Alumni News Alumni Success Story

In Conversation with Samiya Farooq


By Rimsha Ali Shah

As a student of veterinary medicine at the University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS), Lahore, Samiya Farooq held a strong belief in overhauling agricultural that were more suited to preserving the climate and the habitat.  Fast forward four years and now she is the first South Asian professional accredited by the Savory Institute for their course on Holistic Management.

The journey from her time as a student to a professional was lined with achievements, including becoming the first female vice president of her university’s debating club, the joint editor of a student magazine called Vision, an associate member of Seeds of Peace and going to the United States on the Global Undergraduate Semester Exchange Program (UGRAD).

It was, in fact, her association with Seeds of Peace that inculcated the spirit of volunteerism, community service, and civic engagement in her, and paved way for her UGRAD program.

“I was always active in arranging harmony camps and peace activities as a seed of peace.  It was during the national integration camp, I had organized that a fellow batch mate of mine, Syed Muhammad Faheem Ahmed, told me about the UGRAD program.  I applied and before I knew it, I was in the United States as an exchange participant!”

The experience, Farooq says, has shaped her personality in great ways.  Placed at the University of Utah, Farooq had enrolled in livestock management courses that allowed her to visit Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho as part of her field visit.  “I wanted to build on the knowledge I had acquired in Pakistan, and my courses offered me the unique opportunity of learning new methods and practices.”

Her interest in veterinary medicine and agriculture helped her connect with people at her university and during her field visits.  In fact, Farooq’s keen interest in the subject earned her a spot on the campus radio show where she was able to impress everyone with her knowledge.  “I was the first international student to answer all the questions correctly!” she exclaims.

“Exchanges for me are more about exploring and understanding the people, rather than simply ‘going places’,” adds Farooq.  She has a special smile as she mentions Francia, her dorm fellow, KC Neil Sorenson, her mentor, and Professor Lyle MC Niel, her professors.  “They were always there to raise my spirits and push me to be the best version of myself,” she remarks.

On her return, Farooq continued to put the skills she acquired in Utah into practice.  Her outstanding leadership skills and her passion for the community development paved way for her to win the SMILE grant award in 2015 on the theme of teacher’s training.  She traveled across four districts of Punjab including Lahore, Kasur, Nana lana Sahab, and Sheikhupura to conduct her workshops with teachers serving in the local schools.

Last year, an opportunity presented itself when Farooq started working as a veterinary extension officer.  While studying proposals presented for Sir Richard Branson’s $25 million Virgin Earth challenge launched in 2007, Farooq came across the Savory Institute’s proposal on sustainable livestock farming.

As part of the accreditation process to become a hub of the Savory Institute, Farooq attended five online courses on holistic management, a workshop in Colorado to learn the basics, a boot camp in Zimbabwe where she practically witnessed the land healing, and also saw a demonstration of sustainable farming in a village close to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.  She is now the first South Asian accredited professional certified by Savory Institute and a member of the team that is the first Savory Hub candidate in Pakistan.

“We are currently in the process of setting up our first research pilot project in Kasur, to learn the protocols of Holistic Management in Pakistan, according to the Savory Principals. This will not only help us in eradicating poverty by introducing sustainable farming practices, but will also give us a world lead on climate change by carbon sequestration,” she says.

Her active contribution towards climate action also led to her selection as a candidate for PUAN Climate Change Conference 2016, where she had the opportunity to network with exchange alumni from five different countries.  “I used to feel that there are not many climate change activists in our country, but to meet so many of them together has been quite inspiring!”

Farooq now plans to pursue her work in soil regeneration and sustainable farming practices.  From conducting awareness camps for farmers as a student at UVAS to working on a demonstration site for farmers and students so that they may learn about sustainable yet climate-friendly agricultural practices, Farooq has proved her commitment to bringing change in the lives of farmers through climate-friendly methods.

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Alumni News Grants

Sabz Khawab: Alumna Produces Pakistan’s Greenest Radio Show


By Rimsha Ali Shah

Traveling with their family for a picnic to a nearby picnic spot, young Aliya and Ali were horror-struck to see the once lush green forest torn down with machines and engulfed with clouds of dust.  They learn all the trees had been chopped off to pave way for a construction project.  Dejected and frustrated, the children exclaim, “but why did they have to cut all the trees!”

