Alumnus Hones Skills of the Next Generation of Pakistani Filmmakers

By Hira Nafees Shah

Participants with chief guest, judges and Alumnus Shoaib Iqbal at the opening ceremony of the 6th Lahore International Children’s Film Festival

Participants with chief guest, judges and Alumnus Shoaib Iqbal at the opening ceremony of the 6th Lahore International Children’s Film Festival

Nestled in comfortable chairs at the auditorium with bags of popcorn and sodas in their hands, school- children giggled as a cute girl in a cartoon film took a fish out of its bowl and placed it on the bed beside her.

The kids remained glued to the screen as two more amateur films with educational messages rolled out.

The screenings were part of the Lahore International Children’s Film Festival, organized by an NGO “The Little Art” with funding from the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network.

Shoaib Iqbal, a Fellow of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts was the main organizer for the project.

Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Alumnus Shoaib Iqbal

Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Alumnus Shoaib Iqbal

“I initiated this project and The Little Art . . . because I felt that there should be a bigger platform where children’s achievement and art can be celebrated,” he said. “I also believed that children and teachers should be shown better cinema.”

About 1,160 submissions were received from 45 countries, out of which 169 films were selected for the six day screening at the festival, which expected to draw some 15,000 children. For the first time, movies made by Pakistanis were part of the lineup.

In addition, the organizers also held four workshops with private schools and one with a public school to teach the participants about what constituted a good movie and how they could improve their respective entries.

Asra Sultan is a student of 9th grade at a local school. She says she enjoyed developing new skills while working on the movie that her school submitted.

School children watching screening of movies at the auditorium

School children watching screening of movies at the auditorium

“It was a new experience for me and I learned a lot,” Sultan said. “I especially enjoyed learning about camera work, editing and how to choose actors.”

The opening ceremony of the festival was a grand event and was attended by more than a hundred people. Punjab Education and Youth Affairs Minister Rana Mashood was the chief guest and praised The Little Art for organizing the function.

“This event is a great way of giving platform to kids and enabling them to give vent to their imagination,” he said.

Famous TV actors and writers—who had judged the films—were also present on the occasion.

“I am proud of young filmmakers and this festival is one of the first steps through which creative talent of kids can be addressed,” said Asghar Nadeem Syed, one of the judges.

Another evaluator also commented on the power of movies to create a difference.

Winning participants--LACAS Students receiving the top prize from Chief Guest Rana Mashood

Winning participants–LACAS Students receiving the top prize from Chief Guest Rana Mashood

“Pakistani culture is very rich and we can use film as a tool to promote our culture, thinking and feelings,” said Adeel Hashmi.

But it was not only the panelists but audience members as well who saw the benefit of teaching children the art of film-making.

“I feel that very sensitive issues can be addressed through this medium,” said Mrs. Shaista Arafat, a teacher and a parent. “I tell my students and children not to hate others and give them a message of tolerance.”

Tenth grade students from LACAS won in the best film category for a movie called “Youth of Pakistan” and were ecstatic over their performance. See images from the movie here:

“This project was a great experience for me as I never knew that I would win,” said Amer Haseeb Hashmi. “I have been motivated to continue making movies after this experience and feel very proud of myself.”

But despite all the effort at the end of the day, the most important verdict about the festival was delivered by school children for whom the viewing was arranged.

“I had a good experience watching the films with my friends and I enjoyed the Bobby movie the most because of its message,” said Esha Mueed, a Lahore Grammar School student. “After watching the show, I am also interested in making movies in the future.”

Female students at the screening

Female students at the screening

As for Shoaib Iqbal, he is satisfied by the positive feedback he received for his project –especially because Pakistani movies were included for the first time this year.

“Pakistani children have been engaged in making content for the festival for the first time ever and this has only been made possible by funding from the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network,” he said.

Shoaib Iqbal hopes to conduct more events for underprivileged children to challenge biases and stereotypes and promote peace in Pakistan.

To find out more about the Lahore International Children’s Film Festival, check out:

To take a look at the other Pakistani entries from the event, visit:


Pakistani Exchange Student in Illinois Inspires Others


Pakistani exchange students come from diverse backgrounds and have all kinds of riveting stories to tell.

Particularly inspirational is the tale of Ahsan Javaid, a Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) participant who was diagnosed with Leukemia at the tender age of 11.

