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Sunday, May 23, 2010

JaGoo Pakistan!

The youth group “JaGoo Pakistan” came into being in Multan a year back – thanks to the Faisal Idrees's untiring efforts. He attended the British Council’s Active Citizens workshop in 2008 and started his Social Action Project to show his sincerity towards his community.

He recalls, “I was inspired with the concept of Active Citizens introduced by the British Council and decided to do something for my community. Hence, I started a "Free Computer Literacy Center" in my home with only one computer.”

Faisal wanted to provide technical education to the unemployed boys of his community, who had acquired elementary education but lacked technical skills to get a decent job. Initially, he started his "Free Computer Literacy Center" with three students and conducted an hour's class daily in his house. Gradually, a few friends joined hands and together they embarked on what they now call a “Free Computer Literacy” Journey.

“My inspirations were my students, I was extremely happy when two of them got jobs because of the skills they’d acquired in my Literacy Center. This boosted my confidence and I involved more young people into another project called “Think Green” through which we are endeavouring to rehabilitate a community park - by planting trees and getting rid of the trash,” Faisal commented.

Since September 2009, this youth group has executed a number of tree planting activities in different parks and streets, involving many young local people. This initiative was noticed by the forest office and they started providing JaGoo Pakistan free plants and assistance.

In December 2009, a member of JaGoo youth group attended the British Council’s facilitators training and got inspired for their third venture “Light of Wisdom” – aiming to provide free education to the working children.

The members leading “Light of Wisdom” are: Hamid, Farhan, Shazia, Nadir, Noman and Faiza.

Faiza justifies reasons for starting the "Light of Wisdom Project" and says, “During Active Citizens training, we learnt every issue can be resolved by using the resources that are available locally. We- the youth- is the power that can bring a positive change in society. We are thankful to British Council and Youth Parliament of Pakistan for providing us this platform.”

JaGoo Pakistan has more than 300 members working in different communities - utilising resources and planning to begin other Community Development Projects too.

Recently, a Bilateral Xchange took place between Lahore/Multan and Scotland, UK. The Scots visited all the projects under JaGoo Pakistan’s umbrella – Free Computer Literacy Center, Think Green Project and the Light of Wisdom- and were extremely impressed with Faisal and his group’s efforts. They wrote emails to Faisal which they said:

Scott Campbell said in his email:

“I am very inspired to see your work. When I had heard about your work, I didn't believe that you could run all these projects simultaneously?
But when I visited Pakistan, I was amazed to see your SAP. They were running perfectly well. I'll not just appreciate you, but would say that if you continue this work with full zeal and zest, one day you will bring a huge change in this community”.

Kate Finally said in her email:

“One thing that I observed and learnt is: your youth group is very cooperative with one another and that’s a sign of unity. When you work on something, unity is very important to bring a change. I really enjoyed the plantation activity - when your team cleaned the park and we planted different types of plant in the soil.”

Neil Burn said:

“Amazing, JaGoo Pakistan is an amazing youth group. I am very inspired by your IT education work, sewing center, think green, child labor school etc- no body could have done this but you!!

I am glad to see your work. The project child labor school makes me very sad. We are very glad to see that these children were studying in your school.”

Every Cloud has a Sliver Lining!

“Silver Lining” is a group of young people who are based in Mirpur/Kashmir and are helping the orphans with their school education.

The Silver Lining group- led by Zakia Lodhi realized that orphans are more prone to pessimism and depression, therefore they decided to spend a day with these kids, who vary in ages- from 5 years to 15, hoping that they'd be happy for a while.

The group visited an orphanage located in Kashmir, where approximately 100 orphans are being looked after. They discussed the possibilities of spending a day at the orphanage with the institution's teachers. The teachers gladly accepted their offer.

The group thought of some activities and exercises that they could do with the kids and dove-tailed them with the help of orphanage's teachers.

“I was a little nervous to run the activities we had planned. What if the children didn’t like them? What if they got out of control? There were plenty of “what-ifs” in my mind, but thank God it turned out pretty well. Kids thoroughly enjoyed each session and the teachers have requested us to come back soon with many similar activities,” commented Zakia when I asked her about pre and post session feelings.