Sensitizing children, youth, and elders on the hazards of climate change through storytelling was what Rafia Saleem set out to do through her project, “Sabz Khawab” or “Dreaming Green”.  Saleem is an alumna of the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan program, a recipient of the Presidential Aizaz-e-Sabqat, Young Eco-Hero award winner, and recipient of Fatima Jinnah Memorial Gold Medal from Ministry of Women’s Development, Social Welfare, and Special Education.  Her passion for environmental protection is not newfound; she has been engaged in climate change activities in 1999.  She has written extensively on the subject and published a book called, “ABC of Environment” to educate children on environmental protection.

“I had written a lot about climate change in the English language but, I understood the disconnect that created with the masses.  Producing a radio show in Urdu gave me the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience comprising of students, parents, teachers, farmers, housewives, laborers — in short, all and sundry — and educate them about climate change and its impact.” 

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Alumni News Grants

Ek Qadam: One Step Towards Change


By Rimsha Ali Shah

Tanzeela Bashir, an alumna of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, vividly recalls the poor condition of sanitation and hygiene in the school where she studied till Class 9th.  “The restrooms were always in a dismal condition, the water filtration plant hardly worked, and there was no sensitization on the importance of hygiene,” she says.

With time, the unsanitary conditions became a distant memory until a few months back when she visited a schools as part of her project “Ek Qadam”.  “The visit was a deja-vu moment for me, and that is when I decided to focus all my energies on public schools.  The statistics on the death of children due to lack of sanitation and clean water are horrifying and I knew I had to play my part to raise awareness.”

Ek Qadam, or One Step, is a project centered on raising awareness on safety and security measures, sanitation, hygiene, health, self-help and first-aid.  This project ties in these five components with the threats posed by climate change.  “We started with an ambitious target of 3000 students, but ultimately ended up empowering 5000 students in 18 public schools across Sargodha,” shares Bashir.

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Alumni News Regional Cooperation Thematic Conference

Climate Counts: Exchange Alumni Collaborate for Climate Action

Climate Counts

By Rimsha Ali Shah.

Fulbright alumnus Qobiljon Shokirov, along with his counterparts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, was studying trends and drivers of change of rangeland ecosystems as part of an international research on “Rangeland Resources and Uses in the Hindu-Kush Karakoram-Pamir Landscape”. When he found out about a climate change conference in Pakistan, he was excited at the prospect of visiting his neighboring country and exchanging climate action strategies.
Once in Pakistan, Shokirov attended four different workshop sessions, spoke in a regional panel, attended an outreach project, brainstormed ideas on climate action projects, and shared the Tajik culture with the group of South, East, and Central Asian participants.

“To be honest, I did not know much about Pakistan, but it has been an interesting exchange learning about this country and drawing comparisons to Tajikistan”

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Alumni News Reunions

200 Alumni from GB Reconnect at FongKhar, The Palace on the Rocks

PUAN GB Reunion

By Rimsha Ali Shah

Arfa Mohib, Naureen Akhter, and Rubina Bano stood admiring the 300-year-old fort perched on a gigantic old rock.  A few steps ahead, a group of alumni was appreciating the old-age artifacts preserved in the fort, while another cluster posed against the backdrop of the famous Shigar Rock that held the ruins of the 11th Century fort Karu Dong.

This year, the reconnect event was held at the unique heritage site of 17th Century FongKhar, the palace on the rock, popularly known as the Shigar Fort.  The excitement of going through old architecture and reconnecting with friends amid the backdrop of such historic richness had lifted the spirits of all 200 alumni who were present at the Shigar Fort for the reunion.

They had traveled from Ghanche, Gilgit, Ghizer, Hunza, Nagar, and Skardu to attend the sixth annual reunion of Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network’s (PUAN) Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Chapter on October 22, 2016. 

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Alumni News Grants Reunions

6th Anniversary of PUAN ISB/RWP Chapter Celebrates Achievements of Alumni

PUAN IRC Reunion

By Rimsha Ali Shah

Aleenah Masud stood at the back of the hall with a bird’s eye view of the event before her.  She could see the hall filling up, with a lot of new faces, and a lot of old ones.  Since her participation in the Study of the U.S. Institute for Student Leaders (SUSI) in 2011, she had been actively organizing the annual reunions, but this one had a special significance for her.  With this reunion, she was completing her four-year term as the Finance Secretary of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) Islamabad/Rawalpindi Chapter.

“PUAN is my second home, and I feel absolutely honored to have served as the Finance Secretary for the Islamabad/Rawalpindi Chapter.  To be honest, I never knew I would be able to handle grants and their accounts for these incredible four years.  It has been an upward learning curve for me.”

