By Yumna Owais (YES 2015-2016, Pakistan, placed by AFS in Bethesda, Maryland)
When the COVID-19 pandemic crisis hit, most of the occupations once regarded as stable suddenly became not-so-stable. Remote work, e-commerce, and automation became the new normal for the world. Previous professional skills development trainings became obsolete and new career guidance as well as reskilling programs were needed more than ever.
To address this need among the youth workforce in my community, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant. With funds received from the YES Alumni Grants program and cooperation with Grammar School Rawalpindi (GSR) and Divisional Public School (DPS) – local schools mostly attended by middle to low-income students – I organized a series of workshops based on the themes of career counselling, freelancing, and media literacy from October to December 2021.
The project encouraged 100 high school students to look beyond the conventional career paths of a doctor, engineer, etc. It encouraged them to explore professional realms such as data sciences, computational biology, virology, immunology, etc. Additionally, the project motivated the students to upgrade their networking, digital proficiency, emotional intelligence, creativity, adaptability, and leadership skills. Building on these concepts, the participants were provided with basic-level freelancing and participatory journalism training.
Tapping into the experiences of the participating YES alumni trainers, the freelancing workshop trainers shared with students the strategies of finding niches, best payment gateway methods for freelancers in Pakistan, and how to avoid getting scammed on Fiverr and Upwork as a new freelancer. The media literacy component of the project included topics like the power of social media in modern activism, the future of digital content creation, ethical standards of citizen journalism, and strategies to counter misinformation and fake news. In addition to that, activities such as spaghetti-marshmallow tower, Jenga board game, Jeopardy (an American game show), and tourism promotion exercises on social media were conducted to engage the participants in experiential learning.
The project not only reduced career uncertainty among students but also built a talent pipeline by encouraging them to kickstart their freelancing businesses and pursue career paths related to art and technology. It enhanced the employability and productivity of these students. The workshop participants also promised to share their learnings with their families and friends. The project fostered a sense of community, civil discourse, capacity building, and social resilience.
Having completed my undergraduate degree in economics, this project was an excellent opportunity for me to network with media professionals in the YES alumni community. I am hoping to leverage this professional association to produce a more holistic overview of what opportunities and challenges one can expect in the Pakistani media and journalism industry.
This project would not have been successful without the support of my host family, the Olivers, and my liaisons, the Klenkes, who opened their doors and hearts for me in Bethesda, Maryland. I am forever grateful to Jody Axinn, my local coordinator, and my placement organization, AFS Intercultural Programs. I would also like to extend my gratitude to staff from American Councils and Society for International Education (iEARN Pakistan) for their assistance in my project planning. I am especially thankful to all the workshop trainers from the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN), namely Sania Khan, Malik Shafique Khokhar, Sohail Abdullah, Muhammad Anas, Uzma Yaqoob, Saeed Akbar, Abdullah Razzaq, and Mubashra Saleem. I also believe that the school administrations deserve special appreciation for their cooperation with me throughout the grant application and project implementation.
I cannot thank the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs enough for sponsoring the YES program. The program allowed me to experience American culture, represent my country, make lasting connections, and grow as a person. I encourage all the young people out there to apply for this life-changing opportunity at least once in their lifetime!