Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) is an association of U.S. exchange alumni who are committed to making meaningful contributions to Pakistan and comprise of current and former Pakistani participants of U.S. federal government-sponsored exchange programs.
Alumni News

In Conversation with Dr. Muhaiman

In Conversation with Dr. Muhaiman

An Advocate of Interfaith Harmony

As a scholar of Islamic Studies, Dr. Muhaiman often thought of the unrest plaguing the society – the hate and the extremism. “God is beautiful, his words are beautiful, and the world He has created is so beautiful!” he pondered. In his capacity as an educator, he explored avenues of building peace and fostering religious harmony. He says, “I wanted to bring the true message of religion – peace and harmony – to the common man who was often bewildered and confused by everything.”

In 2014, he was selected as a participant in the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on “Religious Diversity”. The experience allowed Dr. Muhaiman to meet with people from different religious backgrounds, to volunteer, and to travel across the United States. “I distinctly remember this 90-year-old priest I met in Seattle,” he recalls. “He said, ‘do not hate me because we have different beliefs. Both of us were created by the same God.’ His words, though very simple, had depth. They spoke volumes about the importance of interfaith harmony.”

The impact of these words, and the exchange experience as a scholar of Islamic Studies in the U.S., paved way for Dr. Muhaiman to initiate peace-building workshops on his return to Pakistan. “It was during my exchange program that I discovered ‘Unity in Diversity’,” he says. “I met followers of Mormonism and Atheism and we talked about our belief systems. Despite the difference in our opinions, there was mutual respect. I could see how religious diversity had ingrained harmony and peace in the society and that is when I realized, I wanted to work on interfaith and intrafaith harmony back home.”

Dr. Muhaiman with trainers after the conclusion of his workshop

Dr. Muhaiman with trainers after the conclusion of his workshop

In December 2015, he established the Society for Peace and Conflict Management (SPACM) at the University of Haripur. In a span of 15 months, Dr. Muhaiman has organized more than 35 events on peace building, social, and interfaith harmony and registered over 200 participants as part of SPACM. “The model of SPACM has proved to be a useful model for promoting interfaith and intrafaith harmony in educational institutes. Four more universities have expressed interest in adopting the SPACM model at their campuses,” he adds.

The formation of Dr. Muhaiman’s dream project came about through an interesting turn of events. In 2015, he attended PUAN International Conference: Peace and Conflict Resolution as a participant. Inspired by discussions on peace promotion and compelled to make a difference to the notion of extremism, he came up with the idea of creating an organization to “eliminate all forms of racial, ethnic, linguistic, political and religious bigotry through peace, love, respect, tolerance and through culture.”

Through the support of an alumni small grant from the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network, Dr. Muhaiman initiated his flagship program under SPACM named “Orientation of Madrassah Students”, engaging 25 students from five different Madaris for a 15-day exchange at the University of Haripur. Dr. Muhaiman also engaged 99 Madrasah teachers from four Madaris for a “Teacher’s Training Program.” His work earned him a spot as a speaker at the PUAN Youth Activism Conference where he delivered a session on “Youth Activism and Interfaith Harmony.”

Unity in Diversity

Unity in Diversity

He strongly believes that education is the best tool to counter extremism, and that is why he has focused his energies on regularly organizing workshops at the University of Haripur on interfaith harmony, intrafaith harmony, humanitarian law, role of educators in transformation the society, etc – and thus, playing his part in promoting the concept of “Unity in Diversity”.
“Issues like diversity, interfaith, and communal harmony are attacking our very basic right to live in harmony. We must understand that peace is not the destination, it is the path we all must adopt for a world free of communal violence, racism, bigotry, and religious extremism.

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Alumni News

Replug: January in Review

January marked new beginnings for the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN)!  We welcomed the newly elected leadership of 12 chapters to the National Executive Committee (NEC) who elected the new Country President of PUAN at the 7th NEC; launched our Instagram account and a month-long campaign on harnessing inclusion by highlighting work of our alumni with disabilities.

In addition, our alumni also met Acting Assistant Secretary of State Nini Forino; attended a special reception hosted by Robert Raines as part of the NEC; and the Islamabad/Rawalpindi former and current leadership attended a special networking reception hosted by Minister Counselor Tomlinson.

And let’s not forget our début Facebook Live chat with Abia Akram and Ali Shabbar!

But first things first, did you check out our New Year’s video?

PUAN General Elections 2016

The General Elections held by PUAN marked the democratic transition of power across all chapters.  54 candidates emerged victorious after the biggest elections held by PUAN with over 11,865 votes.  Read this story to learn all about how Fourth PUAN General Election Set New Records!

