Alumni News Grants

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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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 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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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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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 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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