Project SMILE 2015: Awareness Seminar on Women Health and Child Education

UGrad Alumnus Sarwan Kumar with students of Government Boys Primary School Parha Colony Mithi, after conducting an activity with them during the seminar

UGrad Alumnus Sarwan Kumar with students of Government Boys Primary School Parha Colony Mithi, after conducting an activity with them during the seminar

“Education is the only tool that can bring about a change and exchange programs boost the confidence of the students. I am proud that Sarwan Kumar who is from Tharparkar was selected for the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program and got an opportunity to study in the United States. He is a role model for us.”

These were the words of Aijaz Ali Babar, District Education Officer (DEO) Tharparkar while addressing an awareness seminar, “Women Health and Child Education” held at Government Boys Primary School Parha Colony Mithi, on 11th March 2015.

The seminar was organized by Global UGrad Alumnus Sarwan Kumar, facilitated by Skill Enhancing and Research Home of Children (SEARCH) organization and sponsored by the State Department. During the session, Babar also stressed that health and hygiene is the primary right of every individual.

UGrad Alumnus Sarwan Kumar conducting an activity with students of Government Boys Primary School Parha Colony Mithi, in which they are writing down the problems faced by the residents of Tharparkar

UGrad Alumnus Sarwan Kumar conducting an activity with students of Government Boys Primary School Parha Colony Mithi, in which they are writing down the problems faced by the residents of Tharparkar

Meanwhile, Executive Director of SEARCH organization Partab Shivani said that Thar has been suffering from drought for the last three years which has led to the death of thousands of children. He also asserted that without education or health it will be difficult to mitigate this problem.

Shivani also said that such awareness sessions are necessary in remote and under-privileged areas like Thar and also appreciated the efforts of the organizers.

Doctor Harchand Rai from Mithi’s Civil Hospital said about 90 percent of the population lives in the countryside out of an estimated 1.5 million inhabitants of Tharparkar. As a result of this, women don’t have access to proper health care centers and suffer heavily because of cultural restrictions imposed on them.

Rai also talked about abdominal diseases which have been spreading among the residents due to the polluted water that is available in the area.

Meanwhile, Express News Correspondent Sajid Bajeer stressed that there was a need to spread awareness among the masses and the seminar was a step in the right direction and should be replicated in the villages.

(From Left to Right) Sajid Bajeer (Express News Journalist), Partab Shivani (SEARCH Organization CEO), Aijaz Ali Babar (District Education Officer DEO Tharparkar), Sarwan Kumar (UGrad Alumnus) and father of one of the participating students after the seminar.

(From Left to Right) Sajid Bajeer (Express News Journalist), Partab Shivani (SEARCH Organization CEO), Aijaz Ali Babar (District Education Officer DEO Tharparkar), Sarwan Kumar (UGrad Alumnus) and father of one of the participating students after the seminar.

Lastly, UGrad Alumnus Sarwan Kumar also spoke on the occasion. He talked about his exchange experience and advised the students of the area to concentrate on their studies. He also thanked the guest speakers, SEARCH organization, school staff and the US State Department for helping him in arranging the seminar.

Karachi Alumna Develops Next Generation of Performers

By Hira Nafees Shah

Students at a government school in Liaquatabad, Karachi participated in theater workshops conducted by Seema Zahid, Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute (PELI) alumna.

Students at a government school in Liaquatabad, Karachi participated in theater workshops conducted by Seema Zahid, Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute (PELI) alumna.

It was a hot day in February in Karachi, but the playground of the public high school in Liaquatabad was packed with female students, despite the fact that the exams had recently concluded. Giggles broke out from time to time as two audacious students made their way to the stage and performed a skit in front of the audience.  One of them impersonated a maid and the other portrayed the maid’s employer.

The catalyst behind the project was Seema Zahid, an alumna of the Pakistani Educational Leadership Institute (PELI).

“I decided to pursue this project because I saw that government schools do not have drama competitions and there is a lack of emphasis on the arts in the curriculum,” she said. “I want the arts to enliven the educational environment for students and keep them in school.”

Students role-playing a situation in front of a live audience at the government school in Liaquatabad

Students role-playing a situation in front of a live audience at the government school in Liaquatabad

The organizers held five workshops in four different government schools in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Nazimabad, Jamshaid Town and Liaquatabad. The total reach for the program was 1,800 students.