Despite having to battle cancer for a significant portion of his life, Javaid has still managed to give back to his community and is currently studying in the U.S.

To find out more, take a look at this link.

Alumnus’ Seed Project Takes Pakistan’s Agriculture to the Next Level

By Hira Nafees Shah

_MG_2533 Edited

Participants of the ‘Capacity Building in Seed Technology’ workshop with Fulbright Alumnus Irfan Afzal


Agriculture is at the heart of Pakistan’s economy, employing about half of the labor force and  making up 24 percent of the nation’s GDP. Development in agriculture is therefore vitally important to the development of Pakistan as a whole.

One Fulbright alumnus, Irfan Afzal, took one step in this direction with a series of workshops on ‘Capacity Building in Seed Technology.’

“I arranged the workshops because I felt that local seed companies lack resources, infrastructure and trained manpower,” he said. “Therefore, I wanted to address the lack of capacity building in the seed industry.”

Funding for the project was provided by the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network. All alumni of U.S sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan can apply for a grant of up to 5,000 dollars to enable them to give back to their communities.

About 200 participants, including students and stakeholders, took part in the first workshop held at the University of Faisalabad.  The event featured the announcement of the new Pakistan Seed Academy — which aims to strengthen collaboration between public and private seed sectors.

Audience at the Seed Technology Workshop

Audience at the Seed Technology Workshop

The second workshop, held in Rahim Yar Khan, brought together 100 participants from local seed companies, who discussed the process of cotton seed processing and storage.  The third workshop took place in Sahiwal and revolved around seed production, processing and handling of maize.  More than 100 participants from across Pakistan took part in the highly interactive session which witnessed the attendees asking questions from the speakers as well as answering each other’s queries.

“We learned lot related to our subject in this workshop and found it to be quite informative,” said Abdul Hayee, a participant.

Informative Speakers Enlighten the Audience

Sessions on Hybrid Seed Production, Maize Plant Protection Measures and Seed Processing of Maize taught the attendees about how to maximize the yield of female plants, how to safeguard crops from diseases and insects, and how to increase the longevity of seeds.

Participants learned about the importance of reducing moisture in seed stores and selecting crops suited to local soil conditions.

“I think this conference is a positive step to address the problems that farmers and seed industries are facing,” said Chaudhry Masood Ahmad, a participant who had come from Okara to attend the workshop.

“I believe Dr. Irfan Afzal’s session was the best as he gave guidelines on how to keep the seeds dry, while we are in the process of storing them,” said Kashif-ur-Rehman, another audience member.

Dr. Afzal’s session on Maize Seed Handling and Storage focused on how the maize seeds are affected, when they are kept under different temperatures and received a healthy response from the listeners.

Fulbright Alumnus Irfan Afzal

Fulbright Alumnus Irfan Afzal

March towards Modernization of Seed Industry

The Fulbright alumnus says he is content with his small grant project and the way that the sessions have progressed.

“I am satisfied that due to my seed technology project, I was able to convey the expertise of the speakers to the audience and was also able to develop human resource in this field,” said Afzal.

He also attributes his success in giving back to his community to his Fulbright exchange experience.

“I draw inspiration from my mentor in the U.S. and am linked with agriculture companies there,” Afzal said. “I also remain up-to-date about the research that these companies are doing in their programs.”

One of the tangible connections between his American study and his grant initiative is the setting up of the Pakistan Seed Academy on Facebook, through which Afzal hopes to connect U.S. and Pakistani agriculturists and create awareness about new technologies in the field, among other objectives.

The organizers of the project have high hopes for the endeavor and perhaps its long-term benefit for Pakistani famers was best explained by the participants of the workshop.

“The Pakistan Seed Academy will facilitate us in getting good seeds, so that we won’t need to obtain imports from outside, but will also be able to export our products,” said Mian Anat Ali, a local farmer.

“Pakistan needs the Seed Academy, because this will reduce the gap between the public and private sectors in the country and we will also be able to adopt new technologies,” said Saman Saleem, an attendee and one of the organizers of the workshop in Sahiwal.

