CCIP Alumnus Empowers Women of Sukkur

By Hira Nafees Shah

Emerge Pakistan 5

Project Advisers and Participants of Emerge Pakistan

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

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

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

Building a Democratic Student Organization

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

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

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

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

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

 Democracy Training Opens Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on Emerge Pakistan, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/EmergePakistan

Islamabad Chapter Reunion Hails Distinguished Alumni

By Hira Nafees Shah

Participants of PUAN Islamabad Chapter Reunion carrying Pakistani and American Flags

Participants of PUAN Islamabad Chapter Reunion carrying Pakistani and American Flags

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

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

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

Distinguished Alumni and Young Emerging Leaders with DCM Thomas Williams

Distinguished Alumni and Young Emerging Leaders with DCM Thomas Williams

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

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

The Reunion Welcomes Guests from Afar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alumni Reflect on the Value of Community Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Person: Learning, Fun and Exposure SUSI 2014

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

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

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

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

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

2014 SUSI exchange participants at Wall Street

2014 SUSI exchange participants at Wall Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maham Zahid with Dr Micheal Hannahan the Director Civic Initiative

Maham Zahid with Dr Micheal Hannahan the Director Civic Initiative

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

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

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

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

By Hira Nafees Shah

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

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

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

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

A Boy Scout Camp Takes Root

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

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

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

The ground-breaking Boy Scout camp in Lakki Marwat was funded by the Pakistan-U.S Alumni Network. All alumni of various U.S sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan are eligible to apply for the grant to enable them to give back to their communities.

UGrad Alumnus Asif Salam

UGrad Alumnus Asif Salam

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

Students Learn to Help Each Other and Their Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Waheed Alam conducting the First Aid Training Session

Dr. Waheed Alam conducting the First Aid Training Session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.