The 6th Annual Reunion of PUAN Islamabad/Rawalpindi Chapter was held on October 22, 2016, in Islamabad with the participation of more than 700 alumni of State Department-sponsored exchange programs from the twin cities.  The reunion acknowledged the chapter’s progress over the past one year through the Emerging Leaders Award, the Distinguished Leaders Award, appreciation certificates for the PUAN Mentorship Program 2015, and celebrated the contribution of alumni to the cause of community development.  This year, for the first time, the reunion featured a job fair with noted names from the industry present.  The reunion also marked the term completion of the current chapter leadership and executive board.

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Alumni News Alumni Success Story

In Conversation with Neelum Khan Toru

Neelum Toru  with Evan Ryan, , Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs
Neelum Khan Toru with Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Evan Ryan.

By Rimsha Ali Shah

In October 2016, Neelum Khan Toru’s term as the Chairperson of the Provincial Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), was concluding.  During her two years at the PCSW, Toru was charged with reviewing legislation, assessing government programs, and monitoring their implementation for increased women’s participation in the political, social, and economic fronts.

It was a month prior to her tenure completion that she received an email confirming her selection for the inaugural Distinguished Humphrey Leadership Award taking place from September 16 – October 4, 2016, in the U.S.

“I was surprised when I received the email confirming my nomination for this program!” exclaims Toru.  She feels that such opportunities are equally pivotal for the continuous progress of professionals and students, alike.  “Once you are in the professional circle, opportunities for such executive courses are crucial for your professional grooming and growth,” she adds.

As part of the group of 10 leaders representing nine countries in the inaugural Distinguished Humphrey Leadership Award, Toru attended a one-week executive leadership course at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, one-week individualized job shadowing at Global Rights for Women (GRW), Minneapolis, and a one-on-one meeting with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Cathy Russel in Washington, D.C.  

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First Person The Alumni Corner

First Person: Beyond Exchanges


By Eisha, Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program

It is a well-known fact among the exchange community that exchanges transform lives.  After all, exchange is a year of growth, adventure, and learning.  However, not many have talked about their journey of reintegration.  What happens when you come back home as a different person who has experienced so many things during an unforgettable year?  Leaving everything behind from the exchange year spent in the U.S. as a Kennedy-Lugar Youth and Exchange Study (YES) program participant and coming back home was definitely not easy.  I missed my host family, my friends, in short, all things small and big.

But then, that is exactly how I felt when I left for my exchange program as well. 

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First Person Grants

First Person: Organizing BUBW – Pakistan to Promote Interfaith Harmony

BUBW - Pakistan

By Priya Parkash, YES 2014-2015, Pakistan, hosted by AFS in Camarillo, CA

A few months ago, two religious commemorations — the Hindu celebration of Holi and the Christian Easter holiday — were declared public holidays in the province of Sindh.  The ensuing debate and dialogue made me realize how we, as a society, shy away from discussion on religion.  The result is nothing but massive ignorance about other faiths.  I, however, wanted to play my part and change that.

The incident took me back to my exchange year when I, as a participant of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program (YES), attended the Better Understanding for a Better World (BUBW) conference that was sponsored by Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation and led by Imam Mohamed Bashar Arafat, a pillar in the American Muslim community who has dedicated his work to interfaith dialogue.  It was at this conference when I first realized that while religion may be a sensitive issue, dialogue can make interfaith harmony an achievable goal.

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Alumni News Alumni Success Story

From Pakistan to Nepal: PUAN Delegation Bags Seven Awards at EIMUN 2016


By Rimsha Ali Shah

The delegation at the transit

The delegation at the transit

While in transit at the Hamad International Airport, Qatar, Abdul Moeed Asad, Ayesha Amin, Sara Hassan, Umer Hussain, and Wahid Khan posed for a photograph hoisting the Pakistani flag.  It was August 14, 2016, Pakistan’s 70th Independence day, and this delegation, later joined by Aruba Khalid, Azeema Ilyas, and Baitullah Khan, were all set for the first regional edition of the Everest International Model United Nations (EIMUN) 2016 held in Kathmandu, Nepal from August 15 -19, 2016.

Their journey was one marked with extraordinary tales!  From meeting the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Alaina Teplitz, to singing the famous “Dil Dil Pakistan” on 14th August; forging bonds with young leaders from South and Central Asia to staging a cultural wedding show on the global village; exploring Kathmandu and Pokhara, appreciating the cultural diversity to winning seven out of eight awards! 

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