Workshops a Breath of Fresh Air:

“The show today was very nice, we enjoyed it. The theater team helped us to perform well,” said Bisma Abdur Waheed, a seventh-grade student who attended the performance at the school in Liaquatabad.

The activities were interactive to bolster the students’ confidence, including improvising in front of a live audience, positioning oneself on stage, body movements, and carrying out vocal exercises.

On by one, the pupils from across grades lined up and came forward to take part in the acts, as the host called out their names. One of these situations, stressed the importance of education especially for girls in rural areas.

“I was a village woman in the act. I learned that spacing between actors on stage can affect the audience’s experience,” gushed Fabiha Abdul Aziz, a student.

The participants also highlighted the significance of holding such extracurricular events in government schools in Sindh.

“These activities should take place so that students feel motivated,” said Umm-e-Shaista, a tenth grade student. “The government students also have energy and skills to put to use in this positive way.”

The teachers also stressed that public school students often come from impoverished backgrounds and need extracurricular activities even more to provide creative outlets for self-expression.

Students watching the acts during the theatre workshop at the government school in Liaquatabad

Students watching the acts during the theatre workshop at the government school in Liaquatabad

“When the students take part in these extracurricular activities, they also excel in the classroom,” said Rubina Rafiq, a high school teacher in Liaquatabad.

Benefit of Arts Integration in Studies:

As for Seema Zahid, she says she learned the value of arts integration during visits to different schools in the United States and then applied it to her home community in Pakistan.

“My PELI exchange experience was the beginning and this workshop is the next step,” said Zahid. “Without the Alumni Small Grant program, we could not have engaged so many children to create this kind of artistic environment.”

As a result of the success of the project, the four schools each formed drama clubs and produced  a mega performance of their own at the closing ceremony of the program.

Zahid also said she would visit the schools every two months to measure the progress of the theater groups.

The students are also excited about the new opportunity that is now available to them. “The organizers taught us how to act,” said Iqra Mustaqeen, a sixth grade student. “Now, I would like to be a part of the theater team at our school.”

Organizers and volunteers at the close of the theater workshop at the government school in Liaquatabad

Organizers and volunteers at the close of the theater workshop at the government school in Liaquatabad

The teachers at the government schools have already noticed a positive change in their students. Their attendance has not only improved, but they are also more eager to come to study every day.

These developments left Zahid with a great sense of achievement.

“I feel very satisfied when I see the happiness and motivation in students to act in plays,” she said. “It also gives me encouragement to develop bigger projects in the future.”

To find out more about this ASG project, check out this link:

https://www.facebook.com/theateredu?fref=ts

First Person: Mooting at the Lahore University of Management Sciences

By Daniyal Hassan, SUSI Alumnus

SUSI Alumnus Daniyal Hassan receiving an award from Legal Expert Ahmer Bilal Soofi during the moot at LUMS

SUSI Alumnus Daniyal Hassan receiving an award from Legal Expert Ahmer Bilal Soofi during the moot at LUMS

Mooting is something that I wasn’t familiar with before I started law school in 2012. Now that I am in my final year at the school and have participated in 5 moot court competitions, I think I know a little more about this skill. Mooting is an art which is developed over a period of time. More than debates and model UN conferences, it requires logical thinking and knowledge of law.

Mooting has been one of the most charming aspects about law school for me. A moot court, in simple terms, is a mock court where two opposing teams representing their clients argue before a bench of 2-3 judges. During the arguments, like a real court room, there is rigorous questioning from the judges. Sometimes the questioning leads the counsel to concede a legal argument and it gets difficult for him to argue the point successfully.

Audience at the LUMS Moot

Audience at the LUMS Moot

The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) hosted a moot court competition in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from March 5-8th, 2015. About 18 teams took part in the competition. These teams came from all across Pakistan, including two teams from Azad Kashmir, three from Hyderabad and multiple teams from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I was a part of the team from Capital Institute of Law (CIL) Islamabad. It was good to see law students from all across Pakistan gathered at one platform. This was the biggest moot court competition in the country as far as the number of participating teams was concerned.

The moot problem was based on international humanitarian law (IHL). Law studies in Pakistan generally do not cover this law in detail, and hence it was a challenge for all the teams to do thorough research on the four Geneva Conventions and two Additional Protocols.

The preliminary rounds were conducted on March 6th and 7th, with each team competing against two different teams. The top 8 teams qualified for the Quarter Finals and from there onwards, it was a knock out till the Finals. The knock-out rounds were held on Sunday, March 8th, so it was quite a rigorous process for all the qualifying teams involved including our own.