Alumni attend Sangat, a fusion of cultures through music

Sangat, an ensemble of musicians from the The University of Texas at Austin and National Academy of Performing Arts, performed at the Pakistan National Council of Arts.  Alumni indulged in an evening of musical fusion of the East and West – from the Sitar to the trumpet – that showcased the success of a three-year university partnership between the two schools.

Ask Nancy Gibbs: A Webchat with Editor of Time Magazine

On January 11, alumni took part in a webchat with Editor-in-Chief of Time Magazine, Nancy Gibbs and learned all about her journey with a candid discussion on the future of journalism, digital media, and breaking the glass ceiling.

Seventh NEC: Leadership Formally Takes Charge

Chapter leadership from all across the 12 chapters of PUAN convened at Islamabad for a two-day National Executive Committee meeting featuring talks by senior alumni on public partnerships, community engagement, and managing expectations.  Sessions on financial reporting, chapter plans, digital media and communications, and ethical practices helped equip participants with tools.  The highlight of the NEC was the selection of the Country President through a secret ballot.  Congratulations, Mr. Khawaja Mudassar!  Read the message from him here.

Check out our blog on the NEC too!

Special Networking Reception Engages Leadership

The U.S. Embassy’s Counselor for Public Affairs, Robert Raines hosted the networking reception for newly elected PUAN leadership. The reception provided an ample opportunity for PUAN leader to interact and share their community ideas; volunteer work and exchange experiences with representatives of U.S. Mission in Pakistan.

PUAN Roundtable Session with Nini Forino

13 alumni representing the Fulbright, Humphrey, Global Undergraduate Exchange, Study of the U.S. Institute, Professional Partnership for Journalists, and International Visitors Leadership (IVLP) Program met Ms. Nini Forino, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Director of Press and Public Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State.

Alumni shared their experiences of being a part of the largest exchange alumni network, success stories of their alumni small grants projects, and the impact they had created through these outreach activities. Check out photos from the session here.

PUAN Live: Episode One

In our first episode of PUAN Live, we spoke with Ali Shabbar and Abia Akram, alumni of the IVLP programs on disability leadership, and learned how they are channeling their energies into promoting a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities.

Networking Reception and Dinner hosted by Minister Counselor Public Affairs

On January 31, 2016, Ms. Christina Tomlinson, Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad, hosted a special networking reception in honor of the former and newly elected leadership of PUAN – Islamabad/Rawalpindi Chapter.  Ms. Tomlinson appreciated the efforts of the former leadership under President Haseeb Kiyani in reaching out to communities through chapter activities and outreach projects.  Welcoming the new leadership, former President of the chapter Kiyani, extended his support for a smooth transition.  The reception paved way for meaningful discussion on leadership roles and responsibilities and best practices.

Promoting Inclusion: PUAN highlights work of alumni on disability equality

All through January, our social media accounts were ablaze with stories of inspiration and impact.  From exchange experiences as a person with disability to alumni small grants projects on the same theme, we shared the initiatives of alumni in promoting inclusion.  Our spotlight profile highlighted the story of Nagina Tahir and how she is championing inclusion through the power of sign language.

PUAN on Instagram

Yes, are finally on Instagram! Follow us @PakUSAlumni to catch up on fantastic exchange stories in photos.

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Alumni News Grants

Interfaith Festival Celebrates Diversity in Sindh

IYDF

Empowers Participants to Become Agents of Peace

On July 30, 2016, Hyderabad welcomed 200 youth activists hailing from different ethnic and religious minorities from Tharparkar, Umarkot, Tando Muhammad Khan, Badin, Thatta, Jamshoro, Larkana, Nawabshah and Karachi for a riveting dialogue on peace and interfaith harmony.

From local heroes to youth engagement, and the role of educational institutes in fostering interfaith peace, the dialogue provided participants ample opportunity to learn, debate, and reflect on issues of interfaith and role of youth in advancing the message of peace and harmony.

This project was conceived and executed by Rajesh Kumar, an alumnus of Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders program, as part of the State Department’s campaign on Days of Interreligious Youth Action (DIYA).  Hailing from Hyderabad, Kumar had been an eye-witness to the all-embracing culture of the city towards people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.  Through his project “Interfaith Youth Dialogue and Festival (IYDF)” held in July 2016 in Hyderabad, he set out to foster interfaith harmony by engaging the youth and empowering them to become changemakers.  He says, “We must not allow intolerance to thrive.  Instead, we should teach our children peace and acceptance of diversity in the way we think, the way we live, as well as, the way we practice our different religions”.