For more on Irfan Afzal’s project, visit:

First Person: Indo-Pak Gender Session – Changing Perceptions & Stereotypes

By Rimsha Ali Shah–Study of the United States Institutes (SUSI) Alumna


Pakistani alumni during a role-playing activity in the Indo-Pak Gender Session

Pakistan and India share a similar socio-economic and cultural context when it comes to the sexes and society. As a woman, time and again I have strongly felt that we need to engage our male counterparts to sensitize and empower them to support gender equality in their personal and professional capacities.

Continuing PUAN’s efforts to connect Indian and Pakistani alumni across borders, I worked with another SUSI alumna in Chennai to convene an online interactive session on issues of gender, perceptions and stereotypes on the fifteenth of December.  The event proved to be a two hour rollercoaster ride with participants acting, sketching, and brainstorming to identify ways to promote gender equality in their communities.

I started with a role play focused on media representation of workplace harassment, male chauvinism in the family structure, and street harassment. The exercise revealed that these issues are not just influenced by social and economic factors but also by disparity in education between men and women.

Pakistani alumni enjoying a group discussion with U.S Assistant Cultural Attaché James Cerven

Pakistani alumni enjoying a group discussion with U.S Assistant Cultural Attaché James Cerven

Bilal Jan, a Global UGrad Alumnus spoke about how the social structure in Peshawar did not create a welcoming work environment for women, so that many of them were not able to empower themselves economically.  Professor Shaheena Ayub from National University of Modern Languages also weighed in by highlighting the importance of giving equal treatment to both sexes at educational institutions, so as to promote an environment free from discrimination.

I was inspired to witness the progressive mindset of the youth from Chennai and Islamabad. The participants gave ideas on ‘gender-sensitive parenting’ in the activity ‘Catch Them Young’ which focused on how to shape confident, self-assured and respectful men and women.

Both the Pakistani and Indian alumni enacted role-plays on the prevailing parental attitudes towards the role of girls in the household and about female education.  During the performance, an IVLP Alumna and a Gender Studies Researcher at Quaid-e-Azam University Rabbia Aslam stressed the need to sensitize the younger generations of today so that they can become gender-sensitive parents in the future.

Creating Support Systems

While discussing the importance of transparency and legal protection, the participants also spoke about their role as a support system for victims of harassment on an emotional level. Support from family, friend, and colleagues can help to make sure that the voices of the victims are heard, which in turn can lead to an end to the silent epidemic of gender discrimination.

Indian alumni in Chennai during the Skype conversation with their Pakistani counterparts

Indian alumni in Chennai during the Skype conversation with their Pakistani counterparts

The dialogue ended with the participants writing down three simple actions that they will take in their personal capacity to address gender inequality in their social circle. The Islamabad chapter’s General Secretary Asma Mohsin concluded the event with a note of thanks to the U.S Consulate Chennai, U.S Embassy Islamabad and PUAN’s local chapter.

I would also like to personally thank Madeleine Marie, Brindha Jayakanth, Bodhitha Joseph, Shahid Waseem, James Cerven and the amazing twenty alumni who made this dialogue a thoroughly engaging session which brimmed of positive energy.

The conversation strongly resonated with the words of Pakistani Nobel Laureate, Malala Yousufzai, “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” I agree, and the time is ripe to empower ourselves with the knowledge and courage to break the shackles of female harassment and inequality.

11th Annual Fulbright and Humphrey Alumni Conference

Alumni gathered outside the Fulbright Center in Lahore on the last day of the conference

Alumni gathered outside the Fulbright Center in Lahore on the last day of the conference

The United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan (USEFP) organized its 11th Annual Fulbright and Humphrey Alumni Conference at the Fulbright Center at Forman Christian College in Lahore on 5 December, 2014.

On the theme of “Vision 2025: Our Plan of Action”, the conference brought approximately 200 Fulbright and Humphrey alumni from across Pakistan for academic presentations and discussions on a number of key issues affecting the country’s socio-economic development.

To read the complete story, visit:


Pakistani Student in Alaska Reflects on Peshawar Attack

Hassam Bazil

Hassam Bazil says he was devastated by the school shooting in Pakistan last week. He thanks the Juneau community for giving him support through the hard time. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)


Hassam Bazil is a 16-year-old studying in Alaska on the Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES).

When militants killed at least 145 people in a school shooting in Peshawar, Hassam felt faraway and helpless. But through the help and support of his friends and host family, he found a way to feel better and spoke about the ordeal in an interview with KTOO Public Radio.