I was the only member of our team at LUMS because of some last minute changes. This meant that I had to speak for the entire 30 minutes in addition to the five minutes assigned for rebuttals. No one thought it was possible for one person to argue before a court continuously for such a long period of time. Honestly, even I didn’t think that I could pull it off. But it just happened.

SUSI Alumnus Daniyal Hassan arguing during the competition

SUSI Alumnus Daniyal Hassan arguing during the competition

I went to the quarter finals, then to the semis and then through to the finals. I don’t know what went through the judges’ minds during the matches. But what I did get to know is that after the final some of the judges had named me ‘The Gladiator’ because I was alone from our team.

Our team stood Runner Up in the competition and I won the award for the Best Orator. It was an achievement for me but more importantly it was an experience that I enjoyed and learned from. This competition has encouraged me to take up mooting as a career after graduation. My dream now is to organize an annual moot court competition in Pakistan and make it an international event within a couple of years. This will give a great exposure to the law students of this country and will help them polish their practical legal skills along with their studies.

First Person: The Literati Glitterati and Me

By Ayesha Fazlur Rahman

(From Left to Right) Pulitzer Prize winning Author Paul Harding, Theatre Wallay Director Fizza Hassan, Fulbright Alumna Ayesha Fazlur Rehman and US Embassy’s Cultural Attaché Judith Ravin

(From Left to Right) Pulitzer Prize winning Author Paul Harding, Theatre Wallay Director Fizza Hassan, Fulbright Alumna Ayesha Fazlur Rehman and US Embassy’s Cultural Attaché Judith Ravin

I was asked by the US Embassy to moderate the session on Art and Cultural Diplomacy at the Islamabad Literature Festival (ILF) 2015, since I often moderate sessions and make announcements at PUAN events.

It all began in 2007 when I was a graduate student on a Fulbright scholarship, in the US. My advisor Sally Schwager, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, once rightly pointed out to me that the only way to get over my fear of public speaking was to do public speaking – not read about public speaking or talk about it, but just do it.  And to this day, I have been stepping forward to volunteer for tasks that involve a live audience. Taking her advice, I went on to enroll at the Kennedy School of Government in a public speaking course that promised a lot of opportunity to practice, and Professor Tim McCarthy took care of the rest.  And that is how I ended up moderating this session.

There were four panelists on this session. In order of seating, from right to left: US Embassy Cultural Attaché Judith Ravin, author of The Scatter Here Is Too Great Bilal Tanweer, ‘Theatre Wallay’ Director Fizza Hassan and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers Paul Harding.

Fizza, my once long-time colleague from middle school-teaching days, brought a whiff of nostalgia, while Judith from the Embassy was a reminder of my post-Fulbright life, a more varied and multi-cultural experience. Bilal spoke to the budding writer in me; meeting a Pakistani author gave me hope that I may one day come out with my novel too and go beyond the newspaper blogs that I have contributed to, or the accidental short stories that I had published in my student days.  And then there was Paul.

Fulbright Alumna Ayesha Fazlur Rehman moderating the session

Fulbright Alumna Ayesha Fazlur Rehman moderating the session

A bit of my background before I go on. I come from a family of writers, which can mean many different things: My mother loves writing letters to the editor; my father wrote a book on Islam; my maternal grandfather left behind a manuscript on Sufism, yet to be published.

So writers, especially award-winning authors and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, have special meaning for my family. While we pooh-pooh wealth and power, education and the written word hold a world of glamour for us, a world to admire and aspire to. Paul was an embodiment of that world for me. I feel humbled to not only have been able to meet these distinguished folks, but to have the opportunity to share the stage with them and pose them questions.

For this and for many other reasons, a note of thanks before I continue with the narrative. J. William Fulbright, for coming up with the idea of the Fulbright Program. US Embassy Islamabad, for creating PUAN, with its vibrant network that holds us alumni together, and channelizes and nurtures our potential through variegated exposure. Shahid Waseem, for having faith in me and always approaching me for tasks that I wouldn’t dream of offering my services for on my own, thinking I may not be capable to do them full justice. Not to be forgotten, thanks to my friend ‘Supportive Salma’ for turning up at the event and for her lovingly constructive feedback, and to my cousin ‘Reassuring Rukhsana’ for giving me her necklace and earrings that I donned for the occasion!

