weeks of the 6-week program consisted of classes hosted at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Lectures were arranged on important topics like leadership, American history, politics and problems in Pakistan.

The last two weeks were saved for the best part of the program — a study tour across the eastern United States. From Amherst we traveled to Boston, Charlottesville, New York and finally Washington D.C. We visited Harvard University, Voice of America, the World Trade Center site, Wall Street, and the 9/11 memorial among other places. We also had the opportunity to share a home-style dinner with American families, which provided us a chance to get to know them in a relaxed and comfortable setting.

2014 SUSI exchange participants at Wall Street

2014 SUSI exchange participants at Wall Street

The Pakistani students also took time out to participate in a community service which provided us with a sense of internal peace and satisfaction. We held a food campaign for the Western Massachusetts Food Bank at Wal-Mart store in Hadley. It was a tough job to motivate the shoppers to make donations, but the response was good.

A young lady asked us for a list of items that we needed and then she went and purchased all of them at the store, besides donating 15 dollars. Her words, “We should remember the misfortune of others,” were truly inspiring. We were very pleased when the Food Bank organizers told us that our donation worth more than 200 dollars; exceeded any that they had received from previous SUSI batches and from American students.

I really enjoyed the U.S. University environment during classes, because it was very relaxed and interactive. Talking to American students allowed us to have a broader perspective about issues.

At the same time, expressing our opinions in front of our American counterparts also had its perks. I was able to remove their misconception that females in Peshawar don’t step out of their houses, as I hail from the same city. I also felt very good in explaining that the security situation in Pakistan was not that precarious, that tourists could not even visit the northern areas.

Washington D.C turned out to be a great city where we gave presentations at the State Department and received our certificates. It was a wonderful experience, and we celebrated our achievements, with an elaborate dinner of Asian cuisine later.

I admired a number of things about life in the U.S. –foremost being the level of hygiene and cleanliness that they maintained. There were separate bins for trash and recycling– even paper in some locations!

I observed that Americans mostly stay busy in their own work and activities and generally don’t interfere in each other’s lives. They also like to walk and eat a lot, and even professors use the same public transport as their students. The teachers also interacted with us in their spare time and we held many very fruitful discussions on different topics.

Maham Zahid with Dr Micheal Hannahan the Director Civic Initiative

Maham Zahid with Dr Micheal Hannahan the Director Civic Initiative

Another impressive aspect of life in the U.S. is the punctuality that people observe. I also found that motorists respect pedestrians and that drivers usually care about abiding by traffic signals. Moreover, bicycling is a healthy activity which has been adopted by people belonging to all age groups. Amherst looked absolutely amazing in the evening, when even women and elderly could be seen peddling away.

I am really thankful to SUSI for making my dreams possible. It won’t be an exaggeration for me to say that some of the experiences that I had in the U.S. may change the course of my life. My horizons have broadened, and I am definitely more open about certain things than I used to be in the past. America is all about accepting differences, so this is definitely something that I am taking home with me.

I would also like to especially thank the State Department for providing us an opportunity to closely study American culture by engaging us in different educational and cultural activities.

Boy Scout Camp Instills Spirit of Community Service in Students of Lakki Marwat

By Hira Nafees Shah

Participants were all smiles during Asif Salam’s Boy Scouts Camp

Participants were all smiles during Asif Salam’s Boy Scouts Camp

When Asif Salam went on his Global UGrad exchange experience, he encountered a novel idea for the first time —community service. Organized volunteer opportunities in Salam’s home district of Lakki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunhkwa, were too far and few between to enable him to truly make a difference.

During his time in the U.S, the alumnus volunteered at a Samaritan Center, an Old People’s Home and also in a cleaning drive launched at the local parks. These activities helped polish his organizational skills and made him realize the importance of giving back to the society.

A Boy Scout Camp Takes Root

When Salam returned to Pakistan, he began his journey to put his new skills to use. After conducting a couple of small projects, he decided to take a major leap forward by running a Boy Scout Camp for local students.

“I decided to do a project on school-going children because I felt that there was not enough focus on informal education in their curriculum,” he said. “Ultimately the goal that I hoped to achieve through my efforts was teaching the participants about community service.”

