Alumni News

Fourth PUAN General Election Sets New Records

For members of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN), 2016 ended with rejuvenated energies and tense excitement.  2016 was an election year for PUAN and from November to December candidates fiercely campaigned with their political slogans, manifestos, and mandates, while voters deliberated with perspicacity.  The fervor in the General Election this year was one that was not seen before.

After a stringent voter verification process, 54 men and women rose to positions of power.  These elected individuals, however, went through a vigorous process of vetting prior to their selection as nominees.  Throughout the month of December, nominees prepared campaign strategies, formed alliances, participated in town hall debates, and engaged with their voters – both online and offline.  An election committee, in each chapter, worked tirelessly to ensure that no violation took place.

Timeline: PUAN General Elections 2016

Record Voter Participation

Since 2010, every two years the network conducts its general election to democratically elect alumni from across Pakistan.  This year, we received a record number of applications for nominations and a record number of votes!  92 candidates from across the 12 chapters of PUAN competed against 54 open seats and received a total of 11865 votes.  More than 1400 female and 2000 male alumni cast their votes, resulting in an all-time high in voter participation!

E-Voting System 

The newly introduced e-voting system for PUAN elections ensured that a seamless voting process took place.  Alumni had five days to cast their votes and from December 19 – 23, 2016, and over 3000 alumni participated.

Head over to to view the results!

Going Digital

Leveraging the power of digital media, candidates participated in e-campaigning with great fervor!  All twelve online chapter groups of PUAN were ablaze with posters, notes, and short videos with compelling statements by the candidates.

To sum it up, Elections 2016 saw:

  1. A record number of nominations – 92 candidates against 54 open seats!
  2. Selection of 24 female candidates and 30 male candidates to serve on the chapters’ leadership;
  3. An increase in voter participation by 136%!
  4. Participation from alumni of 39 different exchange programs;
  5. A compelling digital campaign by each candidate;
  6. An e-voting system that eased the process of voting;
  7. The most number of verified votes were cast in Gilgit-Baltistan, followed by Islamabad/Rawalpindi and KP- FATA chapters;
  8. Bahawalpur had the highest number of voters
  9. An all-women leadership in Bahawalpur chapter
  10. Alumni of the English Access Microscholarship Program, Global Undergraduate Exchange Program, and the Youth Exchange and Study Program were the most active voting groups!


Congratulations to the newly elected leadership!  We’re positive that your leadership over the next two years will further the PUAN mission of strengthening people-to-people ties!


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Alumni News

In Conversation with Nigar Nazar

By Rimsha Ali Shah

With her signature polka dots and quirky wit, Gogi, known to everyone as an emblem of the modern, educated, and deeply sensitized Pakistani Muslim woman, has been on a mission to raise awareness and propel change since the 1970’s.  We sat down to talk to the creator of this inspired comic sensation, Ms. Nigar Nazar, the Chief Executive Officer of Gogi Studios and the first female cartoonist of Pakistan and the Muslim world.  She has the prestige of attending two Fulbright programs: Fulbright Student Program at the University of Oregon in 2002 and Fulbright Visiting Specialist Program at Colorado College in 2009.

She deems her experience as a Fulbrighter as a journey that was deeply inspiring. “I had a chance to interact with such a diverse cross-section of society! I met people from high school, university, government, the air force, and the Church, and their empathy was touching. One thing is certain: Humor is very special, and it has no boundaries @nigarnazar Click To Tweet.”

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Alumni News Grants

Mother-Daughter Club Empowers Women in Lyari

By Rimsha Ali Shah

Draped in a black shawl, Raj Bibi with her twelve-year-old daughter hurries across the hustling marketplace towards the community center. As she walks through the narrow streets of Lyari, she sees many of her neighbors – mothers and daughters – walking together in the same direction.

At the community center, a team of young female youth ambassadors, who individually visited each mother and inducted her in the program, welcomes them to the orientation day. Over the course of the next 60 days, these mothers and daughters meet weekly for sessions on the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of adolescent and young girls.

The behavioral change program named the “Mother – Daughter Club: Shaping the Future” is the brainchild of Fulbright alumna Dr. Noor Sabah Rakhshani and took place from September 01, 2016 – October 14, 2016, at the Lyari Community Development Center and Omar Lane Community Development Center, Lyari, Karachi, with 30 pairs of mothers and daughters. 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.