On the morning of 26th April I tweaked the stage setting and checked the microphones. I noticed that the number of audience participants probably ran in single digits. It was Sunday morning, after all, and ours was the only session scheduled at that time, I consoled myself. The next time I turned around after rearranging the chairs on stage, I saw a hall that was almost full! Later on, I happily noticed some big names sitting in the audience, including Madiha Gauhar!

And so the session began, introductions were made and the questions rolled out. We wrested with the nature of truth and what it means for an artist, be it author or theatre producer. The thoughts that flowed out are now a kaleidoscopic mesh in my mind. It was said that truth has to be pried out subtly, much as a beloved would be approached. That truth is not a concrete mass but an amorphous entity that comes into being during the creative process and that surprises even its creator; there is no single truth, no single narrative that can claim supremacy over other narratives. That is what Fizza Hassan’s then-ongoing play, Voices of Partition, did: it gave a voice to the multiple perspectives on the 1947 Partition.

Judith spoke on the pervasive nature of all art and how it seeps into places where other forms of diplomacy run into dead-ends. Hence the power and reach of cultural diplomacy; it unites and informs, pulls down barriers and builds bridges. The recent Music Mela event by the US Embassy saw Pakistanis enjoy contemporary American and Polish music, as both Pakistanis and foreign visitors swayed to Pakistani folk and Sufi rhythms.

Panelists agreed that art cannot be a tool used to change people, but it does impact its consumers; the power of that impact stems from how authentic it is.  While one writer may choose to make his characters introspective, as did Paul in Tinkers, with the socio-political milieu providing the backdrop only, for Bilal the topical reference to terrorism in Karachi was the center-piece around which he carefully clustered the tales of several characters depicting the different segments of society in the metropolitan.

(From Left to Right) Fulbright Alumna Ayesha Fazlur Rehman, Pulitzer Prize winning Author Paul Harding, Theatre Wallay Director Fizza Hassan, Bilal Tanveer Author ‘The Scatter Here is Too Great’ and US Embassy’s Cultural Attaché Judith Ravin during the session

(From Left to Right) Fulbright Alumna Ayesha Fazlur Rehman, Pulitzer Prize winning Author Paul Harding, Theatre Wallay Director Fizza Hassan, Bilal Tanveer Author ‘The Scatter Here is Too Great’ and US Embassy’s Cultural Attaché Judith Ravin during the session

Either way, it all has to come together and take the audience with it. Fizza shared the powerful moment during a performance when all are swept up in a theatrical wave, when the characters and the audience all feel as one, that brief elusive moment when the truth of the drama resonates with the truth of the audience.

As the discussion rolled on, discreet Oxford University Press volunteers in their red T-shirts flashed time-reminders, telling me when it was time to take questions from the audience and when there were just five minutes left. These helpful little gnomes positioned themselves cleverly where only I could see them!

The session was over, thanks were exchanged all around and a group photo was taken and there it came to an end. Or did it?

As I stepped out with my friend ‘Supportive Salma’, I came across the Desi Writers’ Lounge folks. Here it was, a space for me to fill with my words, my written word. I bought their magazine ‘Papercut’, chatted a bit and continued browsing the stalls. I came across Shandana Minhas’ Survival Tips for Lunatics, which I bought. Every night as I read the refreshingly original book about a magical world of dinosaurs in Balochistan, I feel the author in me just might get past the budding stage and actually dare to bloom, as did the public speaker hiding inside me.

Thank you, Sally. Thank you, Tim.

Toward Greater Avenues: PUAN Alumni’s Music Mela Goes International

By Hira Nafees Shah

Pappu Saeen drumming the dhol in his unique style accompanied by his band and dancers at Day 2 of Music Mela 2015

Pappu Saeen drumming the dhol in his unique style accompanied by his band and dancers at Day 2 of Music Mela 2015

The open air grounds of the Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) hosted a exceptional event April 17-19 in Islamabad.

Music Mela 2015 featured ground-breaking performances by local and international artists who demonstrated the power of music to create bonds between people across physical and cultural boundaries.

Two members of the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network (PUAN), Arieb Azhar, Center Stage alumnus, and Zeejah Fazli, International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumnus spearheaded the mela in partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.  Together, Azhar and Fazli formed an organization called Foundation for Arts, Culture, and Education (FACE), which seeks to create a creative space for musicians and other artists in Pakistani society.