This project was made possible with the help of an alumni small grant from the Pakistan-U. S. Alumni Network (PUAN). All alumni of various U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs in Pakistan are eligible to apply for the grant of up to $5,000 USD to enable them to give back to their communities.

Helping Humanity: IYDF Blood Donation Drive

A young girl suffering from Thalassemia and a volunteer enjoy a conversation during the blood donation

A young girl suffering from Thalassemia and a volunteer enjoy a conversation during the blood donation

The “Interfaith Blood Donation Drive” aimed to discourage discrimination and breed a sense of goodwill and interfaith co-existence among the people of Hyderabad and Jamshoro.  The blood donated at the Fatimid Foundation was adequately screened and donated to the Foundation.

Raheela Hassan, a doctor from Hyderabad, donated blood for the first time through this donation drive.  She recalls the pain she felt as she saw the thalassemia patients at the hospital.  “A young girl came over to me as I stood there and said ‘are you here to give me blood and save my life?’ That was when I realized how I could play a crucial role in helping her live a little.”

Interpreting Interfaith Harmony

Students interpret peace through their art

Students interpret peace through their art

With markers and papers spread out, Ayesha Amin tried to break down the meaning of interfaith harmony and peaceful co-existence for the students at the S.O.S. Village in Hyderabad.  Taking cues from Amin’s explanation, the young students each drew their own definition of peace, harmony, and interfaith.  For some, it was a house with two friends of different faiths living together, while for other it was a dove.

“We were apprehensive about how we would teach the kids about the complexities of the topic so they can draw around the theme of interfaith harmony. But little did we know, that it wouldn’t take many efforts. Instead, we underestimated their ability and intellect to understand the theme of the art activity,” says Amin.

Celebrating Diversity through Dialogue and Festival of Music

“To revive the all-embracing culture of Sindhi hospitality, youth has to take charge and have to engage in peace dialogues to promote interfaith harmony and co-existence,” said Rajesh Kumar as he welcomes 200 participants of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Bohri, and Bahai’ faiths to the IYDF in Hyderabad.

The event explored the role education, media, and society played in advancing the message of interfaith harmony.  Javed Qazi, a columnist, said, “People should emulate the life of iconic social activist Abdul Sattar Edhi and learn how to serve humanity.”

The riveting dialogue was followed by an evening of Sufi music and Kathak dance that delivered the message of co-existence.  The evening ended with all the participants pledging to work for peace and harmony across the globe.

Bahadur Qureshi adds,

“This project is a step towards a better world.  One where humanity coexists with peace, tolerance, and diversity; for the first time did Hyderabad witness a huge audience discussing, learning and experiencing the different colors of our social spectrum, spreading radiance of love and longevity through panels, dances, poetry, and donations.”

Learn more about DIYA – IYDF here.

 

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First Person

10 Things a Humphrey Fellow Discusses with Peers in America

Hina- Hubert-Humphrey-fellow

By Hina Ali, Hubert H. Humphrey fellow

There are certain things you always discuss during your stay in the United States as an exchange participant.  These are discussions that bring you closer to your other fellows, their countries, and their cultures.

Mother’s cooking and local cuisine of your country – On more than one occasion you will discuss with your fellows how great and flavorful your mom’s cooking is. To prove my point, I even cooked a couple of local dishes for my roommate from Bangladesh – Wahida Iffat.  In fact, she used to cook for me to cheer me up! We are friends for life now.

List of places to go – You will definitely compare a list of cities to visit with the fellows. You might even visit many of them together. Traveling is tough, you will want to travel to a lot of cities but you will have a limited budget so you will share rides, hotel rooms, and other things. 

Freedom of expression – In your apartment, at the university, and at official events you will discuss issues at length and even like an expert at times, especially if you are the one representing your country. Fellows, especially coming from countries where press freedom and social media often comes under attack, will find themselves giving talks about it and having heated debates in their lounges, all in good spirit.

Social injustice – Talking of freedom of expression, you will certainly find yourself actively, passionately and sometimes aggressively discuss social issues facing your country with the Americans and vice versa.

Your opinion on men and women – This will happen on a leisurely evening when you will bond with closest of your fellows. Either you will gather for tea, drinks or dinner or the evening will start with jokes and you will end up discussing the difference between a man and a woman’s life – work, family, and of course love life; comparing your opinion with other fellows – possibly, arguing your case till two in the morning.

Movies and music – You will not just discuss movies and music – you will actively share it. There will be at least a couple of fellows who will really like your music (you might like their music too) and this will make your friendships deeper and you will have exclusive insights from your fellow’s lives and cultures.