The Silver Lining group put kids into absolute action when they introduced numerous communication, arts and crafts, painting and team building activities. It was heartening to see happiness on every child’s face; their faces glistened and it seemed that even God was enjoying with the kids. HE had opened every channel of happiness for them!

“We enjoyed as much as the kids, and this activity has boosted our morale to work for humanity,” said Haider Ali, a member of the group.

What made this trip even more special was the presence of two English ladies- Alice and Mary, who were visiting Mirpur as a part of Bilateral Xchange. They were very impressed to see the Pakistani volunteers helping these orphans and themselves participated in some of the activities.

The Bilateral Xchange gave English an opportunity to see the Social Action Projects running in this part of the world and how numerous people are been influenced every day through them.

Friday, May 21, 2010

There is HOPE!!

“HOPE” is a youth group formed by the students of Multan University of Science and Technology (MUST). The group got its motivation and inspiration to design a Social Action Project (SAP) after attending British Council’s Active Citizens workshop in January 2010. They decided to work for the children living in slums and began a SAP called HOPE (helping oppressed people everywhere).

“It is a dream project that pays attention to "Personal Hygiene and Health awareness" in slums children and the students of Middle Government Schools,” said Nimra, a member of HOPE. Other members are: Danish, Talal, Basit, Ahsan and Zeeshan.

The youth group started their “HOPE project” by visiting slums areas near their university and delivered some very interesting and interactive sessions on Health, Hygiene and Cleanliness to the slum kids, who absolutely loved this practical education. These young community champs also assessed the living conditions of slum kids, their activities, their every day problems and developed strategies to help them overcome their shortfalls.

After careful observations, the young team has decided to engage slum kids regularly in health and educational activities.

Their group leader Talal said, “We want to focus on the people who are neglected by our society at a larger level i.e. slums. We want to give them basic awareness about their health and want to make them realize that they can be become active citizens for their community too. We’ve started by targeting the children so we could groom and activate them.”

The group has also engaged Parents, School Administrators and Community Leaders who are helping these young volunteers to make this project more sustainable and feasible.

The young volunteers are giving "HOPE" to the slum kids that there is a "HOPE" to survive!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Angel's Medical Camp...

There is a youth group in Hyderabad who sets free medical camps for Hepatitis B & C patients in Mori Mangar, Tando Hyder - a small village outside Hyderabad, every three months. This youth group has started organising medical camps after they attended Active Citizens Workshop back in January 2010 and are proving themselves to be Active Citizens!!

But why are they doing this?

Because every year numerous precious lives get wasted due to these killer diseases, and the locals aren't much aware about the causes and prevention of these diseases, let alone seeking remedies.

The village is located near an industrial area. This is the very place where red bricks are baked and are supplied to the entire country for various construction purposes. The poor village men and women work day and night diligently to bake as many bricks as they can to earn more money, as they get paid for every brick they bake. Unluckily, these innocent creatures aren't informed that the chemicals they use in baking bricks can and does cause skin cancer.

Hence, the free medical camp provides skin check-ups and prescribes patients free medicines too. The preparation for each medical camp begins at least a month before it's execution date.

The young people working on this project calls themselves "Angels Youth Group". The angels begin their work by looking for funding. It isn't an easy task to generate funds since not many corporate organisations are willing to work in this part of the village. The group goes from door to door, asking for funds and liaises with pharmaceuticals for medicines and vaccines.

"It has always been a task to obtain sufficient funding for this sort of medical camp, where we need at least 300-400 Hep B & C vaccines and three skin doctors to examine all the attending patients. The doctors work with us on voluntarily basis hence reducing costs slightly, but we purchase the medicines," said Murtaza Shaikh explaining about funding.

Once, the funding has been attained, the next phase commences, where the youth group looks for a place to set the camp. They bear in mind that the camp should be accessible to every one and should be organised on a holiday such as Sunday so that maximum number of people can benefit from this benevolent act.

This task is a tad easier than the previous, however requires a lot of communication. The best and easiest communication method these days is the "cell phone", however the numerous, ever-increasing bills are paid by the group itself.