“I have never seen so many Pakistanis sitting together in the open air and believe this is my best night in Islamabad,” said James Cerven, Assistant Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, while giving his opening remarks.

The chief guest at the festival was U.S Ambassador Richard G. Olson who also lauded the organizers for putting up a brilliant initiative.

Origins of Music Mela:

The Music Mela started in 2014 with an Alumni Small Grant from PUAN to FACE to organize the extravaganza.

“PUAN is one of the founding organizations for this project,” said Fazli. “Without PUAN, we would not have come to this phase and now the U.S. Embassy has signed a two-year contract with us.”

Chief Guest U.S. Ambassador Richard G. Olson enjoying Music Mela 2015

Chief Guest U.S. Ambassador Richard G. Olson enjoying Music Mela 2015

After the tremendous success of the first Music Mela in 2014, the U.S. Embassy and FACE decided to keep the affair going on for two more years, as a result of which the conference took place last weekend.

Music Mela 2015 was staged on a much larger scale with local and international representation and drew an audience of more than 20,000 people over three days, Fazli says.

“I am happy because the event featured Mary McBride, Grace McLean, and other international, regional, and folk artists,” said Azhar.  “It was a balance of many genres regional, urban, and rural and the music workshops also went really well.”

Strong Performances Captivate the Audience:

The first day of the festival was carefully planned and featured Pashto, Punjabi, Seraiki, and Balochi folklore by different artists.  The concert by a Polish singer Maria Pomianovska was also a delight and was lauded by the audience.

“The Polish performance was best because it was a beautiful blend of music,” said Hajra Wasif, an attendee at the concert.

“When international artists come to Pakistan at a time when no one else wants to come, then it’s an achievement for the country and portrays us in a better light,” said Abdul Rehman, a student.

The Music Mela featured workshops on day two and day three with senior professionals in the field for budding musicians and artists.

These included a guitar workshop by Coven sensation Hamza Jafri, a song writing workshop with American singer Mary McBride, a successful music projects showcase by musician Xulfi and a musicians’ union conference which included the likes of a legendary rock star like Ali Azmat among others.

The musicians’ union conference with musicians Arieb Azhar, Aaron Haroon Rashid, Ali Azmat, and Lawyer Omar Sheikh

The musicians’ union conference with musicians Arieb Azhar, Aaron Haroon Rashid, Ali Azmat, and Lawyer Omar Sheikh

Azmat, Arieb Azhar, and pop singer Aaron Haroon Rashid resolved to do something concrete to revive the ailing music industry in Pakistan.  And the concerts at music mela were definitely a step in the right direction.

Maestro Pappu Saeen and his band notably put the crowd in a trance by drumming his dhol in his traditional style and managing the ebb and flow of music with great expertise.

Meanwhile, the Naujawan All Stars presented an interesting fusion of eastern and western music, Shaan Khan delivered refreshing Pushto rap songs, and Coke Studio sensation Asrar mesmerized the audience with hit songs like “Ishq Hawa Mein.”

An Ode to Pakistani Culture:

The Music Mela also featured cultural performances in which the dancers represented all provinces of Pakistan.

“I found the cultural dance to be the best because it gave the message that all Pakistanis need to be united,” said Syed Dawar Hussain, a B.Com Student, “I also felt that through this initiative, the United States has showed that it is with us and that all Americans are like us.”

The final day of the concert featured a band called The Envoys, which included the Australian High Commissioner and the Japanese Ambassador among others.

American Musician Mary McBride and her band performing ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ at Music Mela 2015

American Musician Mary McBride and her band performing ‘Dil Dil Pakistan’ at Music Mela 2015

Other international artists included American singer Mary McBride whose rendition of the Pakistani ballad “Dil Dil Pakistan” was a hit with the audience in addition to American composer Grace McLean’s unique style of singing.

But it was probably local singer Sanam Marvi who carried the day with her Sufi songs, as the audience went wild with excitement.

“Sanam Marvi’s performance was the best because she carried the crowd with her and knew how to handle it,” said Mubarak Ali, a journalist.

The jam-packed venue was a testament to the ability of PUAN members Arieb Azhar and Zeejah Fazli to revitalize Pakistani music through the festival and create a soft image for the country by reaching a global audience.  They were able to bring some much needed entertainment to Islamabadis.

“The Music Mela is a good event because I felt life coming back to Islamabad because of it and some of the sadness in the air disappeared,” said Zeba Haider, a college teacher.

