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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Alumni News Grants

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 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 Grants Reunions

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

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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First Person Grants

First Person: Organizing BUBW – Pakistan to Promote Interfaith Harmony

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 Grants

YES Alumnus Promotes Better Understanding for a Better World


By Rimsha Ali Shah

“Airports offer an almost mystical space for retrospection. In the eerie stillness of air travel, confined to my seat, was when I started realizing one of the better weeks of my life was over.  I had been in Baltimore at a conference which aimed to inspire interfaith harmony, an opportunity offered to me on my Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program,” recalls YES alumnus Abdul Moeed Asad as he took us through the journey of organizing his first conference on interfaith harmony in Lahore.

“The central idea of the Baltimore conference was enough to inspire because the issue of interfaith harmony has always been strangely personal.  In my opinion, the lack of meaningful interactions with minorities is the key concern.  Therefore, I decided to inspire the same passion for interfaith harmony among the youth of Pakistan through an interfaith conference, to kindle the drive in youth to promote peace, harmony and foster friendships untainted by bias.”

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Alumni News Grants

Eid-ul-Fitr to Raksha Bandhan: Harmony Club Strengthens Religious Co-existence

Harmony Club

By Rimsha Ali Shah

Ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity is amongst the most treasured riches of Pakistan, a relationship that has sadly been marked with pessimism lately.  This narrative, however, did not sit well with Ambar Naz Sajid, an Access teacher and an alumna of the Cultural Immersion Program (CIP), Kazakhstan.  Hailing from Karachi, the melting pot of Pakistan, Sajid knew that harmony, compassion, love, and respect for diversity were still alive in her city.

It was at this time that she attended a virtual session with the Office of Religious and Global Affairs on an initiative centered around the theme of promoting interreligious harmony.  Days of Interreligious Youth Action (DIYA) provided Sajid the direction she needed to execute a project that engaged the youth of different ethnic and religious minorities through interactive activities that paved way for co-existence and collaboration.

Thus, she came up with the idea of the “Harmony Club”, a collaborative space with the mission to strengthen religious co-existence.  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.

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Grant Opportunity

U.S. Agency for International Development has announced a $19 million grant opportunity called Let Girls Learn/ Pakistan.
This new Let Girls Learn/Pakistan project will address key barriers that adolescent girls and young women face in accessing educational and employment opportunities due to poverty, cultural norms, geographic isolation, and security.  The purpose of the Let Girls Learn initiative in Pakistan is to create or expand opportunities for adolescent girls to acquire the education and other, related skills necessary to become active, positive contributors within their families, schools and communities.usaidlogo
Follow the link for more information:
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