"It takes a lot of money to communicate over cell phones. One of our members goes to the city to purchase medicines and vaccines. He stays in touch with the rest constantly. Secondly, one of us co-ordinates with the local authorities for camp's place and logistics that are required. Thirdly, one of us becomes in charge of Marketing the Camp and any issues are communicated via phone. So you see, phones are the prime way of staying in touch," justifies Adeel Shah giving us an overview of how they get things working- the team working is absolutely superb!

Once the camp commences, managing it becomes a priority for all the members. They look after all the patients visiting their camp, allotting them token numbers to keep law and order in place. The doctors and volunteers are provided free refreshments and lunches during the medical camp.

The medical camps are Angels Youth Group's way of working for humanity and reducing their problems. Through these camps they have managed to treat many patients who were suffering from Hep B & C silently, and saved precious lives of those who could have been potential targets of killer diseases.

So far more, they've organised two medical camps, and more than 1000 patients have received treatments. Angel Youth Group is aiming to have another medical camp next month, through which they believe they will save more lives.

Let's improve Education in Government Schools..

This project is being organised by a group of nine members in the main Mirpur City, most of whom are primary teachers in government schools. After working in schools for a considerable amount of time and attending Active Citizen Workshops, the group was inspired to take up the task of improving educational standards among the teachers in primary schools.

The rationale behind this project is to develop their teaching methods and meet increasing needs of the pupils. This is achieved through the mentoring and counselling of primary teachers (in order to gain better understanding and easy to do since they are less in numbers).

The job of counselling is undertaken by group members who are teachers themselves, and have access to wider information pool and material through the Active Citizens platform and/or other partners. This is vital to facilitate the improvement of quality education in terms of structuring the syllabus and critical thinking among the students.

Since the Teachers Association, is one of the largest associations in the division, lack of proper teaching methods and knowledge transfer is very minimal; therefore the group supervises knowledge transference from teachers to students, helps improve and polish the teacher’s interpersonal skills and lastly helps the community through producing evolved teachers that can pass it on to others.
The project at present is only two months old, and is currently targeting only two government schools in the region out of a large number. In the beginning these trainings start with only ten teachers, which will benefit three hundred teachers through cascading of materials and resources to their peers.

The group has collected ‘Feedback Forms’ filled by teachers and students as a form of measuring the success of the project. Teachers are being tested in terms of their teaching experiences before and after the training sessions, whereas students were asked to share the differences between pre and post counselling.

The main costs incurred are the transportation and stationary items, with some additional expenses for multimedia equipment; and so far the expenses have been met through the group’s personal capacity.

The group has adopted several methods in terms of the project’s sustainability; one of them is to include the sharing of new ideas and issues during teaching experience in their regular meeting sessions.

Parking Awareness!

In the backdrop of narrow roads, in between the main city market Chawkswari Bazar Mirpur, commuters on vehicles are seen parking at “No Parking” area and in front of the doors. Reckless driving and bad behaviour on behalf of the drivers have also caused loss of precious lives and property. This also creates many traffic jams at the main artery of the city which causes wastage of time for other commuters and also results in congestion to the main city centre.

We have all seen it and at some point in time also been party to it.

A group of 7 people realised this problem and decided to help their community men. The group had attended Active Citizens workshops and started a project on creating awareness about traffic rules via walks, posters and open discussions with the passerbys about do's and dont's of driving/biking/cycling and parking.
They also empahsised on the effective use of sign boards and their significance for smooth and safe travel on the streets. The group took the project a step forward by working with traffic police, shop owners and associations of the various markets along with business community.

They endeavour to clear the major artery of the city’s main market, which will not only allow increased flow of shoppers (improving buying power) but also provide safe and uninterrupted commute for passengers.

Although still in its infant stage, since the project was conceived a mere 2 months ago, the group has managed to create considerable contacts for future endeavours; for example an agreement with a shop owner to build a proper parking plaza nearby. These contacts will go a long way to help sustain this campaign; and in turn increase participation by members of the community like youth, drivers, transporters and concerned shops.

Sustainability of the project is also being funnelled through keeping police officials updated in regards to enforcing traffic laws and streamlining the driving license procedure. This will help generate awareness of proper parking among the masses with proper monitoring, and help in measuring the success of the project.