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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pakusalumni/sets/72157652185136555/

 

Alumna’s Career Counselling Workshops Serve as Beacon of Light for Special Persons

By Hira Nafees Shah

Participants and chief guests of the Career Counselling for Persons with Disabilities Workshop with Alumna Anna Iqbal Bhatti

Participants and chief guests of the Career Counselling for Persons with Disabilities Workshop with Alumna Anna Iqbal Bhatti

Intermediate student Zain-ul-Abidin was only five when he had a devastating fever which left him disabled. Although he could join his friends in running around the park, he really felt left out when he couldn’t hold the bat to play cricket.

Day to day chores were also difficult to manage without him being able to use his hands properly. But with sheer resilience and willpower, Abidin was able to build a normal life for himself, and even placed first among the 500 students in his sixth grade class.

When he reached college, he was looking for his next step – and found that a Career Counselling Workshop was organized by Anna Iqbal Bhatti in Benazir Abad for people just like him.

MIUSA Exchange Women with Disability Training Alumna Anna Iqbal Bhatti

MIUSA Exchange Women with Disability Training Alumna Anna Iqbal Bhatti

“I decided to arrange Career Counselling Workshops for people with disabilities so that they can choose the subjects that they like,” Bhatti said. “In this way, they will be able to serve their country better.”

The Women with Disabilities alumna sought the help of an Alumni Small Grant so that she could fulfill her goal. All alumni of various U.S sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan can apply for the grant to enable them to give back to their communities.

Special Persons Discuss Individual Challenges

Bhatti and her team of volunteers conducted three workshops on career counselling in different hotels of Benazir Abad, which included between twenty and thirty people in each session who had been chosen in collaboration with the National Disability Forum.

During the session in the Gymkhana Hotel, the participants had a candid conversation about the difficulties that special people face in Pakistan, especially due to the lack of ramps in public places throughout the country.

Male participants during the Career Counselling Workshop

Male participants during the Career Counselling Workshop

They also spoke out against the harsh treatment they sometimes received and the difficulties they face in getting an employment adding to their financial hardships.

“The society thinks disability is our weakness but we think it is our strength,” said one participant during the discussion.

“We want social inclusion, we are not children,” said another attendee. “We should be given confidence and we require empathy not sympathy.”

The trainers also agreed that the environment added to the hurdles faced by special people.

“Our disability is not from inside but from outside factors,” said Bhatti while heading a session about UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “The disability comes from the environment, the society and by not giving facilities to special people.”

The participants appreciated the workshop for opening up new avenues of thought and job opportunities for them.

“I learned important things during the workshop, like the benefit of learning English and computer skills,” said Asma Muneer, a handicapped intermediate student. “I also found out that I can even go abroad, if I become competent in these two subjects.”

Workshops Improve Job Prospects

The organizers taught the participants how to create their resumes and how to prepare themselves for interviews. They also learnt that it was necessary for them to acquire a certificate for persons with disabilities, so that they can show it to prospective employers.

After one training, the audience members also applied for vacancies in the Social Welfare Department which had assigned a separate quota for special persons, with the help of the management.

“The workshop was very productive because everyone spoke confidently and special people received guidelines about how to get jobs,” said Ghulam Nabi Malik, a participant who managed to get a private job despite having special needs.

Female Participants during the Career Counselling Workshop for Persons with Disabilities

Female Participants during the Career Counselling Workshop for Persons with Disabilities

For Razia Bibi, she felt that the session enabled her to find out what her rights were as a special person. She also said she would try to apply what she had learned at the event in the future.

“I would try to find out what kind of abilities I have and polish them further,” she said. “Through this process, I will try to become independent and self-reliant and get a government job.”

A closing ceremony was also held at the occasion which included important personalities from the region, like Higher Secondary School Teacher in Jamshoro Mohammad Saleh Memon and the PUAN Sukkur President Bruner Newton.

“The Persons with Disabilities should not feel disappointed because their handicap is not only a test for them, but also for us and the society is at fault if it does not provide them with amenities,” said Memon.

As for alumna Anna Iqbal Bhatti, she says that the Alumni Small Grant is responsible for all the success that she has achieved in her project.

“The Alumni Small Grant helped us to sit down together and gain a solution to our problems,” she said.

As for the next step, Bhatti says that she will keep giving career advice to her participants to help them to overcome any gaps that they might have in their training. And from there onwards the sky is the limit for these very talented, resilient people!

