“Working towards change, even if they’re small steps.”

How students in Pakistan are impacting their local and global communities. By: Hannah Weitzer, GNG Program Director

Following the news these days can make the world seem like a scary place. But spending time with GNG students often helps me remember all the good things that are still happening. This spring, as part of my work as Program Director at GNG, I traveled to Pakistan to meet with our student, educator, and NGO partners. I visited schools in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, and Bhit Shah, where I found hallways buzzing with youthful chatter and decorated with colorful student art. At schools across the country, I met students, who self-identify as “Global Nomads,” and who are catalyzing positive change locally and globally.

As the Global Nomads in Pakistan told me about their virtual exchanges with their partners in the US, their eyes lit up with excitement. In Lahore, a 9th grader named Hamna, shared how conversations with students in Kentucky changed her perceptions of the United States. Before the program, she and her classmates “thought there was no poverty in America and it was a very civilized country and they don’t have any problems… But our partner school told us they do have terrorism and we told them that we have terrorism too.”

In Islamabad students grew animated when describing their GNG “Global Citizenship Project,” which they undertook with a partner class in Virginia. Through the activities and virtual conversations in their GNG program, they recognized how lucky they are to go to a great school, with many resources. They knew that this wasn’t the case for every child and they decided that they want their Global Citizenship Project to address the issue of illiteracy in Pakistan. Doing research in their local community, they learned about Mohammad Ayub, who has been running an informal school in a nearby public park for 30 years. A firefighter by profession, Ayub teaches every day, without pay and at no cost, to young people, from low-income backgrounds, who are not enrolled in formal schools. The Global Nomads interviewed Ayub and his students and learned that his school was in need of books. So the group ran a book drive and fundraiser to help contribute to a mobile library for Ayub and his students.

Some of the Global Nomads also plan to volunteer as teachers there over their summer holidays. Halfway across the world, their partners in Virginia were inspired by this literacy initiative in Pakistan and decided to design a similar project. They too conducted research in their local community and, like their Pakistani peers, they found that there was an existing literacy project to which they could contribute. Like their partners in Pakistan, they ran a book drive and fundraiser to contribute to a city-wide literacy program that offers books to children in low-income homes. These two parallel projects are an amazing example of youth leading positive change in their communities and a testament to the power of virtual exchange!

Throughout my travels, it was a daily delight to hear from articulate and enthusiastic young Global Nomads. But unfortunately stories like these don’t often make headlines. In fact, if you were following the news over the last weekend in March, you would have heard a very different story from Pakistan, one about a horrific attack in the city of Lahore. And if you were following the news from outside of Pakistan, this attack may have seemed to be just one more in an endless stream of senseless violence without beginning or end.

For many people outside Pakistan, news of bombings and violence might be the only stories we see. We don’t often recognize how much these new stories shape our perceptions of a place. Recurring associations of Pakistan (or the Middle East) as a place of only terrorism and terror, fuel the same fears that have led to the spread of Islamophobia in many parts of the West. While these news stories are, sadly, part of the landscape in Pakistan, they shouldn’t overshadow the other stories of action, activism, and resilience that are just as much part of the lives of millions of Pakistanis. If you only think about Pakistan in moments of crisis or destruction, it is hard to imagine the life, joy, and innovation that takes place during the many other moments.

The Lahore attack happened to have been on the day I was scheduled to leave for my trip to Pakistan. I’ll admit that as I scrolled through the news on my phone, minutes before I had to leave for the airport, I asked myself, “should I still go?” As international media coverage reinforced Western stereotypes of of Pakistan as a place filled with only violence, it was harder to remember the rhythms of regular life that I know exist across the country. These images momentarily overshadowed my memories from years of positive partnerships and experiences working with amazing educators and students in Pakistan. When we allow a country be reduced to 140 characters of tragedy, it can eclipse everything else.

As you’ve already figured out, my moment of doubt passed and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this year’s Global Nomads in Pakistan, who are not only making an impact on their local communities, but also inspiring their international peers to take action. They are identifying problems and conducting research, including firsthand interviews, to learn how their efforts can be most effective. And they are just getting started.

Muhadassa in Islamabad, shared how the GNG program had a lasting impact on her and her peers as global citizens. She described how when she and her classmates were younger, they had “so many ideas but didn’t know how to work with them and have effective results.”

But now, with their Global Citizenship Project work, they feel really great about having affected the people around them, “working towards change, even if they’re small steps”.

Hopefully, by following the news from our Global Nomads all across Pakistan and around the world, you will hear a wider range of stories from places that you might not have the opportunity to visit. Maybe you’ll even be motivated to do similar work in your own community. But most importantly, when you hear news of far-away conflict, you will remember that there are young people everywhere, changing their local and global communities for the better.

To see more inspiring projects from the Global Nomads across the world, check out our project archive!