More than one hundred students from nine schools across the district enthusiastically took part in the camp which was held in late April. To enhance security, the project was set up on the ground of a local school. The students, accompanied by their teachers or scout leaders, learned a variety of essential skills, including setting up tents and building fires.  The camp’s classes also raised student awareness of how to be active citizens, the hazards of drug abuse, human rights, environmental issues, first aid, and emergency preparedness.

The ground-breaking Boy Scout camp in Lakki Marwat was funded by the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network. 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.

UGrad Alumnus Asif Salam

UGrad Alumnus Asif Salam

“An activity on such a large scale was not possible without the Alumni Small Grant in such a backward area as Lakki Marwat,” said Salam.

Students Learn to Help Each Other and Their Communities

The reaction from the student boy scouts was overwhelmingly positive. Tauseeq Ahmed, a tenth grade student, was one of the participants of the session. He says that he attended the camp because he likes philanthropy and wanted to learn how to help people.

“The best moment from the camp was the tree plantation drive,” he said. “I ended up planting some trees at home and also took some plants with me to school, and other students were also happy to see them.”

Ahmed also said he enjoyed learning about the importance of hygiene and how to keep his surroundings clean, so that he applied the technique in his own educational institute.

“A group of volunteers and I created some makeshift garbage cans in order to raise the level of sanitation in our school,” he said.

Dr. Waheed Alam, who works in the emergency ward of the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, conducted the first aid session.

He said he had a good experience answering the questions from the participants; some of which related to finding out how to stop bleeding, how to deal with an emergency, and the proper use of pain-killers.

Dr. Waheed Alam conducting the First Aid Training Session

Dr. Waheed Alam conducting the First Aid Training Session

“I was very happy with the response and felt very good answering some basic questions of the students,” said Alam.

Meanwhile, participants like Javed Iqbal also praised the first aid session. Iqbal found the discussion on setting up emergency shelters to be quite useful as well.

“The information on forming emergency shelters was beneficial, as internally displaced people are now shifting to Lakki Marwat and we have to take care of them,” he said.

The tenth grader said that it was the first time that such a camp was held in the area and thanked the organizers for their efforts.

A teacher who performed the duties of a Scouts leader also seconded Iqbal’s opinion.

“Lakki Marwat is a very backward area so all the sessions were very productive for the participants,” said Shafiullah Shah.  “I especially liked the talk on drug abuse, since people start using drugs from a very young age in this area.”

Boy Scouts learning how to set up Emergency Shelters through sand bags

Boy Scouts learning how to set up Emergency Shelters through sand bags

He also said the project helped instill the concept of community service in the teenagers, something which was lacking compared to the students from other parts of Khyber Pakhtunhwa such as Kohat, Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan.

Asif Salam is extremely happy with the response that he has received from the teachers like Shah.

“The teachers told me that they learned a lot due to the packed schedule of the boy scouts camp,” he said. “They also appreciated the ideas that I gave their pupils on how to serve their communities.”

The project is a source of pride for Salam, who has noticed the respect that he enjoys among the students. He is overjoyed at the possibility that they will someday transfer the information that they have gained on to their classmates, leading to a collective change in mindsets in the youngsters of Lakki Marwat.

As for the next step, Salam plans to visit all the schools that participated in the project to ensure that they are properly using the first aid boxes that they received during the camp. He also hopes to apply for another grant to conduct a similar activity in Abbottabad.

A Boy Scout helping to put up a tent during the camp

A Boy Scout helping to put up a tent during the camp

But for now, the UGrader is satisfied by what he has achieved as he believes that his initiative introduced a couple of new concepts in Lakki Marwat.

“Our first aid session was unique as the students practically learned how to apply bandages,” he said. “Similarly we had witnessed many houses being destroyed during the earthquake and the information provided in the emergency shelter session, will be advantageous in the case of a future calamity.”

To take a look at more photographs from the Boy Scouts Camp project, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/asif.salam.923/media_set?set=a.10202090947221662.1073741828.1426883013&type=1

https://www.facebook.com/asif.salam.923/media_set?set=a.10202752715765462.1073741831.1426883013&type=1&l=d4dd9365c0