Fulbright Alumna Empowers Needy Women in Ghazi

By Hira Nafees Shah

Fulbright Alumna Aisha Azhar (center) with the coordinators and participants of her project

Fulbright Alumna Aisha Azhar (center) with the coordinators and participants of her project

Shakeela Begum’s daughter had not even been born when her husband left the world.  What followed were 10 years of incredible hardship, as she was forced to work as a maid in people’s homes to provide for herself and her young children.

Help finally arrived for her and other poverty-stricken women in Ghazi, Khyber Pakhtunhkwa in the form of a couple of kind-hearted members of the local community, who offered a tailoring course at a women’s center in the area. Begum and others hastened to get registered.

“I thought the most beneficial aspect of learning how to sew and stitch was that I would be able to sit at home and earn a living,” she said.

The project was the brainchild of Fulbright Alumna Aisha Azhar, who devoted herself to gender and women’s issues after completing her exchange experience in order to give back to Pakistan.

“I wanted to focus on needy women who were looking for prospects as Ghazi is a very backward area,” said Azhar. “So I think my project is very important from a sustainability point of view, as the participants were able to acquire lifelong skills.”

A tailoring trainer holds up a cloth while teaching the participants how to stitch during Aisha Azhar’s project

A tailoring trainer holds up a cloth while teaching the participants how to stitch during Aisha Azhar’s project

The project involved a two months training course in which about 12 underprivileged women learned how to sew. They were first taught how to stitch children’s clothes and then progressed to making items for adults. The training culminated in a one week workshop in June, in which all the attendees were given brand new sewing machines.

Sumbul Nagin, 17, was one of the participants who took part in the project, after her father passed away. Nagin commented on the difference that the workshop had created in her family’s life.

“The training was very beneficial as I am now able to support my mother,” she said. “Before I used to just stay at home and my younger brother had to work in a shop.”

Nagin happily reported that so far she had earned a thousand rupees and hoped to continue earning in the future as well. She also thanked Azhar and other organizers for providing the participants with a much needed vocation.

Sewing trainer teaching a participant how to cut a piece of cloth

Sewing trainer teaching a participant how to cut a piece of cloth

Zebi Naveen, one of the coordinators of the project says that two centers were set up in two different areas of the sub-district to accommodate six women each. The classes took place from nine in the morning till 12:30 with every Sunday off. All the trainers taught the tailors on a voluntary basis. The reactions that they received from their students were often extraordinary.

“The participants were extremely happy and said they could now afford to buy something for their children for Eid-ul-Fitr,” said Naveen.

She said one of the attendees used to live in a tent with her family, that now she is able to earn a livelihood by taking part in the workshop.

“Before I used to beg people for work. But now I have so many clothes to stitch that the customers are now begging me,” Naveen said narrating the participant’s reaction.

Saima Noreen, the eldest of five siblings, is another beneficiary of the project. She says she is grateful to have received the sewing machine.

“My family is happy that I am making money while sitting at home, because earlier people would talk when I would work in other people’s homes,” she said.

Azhar is ecstatic about the response that she has received from her participants—some of whom showed off the samples that they had stitched at the closing ceremony.  She was so motivated that she decided to help out an additional group of disadvantaged females, so 32 more under-privileged women ended up receiving the same training and new sewing machines.

The alumna is also happily looking forward to the future.

“My tailoring workshop has raised my confidence level to undertake more projects in the future and I feel satisfied and motivated by the response that I have received,” she said.

Participants working on their sewing machines during the workshop in June

Participants working on their sewing machines during the workshop in June

As for Shakeela Begum, she says that the training has been such a turning point in her life that she now encourages other needy females to come forward and learn how to sew. In her motivational discussions, she is also quick to point out the monetary benefits that she has received from the classes.

“I used to make 300 Rs. in a month by cleaning people’s homes, and now I charge 300 Rs. for every dress that I make and sometimes I stitch 2 to 3 clothes in a day,” she reported happily.

PUAN Islamabad session Highlights need for Nuanced Discussion about Partition

By Hira Nafees Shah

Panelists and participants of the Voices from Partition discussion

Panelists and participants of the Voices from Partition discussion

The Islamabad chapter of the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network arranged an international online discussion session exploring Pakistani and Indian perspectives on the 1947 Partition of their two countries on Saturday, August 9th 2014.

Indian Fulbright Alumnus Jasmine Shah was the chief guest on the occasion who addressed the fifty plus audience via Skype from New Delhi. Shah is spearheading an Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) project to engage the youth in improving Indo-Pak ties through the recording and dissemination of first-person accounts of Partition.

“The Voices from Partition AEIF project was our small way of doing something on an initiative which is important to us,” said Shah at the outset. The venture, which engages about 20 U.S. Department of State alumni from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, hopes to integrate existing content about the partition on to a multi-media website, so as to collect a multitude of voices about the division of the sub-continent.

Shah was joined by Pakistani panelists Hassan Raza and Usama Khilji, who advocated for reforms to national educational curricula to portray a fuller picture of the independence movement. They also stressed how an understanding of each nation’s perspective of the difficult events of partition can help to build mutual understanding that can benefit both countries.

“There is a need to move on from the bitter experiences of the past in order to build a better future for Pakistan and India,” said Raza.

The speakers also touched upon the importance of people-to-people contacts and social media in bridging the gap between the citizens of the two countries.

“I thought the initiative was very good as it is about time that the subject is discussed in a more rigorous and comprehensive manner,” said Dr. Sufia Mumtaz, an anthropologist who attended the discussion.

Another participant said the dialogue had helped to change his perspective about Indo-Pak relations and stressed that the youth should play a decisive role in this regard.

“The youth should bridge the gap between both the countries and build relationships to build the economy,” said Sajjad Alam.

For Muhammad Wajih Shafiq, a Benjamin Franklin alumnus, the best aspect about such initiatives is that they enable the participants to raise issues in a polite manner.

“I think there should be a cultural offensive to humanize each other,” he said while referring to the uneasy relations between Pakistan and India.

Audience

Participants of the PUAN Islamabad chapter activity ‘Voices from Partition’ discussion

Shafiq added that while listening to the Voices of Partition conversation, he had an idea that he should like the Facebook page of Humans of New Delhi, so that he could reach out to his young counterparts in the neighboring country.

Meanwhile, SUSI Alumna Palwasha Ishfaq was of the view that the citizens of Pakistan and India can play an important role in creating mutual understanding between both the countries.

“I think the more we meet, the more we can clear misconceptions,” Ishfaq said. “In this way, we can all be ambassadors of peace.”

Shah also concluded his remarks on the same note at the end of the session.

“We can only progress if we are at peace with the past,” said Shah. “There is a need for a more nuanced discussion on the partition, so we should encourage everyone to support cross-border peace initiatives.”

Voices From Partition is part of a U.S. Department of State-funded Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF) grant.  You may read more about Mr. Shah’s project, and hear some voices of partition yourself, at: https://m.facebook.com/VoicesFromPartition

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.