Family system – If it is your first visit, you might find yourself comparing the family system in your country and in the U.S. What I learned from such conversations is: everyone loves their family and values relationships – no matter how American or Pakistani the value systems may be.

Stereotypes – This will happen in either formal surroundings or in very informal settings. If you come from a country like Pakistan you will be asked a lot of questions on stereotypes about working women, stereotypes about Islam, etc. This will be your chance to break some stereotypes.The fascinating part about this is: You will not just break stereotypes for other people – they will do the same for you.

Success during your year – Last but not the least, you will find yourself sitting in your kitchen; you might be angry or sad or disappointed or may be all; your spirits might be broken, you might be crying or shouting; and at that time you will have a shoulder to cry on and someone to lean on.

These are the moments when you realize that the fellows have become your family.

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Alumni News

PUAN NEC 2017: New Leadership, New Ideas

NEC 2017

Sessions Help Unlock Best Practices for New Leadership 

Following a 20-hour road trip braving the cold weather and jagged roads from Skardu, Ashiq Hussain, Muhammad Ilyas, Siddiqa Moosa, Saira Zahid and Manzoor Hussain arrived in Islamabad.

“We did not want to take a chance on the weather.  We wanted to make sure we were in Islamabad in time!” they exclaim.

54 Alumni from Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Islamabad/Rawalpindi, Bahawalpur, Lahore, Multan, Jamshoro, Karachi, Sukkur, Quetta, Gawadar, and Khyber Pukhtonkhwa convened in Islamabad for the seventh Annual National Executive Council (NEC) Meeting held from January 21 – 22, 2017.

At the start of each year, the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) arranges the NEC to provide alumni leadership an opportunity to build on their leadership skills through interactive skills-based sessions, brainstorm ideas collectively on chapter activities and outreach projects, and share best practices and case studies.

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Alumni News Grants

No One Left Behind: Leadership Conference Promotes Inclusion for All

Leadership Training on SDGs and UPR

Conference Equips Participants with Tools for Inclusive Leadership

Asfandyar Khattak works on advancing quality education in the town of Nowshera.  Being a person with disability, he has a firm belief in pursuing an inclusive approach.  This is why when he found out about a conference being organized on the principle theme of “no one left behind”, he quickly enrolled to engage and empower himself with knowledge from experts in the field of inclusive development and disability rights.

“This training was something completely new for me!” he exclaims after attending the five-day conference. “The sessions helped me understand how I can take action on my dreams.”

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Alumni News Alumni Success Story

In Conversation with Nagina Tahir

Nagina Tahir

An Advocate of Inclusive Development

From teaching sign language to students at the Sir Syed College for Special Children in 2008 to leading the National Forum for Women with Disabilities (NFWWD) as an Executive Director in 2013, Nagina Tahir’s journey is one of strength, resilience, and passion.

Born Deaf, Tahir received her education from the Sir Syed College for Special Children, Rawalpindi, in Fine Arts. In 2013, after receiving her certification in attendant-ship, she started to work as an attendant, and later as a Sign Language Specialist with Special Talent Exchange Program (STEP). It was here that she had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. as a participant of the Disability Exchange Program.

Tahir was placed in Eugene, Oregon for a six-week intensive leadership program that helped her understand disability equality and inclusive development from a different lens. For her, this exchange signified a stepping stone for it opened her up to a different reality for persons with disabilities – one that was not marked by indifference and social isolation. “When I went to the U.S. I saw a different reality for persons with disabilities; there was accessibility provided for them at every step,” she says.

She saw busses that were wheelchair accessible, learned about the Fitness for All program that engaged persons with disabilities in exercises at the gym and on the basketball court. What Tahir found to be the most welcoming difference was the presence of a sign language interpreter at all events and meetings.

Connecting through Sign Language

“Because of the presence of a sign language interpreter, I never felt left out at meetings on my exchange program. I participated more actively and voiced my ideas and thoughts,” says Tahir. Interestingly, Tahir learned the American Sign Language (ASL) during her exchange program. “The sign language we learn in Pakistan is quite different from ASL, but this helped me develop another skill that has helped me incredibly in my sessions through the NFWWD.”

Tahir during one of the excursions to the beach

Tahir during one of the excursions to the beach

She vividly recalls the inclusive environment she experienced as a Deaf person. She enjoyed watching horror movies that were without any dialogues and saw Deaf persons work in a cinema that was accessible for persons with disabilities. One incident really intrigued her and it was meeting a dentist who was deaf. “Seeing a doctor treat patients using sign language was a promising sight! It further strengthened my resolve to continue teaching and advocating for sign language back home,” says Tahir.