For the complete story, visit:


Wonders Among Us TED Talks Pay Homage to Resilient Pakistanis

By Hira Nafees Shah

Speakers with the TEDX Islamabad’s organizing team led by IVLP Alumnus Ahsan Mukhtar

Speakers with the TEDX Islamabad’s organizing team led by IVLP Alumnus Ahsan Mukhtar

With so many stories in the news focused on the challenges facing Pakistan, news celebrating Pakistani success stories can be hard to find.  One recent alumni event in Islamabad did just that – highlighting the resilience of the Pakistani people through the stories of several outstanding Pakistanis.

With the support of a Pakistani-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) Alumni Small Grant, local alumni held a TEDx event titled “The Wonders Among Us.” Spearheaded by International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumnus Ahsan Mukhtar, along with co-organizer Saad Hamid, the event featured speeches and videos from Pakistani professors, artists, and entrepreneurs.

“We organized this event because we felt that hidden, unique stories in Pakistan need a platform, so that the idea can be spread to a niche audience,” Mukhtar said. “We also wanted to build a community of people who would talk about those innovative ideas.”

IVLP Alumnus Ahsan Mukhtar

IVLP Alumnus Ahsan Mukhtar

The speakers featured at the event included renowned intellectual Pervez Hoodbhoy, Artist Muniba Mazari, 14-year-old prodigy Khadija Niazi, teacher Nadine Murtaza, UN Development Program (UNDP) Official Marc-Andre Franche, Fulbright Scholar Waqas Qazi, and Lolz Studios Pioneer Syed Muzzamil Hassan Zaidi.  Interest in the event was overwhelming:  the organizers received about 1,300 applications to attend for a maximum audience of 350.

“There has been a decline of reason in Pakistan and we love magical solutions to our problems,” said Hoodbhoy during his talk, which focused on the need for the country to revert to logic.

Meanwhile, Khadija Niazi spoke about the importance of online education in furthering one’s knowledge while referring to the 20 courses that she had completed.

Audience members were delighted about the quality of the speakers at the conference and the amount of knowledge and information that they had gained.

“The TED talks are an amazing experience,” said Mahreen Ifran, a participant. “I went into the event with lowered expectations, but found the discussions to be very interesting.”

“I really enjoyed Hoodbuoy’s talk because I felt that he spoke about issues that we are facing these days,” said Irfan Haider, a Fulbright alumnus.

Renowned Intellectual Pervez Hoodbuoy during his TED Talk in Islamabad

Renowned Intellectual Pervez Hoodbuoy during his TED Talk in Islamabad

The organizers of the function also showed a number of videos from TED International to the participants so that they could gain a perspective about the kind of speakers that the main forum attracted.

Meanwhile, Syed Muzzamil Hassan Zaidi hit home about the importance of social media during his talk, with a riveting video on Pakistan’s election process which shed light on the importance of casting votes to decide the future of the country.

“I loved Muniba Khurrum’s talk because she did not give up and I could connect with her,” said Sara Maryum, a student who had especially come all the way from Karachi to attend the TED event in Islamabad.

The closing speaker at the event, Muniba Mazari, spoke about her experience of coming to terms with being paralyzed from the waist down after an accident, and stressed the need to embrace opportunities in life’s challenges.

“I want to change the perception of people about those who are in a wheelchair,” said Mazari. “It’s important to be grateful for what you have in life and change your adversity into an opportunity.”

Artist Muniba Mazari during her TED Talk

Artist Muniba Mazari during her TED Talk

Also expanding on the importance of local stories to create change was Nadine Murtaza, a school teacher and a curriculum developer. She spoke about the need to highlight relatable local role models for school children.  She also called for a more realistic approach to the study of national heroes, such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal, rather than the current, rigid portrayal of these figures in most schools.

After the successful completion of the event, Mukhtar was thrilled by the appreciation that he had received from the participants.

“I feel amazing and the encouragement from the community drives us to these activities every year,” said the IVLP Alumnus.

As far as the sustainability of the project is concerned, Mukhtar says that most of the talks have been uploaded on YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook to reach out to people who could not attend the event in person. Muniba Mazari’s speech alone has gained more than 5,000 shares and more than 3,000 likes on Facebook, ensuring that Pakistan would continue to be inspired from the ‘Wonders among Us’ talks.

To find out more about the TEDX event, check out this link: