Happy Pakistan Independence Day!
August 14, 2017

On this Pakistan Independence Day we are delighted to update you on the mid-way progress of the APF Fellows.  They are busy observing inner workings of NRSP, engaging with program beneficiaries, participating in meetings with NRSP staff and Pakistani officials, and settling into their new roles.  We are excited to share these updates from the APF Fellows including a blog series.

A beautiful photo by Adeel Chishti of fireworks at the Minar-e-Pakistan monument, Iqbal Park, #Lahore#Punjab#Pakistan
See more beautiful photos @americanpakistan

APF Fellows

Left to right: Imran Saeed, Hassan Ahmed (NRSP Intern), Naveen Shoaib,
Mirinisa Stewart-Tengco, Noor Sheikh, Wasay Shahid, Muhammad Muizz Akhtar

Left to right:  Naveen Shoaib,  Imran Saeed, Hassan Ahmed (NRSP Intern),
Noor Sheikh,   Mirinisa Stewart-Tengco, Muhammad Muizz Akhtar,  Wasay Shahid

Meeting with Tariq Bajwa, Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan

Naya Qadam Limbs Project Visit


APF Fellows with Naya Qadam Limbs Project Beneficiaries

The Naya Qadam Trust provides free prosthetics to the developing world so everyone can access their potential. Using drainpipes, tires, and belts, they bring low cost, robust, effective prosthesis to areas affected by natural disasters, torn by war, and in need of medical care around the world.   Costing as little as $40, their prosthesis allows amputees to walk as they once did, returning to their occupations and re-join their local communities.   Over 3,000 prosthetic limbs have been provided  so far to date.

Noor Sheikh

Noor with PEF Students

Placement: Punjab Education Foundation PEF partners with the private sector to support education via financial and technical assistance.  They  revamp failing government schools to ensure quality education for all children. Their core belief is that all children have the desire and potential to learn but require the proper resources and support to do so.  This summer, PEF has established 58 community schools across villages in Pakistan. The schools may be in a formal or informal setting.  All ensure that students have access to education regardless of their financial situation.

"We're going to Pakistan!" A phrase I've heard only a few times in my past nineteen years. Growing up, Pakistan was where my family went for vacation. Going to Pakistan meant I would visit all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, who would pamper me and take me to the best restaurants and shopping malls during my short stay. My minuscule interactions beyond my bubble in Pakistan would only occur outside when people would stop us and ask for some money. Only during my last visit to Pakistan in 2015 did I begin to notice the world outside of mine. I noticed the children working in the streets when they should have been in school. I noticed the elderly sitting outside in the scorching sun asking for a few rupees. I noticed the transgender individuals who would go door to door asking for some money only to be ridiculed.

Despite my eventful and colorful stay in Pakistan, I felt a growing sense of obligation towards the country that I had left behind at the age of two. After returning to New York City, I declared a Human Rights Minor at my college (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College). This Human Rights Minor required that I complete an internship related to my field of study. I found many internships pertaining to Central Asia and the Middle East, but I could not find any specific to Pakistan or even South Asia. The American Pakistan Foundation Fellowship provided me with the unique opportunity to work towards my minor in Human Rights, while giving back and connecting to my country.

Muhammad Muizz Akhtar

Placement: Marketing and Social Media for NRSP

Muizz at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan
A little bit over a month ago I was working at an internship in my home-city of Houston,  feeling like my final summer as a student was passing me by and I wasn't making the most of  my time. And yet...here I am now a little over two weeks in my stay in Pakistan as a Fellow at the  American Pakistan Foundation, working with the National Rural Support Programme in Pakistan. I can't say it's been quite the ride yet because I feel like the roller coaster that is this fellowship hasn't let me catch my breath yet. But suffice to say, I'm eternally grateful to APF and NRSP for giving me  this opportunity. Not just because it's given me the opportunity to visit my parent's country of  origin, but also for giving me first-hand exposure to working in community development and  mobilization.  