The group has also been able to generate enough funds to finance arrangements and preparations for banners, organizing walks and holding meetings (travel and equipment costs) by themselves.

Free Eye Camps on the Roll....

Saad.S.Hussain, 22, Karachiite, is running a series of “Free Eye Camps” for those who can’t afford expensive eye check ups and treatments.

Saad attended a "5- day Active Citizens workshop" back in January 2010. During an activity-where participants were asked to identify their community problems- he realised that eye aliments are a common problem in his community. Many people are suffering from different eye diseases and they don’t consult doctors, either due to high fees or simply due to the lack of awareness about eye diseases.

Saad wanted to help these silent suffers, however, numerous hurdles lay in way. No funding, no moral/physical support, no doctors, and no medicines – in short nothing was available.

“I haven’t had the slightest of idea of how things will work when I decided to run a free eye camp during the workshop. Nonetheless, I stayed firm with my decision and started discussing my vision with my workshop mates. Luckily, they understood my idea and we began working for eye camp together,” said Saad.S.Hussain, a bachelor student.

The ride wasn’t very smooth as Saad had initially thought. He approached a corporate organisation “The Maximizers” and presented his proposal. Corporate organisations aren’t an easy catch, but his persuasion, enthusiasm and sincerity made them succumb to his vision. They finally agreed to help in financial terms.

Together, Saad and “The Maximizers” began looking for a government school to set the camp, but before that, there was another major obstacle to overcome. They had to arrange for Eye Specialists who could administer the patients voluntarily.

Where there is a will, there is a way- Indeed; The Maximizers contacted “Khalid Eye Clinic” and after much persuasion they agreed to participate in the eye camp voluntarily. They provided two doctors and three junior doctors to provide professional medical care.

With combined efforts, Saad, The Maximizers and doctors from Khalid Eye Clinic set a Free Eye Camp at Rehri Goth in February 2010. They accomplished to treat 300 patients for eye ailments and asked the patients with serious eye problems to visit the clinic for proper and complete treatment.

Another eye camp is planned in June 2010, where the team is expecting to treat more patients free of cost for eye ailments however this time round Saad didn’t have to persuade anyone.

Its young people like Saad who have the courage, capacity and compassion to help their fellow men and spread the message of peace. Saad invites other young people in his neighbourhood as well to join this benevolent activity and spreads the spirit of volunteerism.

Rabia's Surprise Packet!!!

Remember how our classroom looked like back in school? Colourful, vibrant, lively, with loads of our art work pasted on the walls and teachers appreciating how well we’ve done!

Well, every one’s classroom doesn’t look the same as yours and mine. It could be a scary, prison-like, torture room with teachers’ having a don’t-you-dare-speak-a-word attitude. The government schools usually foster such classrooms without even realising the damage they’re causing to the young pupil’s career and at times, damaging their personalities for lifetime!

One person has taken a step to tackle this serious situation. She’s committed to bring a change. Change: in government classrooms, in teachers’ attitude and most of all – Introduce English Language in the grey-and-white environment! She’s become a true "ACTIVE CITIZEN" after attending British Council's Active Citizens workshops.

Rabia Shaukat, a young girl from Lahore, is an emerging entrepreneur who’s venturing to begin a “Surprise Packet Company”. As the name suggests, it’s a company that generates surprises! We all like surprises, don’t we? Except that her surprises aren’t materialistic. Her surprises focus more on improving the quality of life that people in her surrounding live.

Rabia is worried about the fate of the students studying in government schools; therefore she has decided to visit Boys High School, Township regularly. Her surprise for the pupil is: introduce them to a foreign language called “English”.

“I’ve always observed the students graduating from the government schools. No wonder, these kids are left behind in today’s cut-throat competitive world as they hardly know English and have no hands-on information about the current economical and political situation of the world,” Rabia comments.

Rabia indulged in a chain of conversations with the school’s headmaster, who, after numerous explanations got convinced that what she’s doing is for the betterment of his pupil.

Rabia started by observing every English Language lecture given in the school and gives feedback to the teachers. She advises them on bringing creativity and innovativity to English Language teaching; encouraging teachers to speak English as much as possible.