 

Fulbright Alumnus Spearheads Technology to Make Schools Safe in Pakistan

Fulbright Alumnus Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani with Former U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown at United Nations Headquarters on March 18th, 2015.

Fulbright Alumnus Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani with Former U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown at United Nations Headquarters on March 18th, 2015.

Pakistani Fulbright Alumnus and winner of the Pakistan’s first ever StartUp Cup, Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani has made the country proud by becoming part of a new innovative partnership, which will deliver state-of-the-art technology to promote Safe Schools in Pakistan.

The partnership was announced at UN headquarters in New York and came just three months after the school massacre in Peshawar and follows an agreement with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to support a national Safe Schools campaign.

With more than 10,000 attacks on schools over the past five years, the Pakistan project is part of a larger Safe Schools effort championed by UN Special Education Envoy Gordon Brown covering programs in northern Nigeria as well as in Lebanon for Syrian refugees.

Spearheaded by a technology contribution from Predictify.Me, a US-based data sciences and predictive analytics firm, the Pakistan Safe Schools initiative will introduce the use of simulation software to assess the level of risk preparedness of schools and generate recommendations for school and community safety plans.

Dr. Usmani has been a frequent participant in U.S. exchange program activities, from the Fulbright program to Pakistan’s first-ever StartUp Cup competition, which he won using a version of this system.  He went on to win the first ever World StartUp Cup, competing against teams from around the globe for the honor.

How the Technology Works:

Each participating school will receive a report providing a designation on the degree of risk, specific recommendations for improving the school’s set-up to become safer and recommendations for community preparedness measures and ongoing risk forecasts. UNICEF will join in the initiative and integrate the work with disaster risk reduction programming for child friendly and safe schools in Pakistan.

In the past five years, more than 1,000 schools have been destroyed in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. But now if this program is successful, it will potentially be scaled up to cover all 200,000 schools in Pakistan through the national Safe Schools Initiative, thus making them more secure for students.

Sharif and Brown Laud Efforts:

Speaking from Islamabad on Wednesday March 18th, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said:

“The Government of Pakistan is committed to rooting out terrorism and extremism from the country. Security of the educational institutions is at the core of the national agenda of the Government. We appreciate technological assistance from friends as terrorism has no boundaries and terrorists have no religion. Pakistan has been at the forefront of international efforts to counter terrorism and has rendered great sacrifices in this regard. We value the support and cooperation extended by Rt Hon Gordon Brown and all other partner organizations to make the Pakistani schools safe and secure and to improve the standard of education in the country.”

Fulbright Alumnus Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani showing the software to Former U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Fulbright Alumnus Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani showing the software to Former U.K Prime Minister Gordon Brown

The technologies – SecureSim and Soothsayer – are based on seven years of research and development and are designed to simulate the impact of an explosion and develop safety recommendations in a school. The software technology establishes ideal security protocols to minimize the impact and is further used to appropriate local emergency response planning and provide ongoing security forecasts.

Former UK Prime Minister Mr Brown said:

“I am thankful to the Global Business Coalition for Education and the team at Predictify.Me for agreeing to support our efforts to ensure safe schools for every child in Pakistan.  In my discussion with the Prime Minister we have agreed to do everything we can to ensure every girl and boy in Pakistan is able to go to school and learn. This initiative is a vital part of these efforts.”

The technology that will be used in the new program was developed by Dr Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani, Co-Founder and Chief Data Scientist at Predictify.Me. Dr Usmani is also an Eisenhower Fellow and a scientist with expertise in simulation and modeling of blast waves in open and confined spaces.

As the youngest of 14 brother and sisters, from humble beginnings in Sukkur, Dr. Usmani said: “I know firsthand the benefit of education and I am very pleased to work with the United Nations, the Prime Minister and our other partners to ensure every child in Pakistan has the right to go to school safely.”

Fulbright Alumnus Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani at U.N Headquarters

Fulbright Alumnus Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani at U.N Headquarters

The CEO of the company Rob Burns said: “We are thrilled to use our core assets of data sciences and predictive analytics to support the Safe Schools Initiative in Pakistan.  We have joined the Global Business Coalition for Education and agreed to donate this technology worth several million dollars because we believe we should do all we can to ensure the safety of children who want to learn.”

As part of ongoing advocacy efforts, an appeal will be made to the international community to support the Safe Schools Initiative in Pakistan.