30 Mother-Daughter Pairs Bond Through Learning

Training workshop on health and hygiene in progress at LCDC

“Fawzia encouraged me to come with Rabbeya, my daughter, for these workshops. She said this would help us improve our relationship,” says Raj Bibi.  Rabbeya pipes in, “We have started gardening in our house, too!”

A key component of the program was engaging the pairs in activities that helped strengthen the bond between the mother and daughter, paving way for an open channel of communication. This was done through a series of in-class activities like gardening, yoga, aerobics, and arts and crafts.

“This program has taught us simple exercises that we can do inside our homes to keep ourselves healthy,” says thirteen-year-old Rukhsar.

Session on home-based business

The program also sensitized women on their rights, home-based business ventures, nutrition and reproductive health, and hygiene. Nazish says, “At our homes, boys are usually given preference over girls. But I have learned that women are equal to men, and if we study and complete our education, there is a lot that we can achieve.”
Asifa, a young mother, was initially unsure about the impact of the program. However, the skills and knowledge she gained helped her boost her confidence.

“I did not realize there was so much I did not know, especially about the health and hygiene of infants. There are so many new things I learned here that will help me raise my daughter,” says Asifa.

Creating Women Leaders from the Community

Youth Ambassadors learn the life-cycle approach to health

The Mother-Daughter club not only empowered the mothers and daughters, but also young girls from the community who helped induct the mothers and daughters into the program. A rigorous training program for ten selected youth ambassadors took place at the inception of the program that trained them on leadership roles, persuasion skills, communication skills, and health issues faced by women.

Sameena, a youth ambassador, says, “It was initially a challenge to engage mothers. We told them about the value this would bring to their quality of life and after the orientation session, not one of the pair missed a single meeting. In fact, we had requests pouring in for more!”

Executing the program in Lyari came with its own set of challenges. Dr. Rakhshani reports that the security challenge was solved by the continued support of the community. “At the very start of the program, we engaged key community stakeholders who assured us of their support for the seamless execution of the program, including outreach visits by the youth ambassadors to recruit mother-daughter pairs and weekly workshops at the community centers.”

These 60 mothers and daughters are seeds of a hopeful future, for a community marred by gang wars and social insecurity.  They brought life to the long-forgotten community centers in Lyari Click To Tweetwith their weekly presence and participation in the Mother-Daughter Club. The completion of the program does not mark the end of this venture.  The youth ambassadors are now creating more Mother-Daughter Clubs in Lyari, along with the same lines, to continue this chain of sensitization and empowerment.

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Alumni News Grants

Exploring Visual Culture through Sensory Stimuli

By Rimsha Ali Shah

Holding the lead pencil in her hand, Sadia wondered, what could she possibly draw when all she could see was darkness? Up until the age of 12, Sadia had no problem in seeing the things around her. An unfortunate illness, however, left her visually impaired.

Sensing her mounting disinterest, the art educators leading the workshop encouraged Sadia not to give up, and draw, without any inhibitions.

Sadia first sketched a house; then a doll, a fish, an arrow, and a heart. From two-dimensional drawings, she shifted to three-dimensional (3D) models and, along with her group of class fellows, created imaginary 3D characters and weaved a story around them.

“I thought, I wouldn’t be able to make anything! But our teachers gave us so much confidence and support! They told us to just draw – and we did!” exclaims Sadia.

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2nd Pakistan Law Moot Sets the Stage for Mooting on International Law

By Rimsha Ali Shah

Shuffling through her notes and adding short pointers hurriedly before her turn to plead the case, Hareem was back where she embraced her interest in mooting.  It was the same courtroom with the same competitive energy Hareem knew too well from last year when she participated as a researcher.

One look at the bench of qualified judges before her and Hareem could feel the pressure rising.  But she brushed that aside, fixed her black coat and approached the rostrum.  It was time to put her advocacy skills into action!

“The jump from a researcher to a speaker has been a fantastic experience!  I learned so much about pleading before a jury: constant eye contact, presentation skills, and research.  The experience has surely boosted my confidence!”

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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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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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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

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

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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