Simultaneously, Rabia’s also trying to introduce new English Language books in the current curriculum so the kids can have a variety of books to read from and improve their English.

Though, it has been less than a month that she’s initiated this, her surprise is already gaining momentum. The teachers’ and headmaster look pretty content with the way she’s bringing this commendable change. But most of all, the pupil seem to enjoy it.

“Kids are enjoying learning English Language. They are eager to read English books though are a bit shy in speaking English. I’m endeavouring to improve their writing, reading, listening and speaking skills. They are very bright, I’m sure that correct guidance will make them future Active Citizens of Pakistan,” Rabia replied when I asked her about the impact of the work that she’s doing.

Indeed, working selflessly for the prosperity of this country’s future is a praiseworthy effort. I’m convinced that she has proved to be a ray of hope for those who were patiently waiting for an opportunity to knock their doors.
I wish her all the best for future efforts!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Social Action Projects Selection - The Interviews!

Clad in a crisp black suit and a nervous smile, Saad Hussain waits patiently for his interview call. The judges have just gone in and were carrying voluminous files. Only 5 minutes are left for his interview to begin.

Half an hour later: Saad emerges from the board room, exhilarated. He’s very happy and confident that the judges are convinced of his Social Action Project (SAP) being sustainable and dynamic.

Saad and his friends from a group called “The Maximizers” are one of the eighteen contestants vying for the Active Citizens award. Their SAP revolves around the prevention of Cataract- a killer eye disease that is rampant in the remote areas of Karachi.

We arranged Social Action Projects interviews on Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 April for all the short listed contestants from Karachi and Hyderabad. There were 5 SAPs from Karachi and 13 from Hyderabad altogether. Each group was allotted 20 minutes to make presentations about the work they were doing for their community’s welfare and answer judges’ inquiries.

It was overwhelming to see each group’s energy and passion to make their communities a better place to live in. If one group was providing free medical assistance to the needy, the other was endeavoring to save Mother Nature.

“We are trying our best to make Qasimabad pleasant and greener. Therefore, we cleaned a park in our neighborhood and planted trees. Many locals joined us in the activity and are still helping us in taking care of the park and plants,” remarked M.Hussain Vighio, the group leader of “The Challenger Group” who has accepted the challenge to work for Climate Change.

“Who will help our neighbors if we don’t? Most of them aren’t aware about the causes of Hepatitis B & C, let alone seeking medical assistance for these diseases,” said Murtaza Shaikh, who organizes free medical camps in the rural areas of Hyderabad and vaccinates the locals for Hepatitis B & C.
The Social Action Projects interview panel included Shireen Naqvi, CEO- School of Leadership, Saima Khan, Director- School of Leadership; Nasir Nazir, Project Manager- British Council Lahore; Nabeel Alvi, Head of Programmes- British Council Karachi; Shazia Khawar, Head of Programmes - British Council Islamabad and Obaid Khan, Project Manager- British Council Karachi.

“This country belongs to you; you need to take care of it. We can show you the path, to accept it or decline it - is your choice,” encouraged Shireen Naqvi while speaking to the youth groups. She was thoroughly impressed with the efforts of young people and offered them her project mentoring services for free.

Social Action Projects Certificate Distribution Ceremony

The Social Action Project Certificate Distribution Ceremony was held in the afternoon of Wednesday, 28 April. Dr M. Shah, Minister of Sports and Mr. Shoaib Siddiqui, Secretary Youth and Sports were the Chief Guests of the event.

We organised this certificate distribution ceremony to praise and acknowledge the hard work and efforts of young people who were bringing a positive change in the communities of Karachi and Hyderabad.

We presented them with a "Certificate of Appreciation" which encouraged these youngsters to keep up their spirits of community work.
All the youth groups had set up and decorated stalls showcasing their project work, reports, pictures, souvenirs and videos.

Mr.Shoaib Siddiqui personally visited each stall and boosted the morale of the stall owners. “The efforts of young people are very inspiring, motivating and productive. I refer to British Council’s Next Generation Report every time I devise a strategy for the youth, trying to make good use of this very rich and abundant resource. My department is striving to utilize this “opportunity window” for the benefit of this country and I can see that the British Council is already doing it very successfully,” he expressed while commending our efforts.