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In Conversation with Navera Waheed

In Conversation with Navera Waheed

A Female Tech Entrepreneur Who Aims to Revolutionize the Education System through Augmented Reality

Before leaving for the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) in November 2015, Navera Waheed had not anticipated the changes that would follow: giving up her day job; signing her biggest client over a Thanksgiving dinner in Texas.  In the span of a year, Waheed’s startup “Cygnus Solutions” evolved from a company of two female co-founders working on all things logistics, technical, and financial, to a team of 10 male employees working on multiple innovative tech projects.

“When I came back from my exchange program, I knew it was time to step out of my comfort zone of an eight-hour working day and a monthly salary check and fully commit myself to the startup that I had co-founded!”

Waheed with a host of female tech entrepreneurs

Waheed attended the IVLP on “taking your tech startup to the next level” that lent her the opportunity to travel and discover Washington D.C., Detroit, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Texas and learn about the American entrepreneurial ecosystem for technology startups.  “Meeting so many women at the forefront of technology and entrepreneurship was just the kind of inspiration I needed,” she says.  “What impressed me the most was this incubator for hardware startups run by a woman who started off from her basement – how often do you get to hear that?” she exclaims.

As a female engineer, Waheed is aptly aware of the stigma and stereotypes attached to women in technology.  She credits her colleague, Wajiha, for being a strong influence in her entrepreneurial journey.  “I had never ever thought in school that I would run a startup!  It was at work one day when Wajiha suggested we should put our engineering skills to good use.  I had no idea how startups worked, but I knew technology.  Initially, we just had one project and Wajiha and I would spend hours after our day jobs on that one project.  We were making no profit! In fact, our salary would go in the startup just so we could support it,” she says, recounting the early days of Cygnus Solutions.

Augmented Reality Project in Progress

Fast forward to 2017, Waheed’s startup is now lucrative and flourishing.   Along with her team, she is working on a line of augmented reality products that can influence meaningful changes in education, fashion, and technology.  Her dream project is to create a Virtual Dress Room (VDR) that allows users to virtually try on clothes.  This caught the attention of her biggest client and now her partner, John Highland, the Chief Executive Officer of Biovideo.

Waheed with her team at Cygnus Solutions

“The IVLP experience was what set things in motion,” she says.  During one of the networking dinners on Thanksgiving eve, she met Highland and after a riveting conversation on augmented reality and 3D modeling, Highland proposed that Cygnus Solutions handle the backend for his product Biovideo.

It was this offer, combined with the exposure of visiting female-led tech startups and meeting women in technology and entrepreneurship who were making an impact, that had Waheed committed to fully invest herself in her entrepreneurial venture.

“Somehow, I managed to convince Wajiha and together we traveled back to the U.S. for a follow-up meeting with Highland to finalize the terms of our agreement.  By this time, we had both quit our day jobs and there was no way out anymore.  We knew Cygnus Solutions was all we had.”

Today, Cygnus Solutions is incubated at the National University of Science and Technology – Technology Incubation Center. where Waheed manages a team of ten male employees, along with her partner Wajiha.  Presently, they are developing a mobile application that uses augmented reality to show the complex processes that go inside a human body.

 

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Alumni News First Person

World Poetry Day 2017: Poems by Alumni

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Alumnus Spearheads First Teacher Training Program in Khanewal

Alumnus Spearheads First Teacher Training Program in Khanewal

27 Female Teachers Learn Innovative Pedagogical Methods

Ishrat teaches middle school children at the Bright Future Model School in Khanewal. This particular day, she decides to give her students flash cards and asks them not to open their books. She senses the excitement in the classroom as her students mouth the names of vegetables, drawn on the cards, to one another.

For Ishrat, having her students so involved in the classwork was something new. Previously, she had struggled with increasing student engagement in her classroom. That is why when she found out about a teachers’ training program happening in Khanewal, she instantly decided to enroll.

“From school, I would leave straight for the training that ran till 6:00 pm each day. Despite the hectic routine, the training has helped me boost my confidence by learning effective ways of communication and methods of teaching,” she says.
The project, “Teachers’ Training Program for Speaking Skills and Critical Literacy” was held in Khanewal from October 24, 2016 to November 4, 2016. The program engaged 27 female teachers from 10 schools in Khanewal for a first-of-its-kind teacher training program, designed and executed by Teaching Excellence and Achievement (TEA) and E-Teacher program alumnus Asad Qayyum.

PUAN Education Conference Paves Way for Training Program

Qayyum, an English lecturer at Lawrence College, left his permanent job to come back to Khanewal. His desire to transform the educational system in the city led to him joining the Punjab School Education Department. He says, “When I started the E-Teacher program on critical literacy at University of Northern Colorado, I realized how we needed to adopt innovative methods in our approach towards teaching.” He shares that the exchange experience as a TEA fellow at Oregon State University exposed him to modern pedagogical techniques that he wanted to replicate for the teaching community at Khanewal.

