By Hira Nafees Shah
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.”
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.
“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.”
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: