By Sadia Abdul (YES 2017-18, Pakistan, placed with AFS-USA in Pewaukee, WI)
I am Sadia Abdul from Ghizer, a rural district in the northern mountainous region of Pakistan. Every year, millions of tourists visit Ghizer to enjoy the cultural diversity and scenic beauty of fast running rivers and beautiful lakes. In 2017-18, I spent my YES exchange year in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. The YES program has brought remarkable change in my life. Getting a global education and experiencing American culture at such a young age has been the highlight of my life so far. The program provided me a rich global exposure and prepared me with leadership and communication skills. In the U.S., I took part in various community service projects and adopted volunteerism as a hobby. After returning to Pakistan, I continued my volunteer work and took up leadership roles on youth leadership platforms. I believe the most important thing I learned during my YES year was understanding culture and respecting people regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
The world is facing the huge challenges of climate change and lack of sustainable resources, and one way of addressing these challenges is through the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I believe the key to achieving these goals is including women as local contributors. As a student of Development Studies at Habib University Karachi, I feel obliged to do my part in educating young girls in my community about sustainability. Pakistan is a developing country with a young population, where women are important yet marginalized due to cultural and social barriers. We need to produce young leaders (including women!) who will emerge as contributors to the SDGs.
With these needs in mind, I applied for a 2020 YES Alumni Grant for my project Girls for a Sustainable Future. I led a group of five alumni to design and carry out a week-long day camp for 150 girls aged 15 to 20 years old in the rural district Ghizer of Gilgit-Baltistan. The camp educated and trained participants on five of the SDGs: Gender Equality; Peace, Justice, and Strong institutions; Climate Change; Sustainable Cities; and Quality Education. Sessions were taught by the alumni team and experts in the field and included hands-on activities like tree planting and a study tour. The camp also included a session in which students were divided into groups based on their career aspirations, with activities to link those career choices with sustainable goals. For example, if a participant aspired to be an engineer, the activity illustrated how she could contribute to issues like global warming and climate change through her future profession.
The project received very positive feedback from school staff and the participants. A participant named Alina said, “We learned lots of new stuff from the camp. It was first time we heard about the SDGs and how vulnerable we are if we don’t work on sustainable solutions.” We hope that, in the short term, participants will continue to contribute by planting trees and bringing about awareness on environmental issues such as land and water pollution. Our long-term hope is that the schools will continue to organize activities on the SDGs and invite YES alumni to be part of these events. The local environmental protection agency has also shown interest in holding an annual event involving students.
Through this project, we helped the young women who participated understand the Sustainable Development Goals and equipped them with knowledge that will empower them to contribute and grow as young leaders for a sustainable future. Our region has a strict social code for women. This project provided an opportunity to empower girls about their rights and give them the strength to face challenges and achieve their goals. Our project team is hopeful we have helped produce new social activists by encouraging them to work for change in the region and transfer knowledge from one generation to another. Volunteerism and a sense of responsibility is vital for a progressive community, and the new generation will take the legacy forward.
The YES Alumni Grant program is a great opportunity for YES alumni to test and practice the skills they gained through the YES program by implementing a project. This project provided not only learning and networking opportunities to the participants, but also to the alumni project team. Our team was comprised of young leaders as well, so it was a great opportunity for us to implement our ideas and test our management skills.
I am very grateful to our sponsors and partner organizations. This was all possible because of the YES Alumni Grant, funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. As the leader of the project, I also offer my humble gratitude to our partner organizations, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Quaid-e-Azam School and College, for providing considerable support for the project.