Asad Qayyum, Project Head

Qayyum’s inspiration for the training design and development came about during the 2016 PUAN International Education Conference: Mapping Education in the 21st Century. “While attending Umer Hussain and Abbas Hussain’s sessions on student-centric teaching and critical thinking, I realized such a training was crucial for teachers in Khanewal who did not have access to such modern methods of pedagogy,” says Qayyum.

Training Introduces Innovative Pedagogical Methods

The 12 days training introduced teachers to role plays, creative ways of group creation, essential speaking skills, and critical thinking paradigms they could use in their classes to increase student engagement.

“The role play activity was one of my favorite assignments. It really helped me boost my confidence,” says Warda, a teacher at the City Public school.
Lubna, a teacher at the Salvation Army Schools, also felt that the training helped her improve her language skills. “The best thing is that now I understand how to stimulate the brain of my students and keep them actively engaged in the classroom.”

Participant reviews her notes from the program

Participant reviews her notes from the program

For many of the teachers, this was the first time they were attending a training program catering to the skills enhancement of teachers. Zoya Tahira from Superior College was also a first-timer at such a training. “We did not quite understand the difference between critical thinking and criticize, however, the training program helped us understand the difference between the two and how we can effectively deploy critical learning as a teacher.”

The training concluded with 27 female teachers empowered with key critical literacy and speaking skills they will deploy in their classrooms to empower the young generation of learners.  For Qayyum, this training is the first step towards truly innovating the educational system in Khanewal.

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Building Entrepreneurial Skills Among Women

Building Entrepreneurial Skills Among Women

Residency Program Empowers Women of FATA

Faiza Asghar, a student of International Relations at Peshawar University, did not know much about entrepreneurship, crises communication, or business development. That was, however, before she attended a five-day residency program in Nathia Gali on the theme of entrepreneurship and crises communication with 20 other young women.
“The past five days have taught me the meaning of confidence, communication, and group work,” she says.

The five-day residency program titled “Entrepreneurship and Crises Communication” engaged 20 female students hailing from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) for an intensive training program incorporating hands-on approach for developing entrepreneurial skills in the participants. This project was the brainchild of Global Undergraduate Exchange Program alumnus Waheedullah and took place from October 21 – 25, 2016.

This 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.

Nurturing the Spirit of Entrepreneurship

Uzma Ali Afridi was not quite sure how the residency would add to her professional development. However, she was in for a pleasant surprise while attending the training with Sana Ejaz, an alumna of the International Visitors Leadership Program and a social activist, who gave a session on “Crises Communication.” Afridi says, “As a journalist, I learned key skills for public communication that will help me immensely in my career. Ms. Ejaz’s session provided us a practical approach to crises communication.”

Participants work in groups to develop a business plan

During the five-day program, sessions on basics of entrepreneurship, digital entrepreneurship, developing a business plan and a business pitch, and crises communication took place in a resort nestled among the lush green forests of Nathia Gali.

Sajjad Ali from U.K. Aid, the lead trainer, was impressed by the energy of the participating women. “I was pleasantly happy to see the participants coming up with questions and having an open discussion on innovation.” He adds, “The setting of the residency program in the hills further nurtured the dialogue and discussion.”

The participating women were students of different fields, including International Relations, Mass Communication, Law, and Business. Memuna Ashraf, a student of Business Administration at the University of Peshawar says, “I did not expect the sessions to be so exhaustive in nature. But, even though I have learned many of the terms in my Master’s program, I was still able to learn so much more! The most important of them being coordination, cooperation, and tolerance.”

Consolidating the Learning: Aspiring Entrepreneurs Pitch their Plans

The residency program culminated in groups of aspiring entrepreneurs presenting their business plans, ranging from solar chips that acted as chargers to drone ambulance cameras, and defending its feasibility and scalability.

Participants present their business pitch

Asma Fareed from Mohmand Agency pitched the idea of starting an apparel venture inspired by the traditional dresses of FATA. “By working on a business venture in groups, I have learned the importance of teamwork, time management, and leadership.” She adds, “Presenting the final pitch really helped boost my confidence.”
Kainat Shah from Peshawar University, a participant in the program, said that this excursion helped her understand entrepreneurship from a practical standpoint. “I am equipped with the tools and techniques to translate my ideas into entrepreneurial ventures.”

For Waheedullah, the training was a step in empowering women of FATA with technical, creative and leadership skills. “This training was the first exposure visit for our participants. Therefore, we incorporated a cultural evening and a hiking trip along with the training program to truly nurture the inner leader that resides in these powerful women.”

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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

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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Interfaith Festival Celebrates Diversity in Sindh

Interfaith Festival Celebrates Diversity in Sindh

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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PUAN NEC 2017: New Leadership, New Ideas

PUAN NEC 2017: New Leadership, New Ideas

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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No One Left Behind: Leadership Conference Promotes Inclusion for All

No One Left Behind: Leadership Conference Promotes Inclusion for All

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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In Conversation with Nagina Tahir

In Conversation with 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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