While she connected with women from all around the world through sign language on her exchange, she also overcame one of her biggest fear of dogs.  “Our host family had a dog in the house and initially I closed my eyes while going inside because I had always been very scared of dogs.  But later, I enjoyed how the dog would sit and watch me talk in sign language with others!  We eventually ended up becoming very good friends!”

Leading from the Front

Since her return to Pakistan, Tahir continues to play an active role in breaking barriers and promoting inclusion for persons with all kinds of disabilities. As the Executive Director of NFWWD, she actively leads seminars on disability equality, peer counseling, and gender-sensitive inclusive development. She advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities on all forums and believes that creating widespread awareness is critical to behavioral change in the society. She strongly feels the general behavior towards people with learning disabilities is discriminatory and this is one reason why she regularly holds art classes at her alma mater with students facing learning disabilities.

Promoting inclusive development through outreach

Promoting inclusive development through outreach

She has spoken to persons with disabilities in Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the U.S. She also teaches sign language to people around the word through video conferencing. As a matter of fact, Tahir has taught sign language to everyone in her community and therefore, broken a huge barrier to communication.

We asked her what does the future look like for Nagina Tahir?
She says, “I will work for people with all kinds of disabilities while staying in Pakistan and show them that they can – and they should – pursue professional careers. There is absolutely nothing that is coming in our way.”

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Alumni News

Message from the New Country President: Khawaja Mudassar

Khawaja Mudassar, Country President - PUAN

Dear PUAN family!

I am Khawaja Mudassar Mahmood, newly elected Country President of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) for the next two years (2017 – 2019).

First of all, I would like to extend my gratitude to the chapter leaderships who supported me through their vote of confidence for my selection for this position.  I am positive that with your continued support, together we can make meaningful progress through the platform of PUAN.

I have been a part of this flourishing network of over 22,000 exchange alumni since 2011 when I returned from the International Visitors Leadership Program.  Since then, as part of the Multan chapter, I have played an active role as an exchange alumnus.  Professionally, I am a social and political worker and have also contested the National Assembly elections.

Looking to the future, as the Country President of PUAN, my aim is to strengthen PUAN in a variety of ways through joint ventures and collaborations.  I plan to create effective linkages through collaborative activities among the twelve chapters of PUAN.

Lastly, my humble request to all alumni is: Play your role as effective exchange ambassadors by giving back to your communities.  I encourage you to collaborate with fellow alumni and take the lead on service projects that will make a difference.  You can also apply for chapter grants and small grants for projects on capacity development, interfaith harmony, climate change, vocational training, cultural diversity, education, women empowerment, inclusive development, and other key areas.

I hope to remain in contact with all of you.

Khawaja Mudassar Mehmood

In January 2017, the new leadership from across the 12 chapters of PUAN was elected for a two-year term stretching from 2017 – 2019.  Click here to meet our chapter leaderships.

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Alumni Success Story First Person The Alumni Corner

Alumni Corner: Ignore Disability, Explore Ability

Alumni Organize Activity for Promotion of Sports Skills among Persons with Disabilities

This activity was organized by exchange alumni Sahib Khan Bhand and Abid Lashari in Nawabshah in February 2016 with the sole purpose of creating awareness among people to highlight the need for sports opportunities for persons with disabilities.  We are replugging this story to share how our alumni in Sindh are working towards promoting inclusivity for persons with disabilities.  The activity engaged key stakeholders from Nawabshah for an open dialogue with the community on the need for promoting equality and inclusion.  Participants discussed the importance of sports for physical and mental health, creation of accessible infrastructure for persons with disabilities, and promoting the spirit of entrepreneurship among persons with disabilities.

Click to read the Report Sports Skills among persons with Disabilities [sic] compiled by Khan and Lashari to learn more about this activity.

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Alumni News Grants

Alumna Raises Awareness on Learning Disabilities in Students

Learning Disabilities in Students by Anisa Shah

Project Sensitizes Over 900 Participants on the Subject

As a teacher, Arif Khan devoted his time and energy in nourishing the young minds with education and knowledge – both in and out of class.  However, he often wondered the reasons behind the gaps in learning abilities of his students.

“Being a teacher, it was hard for me to accept that some of my students were not reciprocating the same level of understanding as the others,” he adds.

As he weighed in on possible reasons behind the imprudent behavior, lack of attention, and lack of recall of some of his students, he came across a seminar on learning disabilities in students taking place at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Peshawar. He attended the seminar with 99 other teachers, parents, and students on November 10, 2016.

“I learned that a student with a learning disability may suffer from low self-esteem and resentment. This changes how we, as educators, play our role in imparting education to a classroom of students,” he adds.

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