Halfway Update

Having just passed the halfway mark of the APF Fellows Program, I felt compelled to post something about my experience beyond just random touristy photos of locales I've visited. For a while though, I wasn't sure how to articulate this because I didn't want to in a sense exploit the people I met for my own social media brownie points, but it is my hope that in this post I have instead presented the people here with my deepest respect and gratitude.

The people who I have met during my work with NRSP ( @nrsppakistan ) are truly remarkable. Tough and determined in spite of their circumstances, or perhaps precisely because of their circumstances to improve the conditions and lives of those within their communities. They have unlimited potential, and when provided the right resources and know-how, can accomplish a great deal for their families, friends, neighbors, and Pakistani society at large.

In particular, contrary to popular depictions of Pakistan in the West, I was heartened to see that not only were many rural women a part of the conversation, they were leading the discussions without men interrupting them. And not only were the community, village and local support organizations inclusive of women, they were also inclusive of minorities as well. It was great to see how passionate the school principals were about making sure that in this Muslim majority society, Hindu parents were a part of the conversation and that Hindu students were protected from marginalization.

What particularly stood out to me was meeting teachers who could have left their communities in pursuit of their own socioeconomic advancement and higher wages in big cities, but with Master's degrees in tow, they returned to their villages, committed to educating their community's children in hopes that they will aspire to even greater heights than them.

Thank you all so much for your hospitality, and for allowing me to speak with, take pictures of and share your stories with the greater public. I have been very humbled in my meetings with you and am eternally grateful for everything you all have taught me.

Naveen Shoaib

Placement:  Water, Immunization, Sanitation, and Education (WISE) program

As we entered the UBL tower for our first day as interns of NRSP, we were then guided to the 7th floor where NRSP's head office is located. Going in with minimal knowledge of NRSP and its components, I was anxious to see what our roles entailed and what we can do to make the most of our internship. We were cordially greeted by the staff and were shown around the office by Mr. Ghaffar Paras, who introduced us to NRSP. We also met with Mr. Asad Ali and discussed the process of, and main components of, NRSP.

We met with Dr. Rashid Bajwa, the CEO of NRSP, who discussed the efforts that go behind the planning and execution division. We were also given a tour of the two headquarters of NRSP in Islamabad, Pakistan and met with program managers of each sector. Overall, the first day was very successful in terms of introductions, defining objectives and stating the purpose of the organization and its sectors. I was surprised as to how each sector plays a crucial aspect and cannot be mutually exclusive when defining the foundation of NRSP.

There are 10 regional offices and 64 districts of NRSP, which are focused in all 4 provinces and AJK. NRSP, which was established in 1991 is a rural support organization which not only bolsters other organizations to develop but is created to be community-driven and reduce poverty in rural areas. The baseline of this support program starts from the three-tiered social mobilization model. This three-tiered structure is aimed for poverty reduction and sustainable development. It begins at a community organization (CO) level (minimum of 15 households) where a president and a manager are chosen from among each household. The CO is where the community contributes money, which gives them direct ownership. There are roughly around 3.1 million household members that the NRSP deals with, to date. The CO then levels up to a village organization (VO) with the same process of a president and a manager, and eventually, to a local support organization (LSO), which works directly with the government.

NRSP Program Recipients
The two main components of NRSP consists of 1) The development and social service sector and 2) The micro-finance and insurance sector. The social service sector works with the private government which targets education, health and water sanitation/hygiene. Whereas, the latter section consists of the micro-finance and Enterprise Development Program, MEDP. This sector allows for economical access of financial services to the population, which is distributed in small loans given to farmers for agriculture and enterprise. Each individual who receives this credit is provided micro health insurance.

Mirinisa Stewart-Tengco

The past two weeks have flown by, a blur of sitting in meetings and running around trying to figure out how to live in a new city. The former was mandatory (well, I guess you could say that both are mandatory, but the former was actually required) for my internship here with the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP). The meetings themselves mostly consisted of department/sector and program heads speaking with us about their position within the organization. We met with the CEO himself, Dr. Rashid Bajwa, as well as many others including Salma Khalid, Programme Manager of Gender and Development; Akhlaq Hussain, Programme Manager of Social Mobilization; Muhammad Irteza Haider, Programme Manager of Physical Infrastructure and Technology Development (PITD); and Sohail Manzoor, Programme Manager of Social Protection and Human Resource Development.

