October 6, 2017

We are delighted to share blog posts by APF Fellows,  Noor Sheikh and  Naveen Shoaib who participated in an Urdu/English video interview .  They both served at NRSP - National Rural Support Programme in Pakistan, which works with over two million households.  Noor is a  Psychology Major and Human Rights Minor at Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College who selected a placement at the  Punjab Education Foundation.  Naveen Shoaib is pursuing a Masters of Public Health degree at New York University and chose WISE - Water, Immunization, Sanitation, and Education for her placement as it aligns with her future career goals.

APF Fellows Program Urdu/English Video Interview

(Left to right)  Interviewer: Raja Razzaq
Noor Sheikh, APF Fellow & Intern 
Naveen Shoaib, APF Fellow 
Jocelyne Jeannot, Director of Community Engagement at the American Pakistan Foundation 
Video by Mohsin Zaheer, Journalist at The Pakistani Newspaper

APF Fellow Noor Sheikh

Noor with Punjab Education Foundation - PEF Students, Faculty, and Parents

After our week of orientation we were given the opportunity to plan our field visits.  I chose to work on the Punjab Education Foundation project, an independent statutory body which was initially established in 1991 under the Punjab Education Foundation Act of 1991. It's main objective is to provide free quality education to children from less fortunate areas.   The Punjab Education Foundation project operates in Southern Punjab, where I was able to visit schools in Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan.

Tablet based learning system

The schools I visited in Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan were part of PEF's Public School Support Program, which targets failing government schools in Southern Punjab.  The infrastructure and management of the schools are updated as part of the program.  Additionally, NRSP and the Punjab Education Foundation project have introduced a new digital learning system initiative with tablets into many of the schools.  They are pre-loaded with interactive lessons the students can use with minimal teacher support. The use of these tablets regulates the content and quality of lessons, while giving young students autonomy over their learning.  Going into these schools I was curious to find out about the bigger picture.  I wanted to ask teachers what changes they had seen in student behavior and if they truly thought these changes would benefit the villages in the long-run.

The first school we visited was Bhatta Shadi Khan Primary school in Vehari. A teacher training program was going on at the time, which allowed us the opportunity to interview the trainers and teachers.

Ms. Sajida Ramzan has been with NRSP for one year and conducts teacher training while continuing her education.  Even though she is only nineteen, Mr. Mirza Akhter saw great confidence and potential in her, and thus pushed her to become a trainer.  She is very excited about the new digital learning system that is being introduced into her primary classes.  She believes the introduction of this new system will work to change their school environment. Even if students come from areas where education is not emphasized, the use of these tablets help to develop their interest in school.  Also working alongside NRSP and PEF she hopes to change the public perception of government teachers.  Previously, due to failing schools and indifferent teachers, parents had lost their trust in government teachers. Inadequate teaching skills and a lack of professionalism drove many parents to take their children out of public schools. She hopes this new initiative and improving the quality of schools will reinstate the community's trust in government teachers and public schools.

APF Fellow Naveen Shoaib

Naveen Shoaib
I would like to thank everyone from the American Pakistan Foundation - APF, the National Rural Support Programme - NRSP, and the members of the villages that I have visited, who have made a difference in my life within these past six weeks - whether it be a warm gesture, as a mentor or simply believing and supporting me throughout this internship. These past six weeks have been simply amazing and tremendously valuable as it is the stepping stone to my career. The experiences I have lived through have not only changed the way I think, but have also 
expanded horizons in what I have aimed for myself and those around me. Six weeks of interning in my mother country, a country where my grandparents fought to gain freedom and traveled long distances to find a place called home.  I am the child of immigrants who sought to find freedom.  As I stood barefoot in the villages and communities I have traveled to, I couldn't help, but envision the sacrifices my grandparents made to help their community fight injustices, as well as my maternal family who dedicated their lives to medical services.

Noor with Rahim Yar Khan Community Members
Naveen with Rahim Yar Khan Community Members
These are the same issues the community members I have visited face today in their struggles to change and make a difference in their village and within their families. When conducting field visits, I had the chance to meet children who traveled long distances on foot for education with paths that were obstructed by rocks and had not been entirely paved. When asked about the career goals they were interested in, they would respond with two occupations in mind, a teacher or a doctor to help as many people as they can.  I was also able to meet various Community Resource Persons who have saved their earnings for months just so that they could buy their family members a motorcycle to allow them to attend college. Through all their efforts, they eventually hope to be an asset to their community. These individuals not only want to continue aiming for higher education, but they also want to spread their education to those within their communities. I have visited community members who repeatedly have thanked me for coming to their community and motivating them when I have been the one who has been inspired by their hard work and dedication.  I am inspired to help those who lack resources by giving and to be thankful for every convenience that has come my way.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have served as an intern at NRSP, which bolsters the development of other organizations while being community driven and with a focus on reducing poverty levels in rural areas.  I have met the most resilient, empowered and motivated individuals who have fought to transcend their community and household's cultural norms for the four necessities the WISE program is named for - Water, Immunization, Sanitation and Education.  The individuals I have met have not only sacrificed their time and energy for the betterment of their community, they have also focused on educating themselves and spreading that awareness despite the minimal resources they have.

Naveen with CRP's of LSO Darey Azeem Khan, Rahim Yar Khan

A piece of advice that I would give to those who have not visited Pakistan is to try your best to step out of your comfort zone, and to never hesitate to visit a country where the people are warmer than the weather. During the field visits, I encountered members of rural communities who not only immediately felt like family within the first five minutes of conversation, but also would not let me leave their doorsteps without at least bestowing some prized possession. Pakistan is much more than just a nation with a deeply rooted history, variegated bazaars, intricate truck art and delectable cuisine, and I hope that I can at least display even a fraction of this through my photos and experiences.

Children from 192 Murad, Bhawalpur where the WISE program is being implemented

I have compiled my data I have acquired within the 6-weeks of my internship and the interviews I have recorded from the community members through my field visits while working alongside the WISE program. The WISE program not only educates the public about the four main components it encompasses, it organizes the community in a structure where once they are informed about the topic being taught, they can act as representatives and continue promoting awareness to others.

Children from different faiths playing together in Dara Jamal, Rahim Yar Khan
in the playground NRSP built for the community.

Naveen and Noor
Thank you Pakistan for giving me the opportunity to make friends for a lifetime.