In addition, we made some visits around the city to related organizations. On Thursday of the first week we were given a tour of the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) as well as a meeting and lunch with the dean and board of directors. Then, we visited the Institute of Rural Management (IRM), which has a vision very similar to NRSP's. On Friday, we went to the office of the USAID Small Grants and Ambassador's Fund Program (SGAFP), where we met Saeed Ashraf Siddiqi, Chief of Party (COP), and Mazhar Iqbal, Deputy COP and Manager of Grants. I was so impressed by their work. From what I understood, USGAF is a recipient of both regular USAID funding as well as the discretionary grants that the US Ambassador to Pakistan can give as they wish.

Wasay Shahid

Wasay in front of the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan

I arrived early Sunday morning at Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad, Pakistan. Upon arrival, I imagined an upscale airport since it was the nation's capital. However, the airport was worn down and the interior was decades old. #ThisIsMyPakistan where measures to improve infrastructure have not been implemented. Shortly after, I grabbed my luggage and headed towards the NRSP vehicle. Two men began to help me with my luggage and I didn't refuse since I thought they were with NRSP. To my surprise, they were not and asked, "can you please spare us some money, our kids are growing up and we need to take care of them".

  #ThisIsMyPakistan where elderly fathers have to wait outside airports, grab loads of luggage and are still uncertain as to whether they will get money afterwards or not. All this, just to make ends meet. Moments later, an elderly man in his late 70's approached me and asked for money. I did not have any more cash with me, so I reached in my bag and gifted him the only kurta I had. #ThisIsMyPakistan where the elderly do not seem to be taken care of. Within the first twenty minutes, I already had all these conceptions built up about Pakistan. Eventually, all these conceptions turned into misconceptions.

A Few Days Later...

First and foremost, my initial assumption regarding the lack of measures taken to improve infrastructure within Pakistan was false. After doing some research, I found out that the New Islamabad International Airport is under construction and opening this August. Furthermore, while driving around Islamabad, I noticed the roads were in better condition and newer than most of the roads in the states. Granted, not all the roads in Islamabad were as smooth as the others, but measures were still being taken to improve them.

Secondly, my speculation that nothing was being done to help those lower income families was false as well. As stated previously, while seeing elderly fathers carry loads of luggage to make a few rupees, I assumed that no one from the lower classes were getting the guidance or help they needed. However, once I visited the NRSP head office and attended meeting briefs throughout the week, my viewpoint was quickly changed. Not only does NRSP gift aid to those in need, but they provide them with the tools and necessities they need to keep their success sustainable.

Update Post by Wasay

This remote village in the outskirts of Bahawalpur falls in the lowest tier of the poverty scorecard (0-11). However, majority of the women in the village have took it upon themselves to break the vicious poverty cycle and have started their own small scale businesses. Furthermore, they have broke Pakistani norms by becoming the primary bread earners in their respective household  #ThisIsMyPakistan  

Imran Saeed

Placement:  Water, Immunization, Sanitation, and Education (WISE) program

Traveling across the world, meetings with various managers and department heads, working on projects and developing a proposal, and traveling again through Pakistan: it's been a whirlwind first two weeks in Pakistan.  I have been to Pakistan several times, mostly for personal/family visits but also for work.  I enjoy coming back to Pakistan and discovering a new aspect of the country, meeting new people, and discovering the beauty of the country.  Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities for Americans to work in Pakistan, so when the APF Fellows Program chance came it seemed like a great opportunity.  What made the program even more enticing, especially for myself, was the opportunity to work with NRSP - National Rural Support Programme.

I have been working in public health for over 10 years, and a lot of that work has been on capacity building and engagement with the local population to ensure they are part of the work and ensuring their voice is integral to the work.  The key integration of the community in the development and implementation of the work is something that is integral to NRSP's work so it was a great privilege to work with them.