Originally published in November 30th, 2012 issue of US Magazine.
Malir, Karachi: One Saturday afternoon 21-year-old Shareef Hussain was among a group of 20 present in a workshop on youth volunteerism discussing how to bring change in the mindset of people present around him using community service projects. The group discussed out of the box ideas- on how to get the local union council to clean up the empty-plot-turned-kachra-kundi, and how to engage parents into activities which will help them realize the importance of education for their children. He was sitting in a Wi-Fi equipped air-conditioned seminar room at the Institute of Advancing Careers and Talents (iACT) in Saudabad, Malir- one of the most marginalized areas of the metropolis.
Housed opposite a community sports ground and adjacent to both a girls college and a girls school, the Institute for Advancing Careers and Talents (iACT) has been offering a wide range of innovative and technical education courses to youth of the area since 2007. A collaborative initiative between City District Government Karachi (CDGK) and Habib University Foundation (H.U.F.), the institute has a learning model which aims to create well-rounded individuals prepared to excel in all aspects of their lives.
Home to thousands of families from middle and lower middle class socioeconomic backgrounds, Malir is an area of the city which is dealing with social issues such as poverty, illiteracy and unemployment. Most of the youth which attends programs at iACT comes from an average family size of 8 with average income of Rs. 15000 per month. The youth in the area lacks both exposure and opportunities to get involved into healthy activities. In such circumstances, iACT has been bridging the gaps for over five years and creating impact on grassroots level by changing lives for both the youth and their families.
The confident yet shy 21-year old Shareef came to the institute to attend a basic Microsoft Office course in January this year. There he made his Facebook account as well and “liked” the official page of Youth Empowering Spaces (YES), one of the programs at iACT. The Facebook page kept him connected to all the activities that were happening at the institute. He volunteered to become part of the Summer Camp where his confidence boosted remarkably and his life took the most meaningful turn, when after a gap of a year and a half, he decided to continue his formal education. Shareef Hussain is now a student of B. Comm. Part one at a college nearby, and spends two to three hours every day at iACT to learn, connect and grow. He has attended leadership and personal development trainings, career fairs and counseling sessions organized by the wonderful team at the institute.
“A Get-It-Done Attitude is one of the most important things iACT has taught us,” said Nadia Rasheed, a bright young lady volunteering at the reception desk. Shareef and Nadia were part of a team which organized a small Eid Fun Mela for students at a one-room charity school nearby. “We didn’t have a lot of time to plan. We even packed the gifts after we got to the school,” she said before laughing cheerfully. “But we did it. We’ve been taught to be fearless; and to work with all the resources and dedication that we have.”
The team, after attending a workshop on volunteerism and community service projects, organized the event to celebrate Eid with students at a charity school. They took along gifts and did several activities to cheer the kids up. “It was like seeing ourselves in those kids, at first they weren’t able to speak at all. They didn’t even know how to introduce themselves. But our activities gave them some confidence,” said Sobia, one of the volunteers. Using the reporting skills taught at the workshop, the team also put together a wonderful slideshow, with photos of them engaging kids into activities like musical chairs and pass the parcel. The video was later put on the official Facebook page of the program.
“I’ve gained so much confidence. I used to be so shy that had you come up to me at the reception desk few months ago and asked me a question, I would’ve hid behind the desk,” said Sobia, who is now a full-time front desk volunteer at iACT. “I am finishing my BSc. and will seek admission in MSc. next year.”
Photo via iACT Facebook Page
The campus of Institute of Advancing Careers and Talents is a delightful facility with state of the art resources available for youth of the area to use. There are 2 seminar halls, 2 high-tech computer labs which are used for courses such as graphic design, animation and web development and course-specific rooms with all the necessary equipment for fashion design, textile design, digital photography and audio production. Some of the facilities are not functional currently, but the institute plans on initiating appropriate courses soon. The campus also houses a library which allows members to check-out books and take them home. Most of the institute’s offerings are free to utilize.
“We’re running three different projects here, namely INSPYRE, iLead and YES,” says Centre Head Kamran Kashif, a young energetic professional who speaks fervently about the institute. “And our cross-cutting learning modules provide a rich learning experience to youth.” INSPYRE is a scholarship based program providing free of cost career education to deserving youth. iLEAD aims at facilitating youth to nurture healthy minds and bodies through life skill education, sports and community service. YES focuses on empowering youth through personal development, innovation and creativity. Most of the courses offered at iACT are a combination of modules from all three projects.
Kamran’s role as a Centre Head isn’t just about planning and implementing programs- he is a mentor, a guide and a friend to the iACT family. He is often seen standing in corridors or in the gym, talking to students and being a coach, a guide and a mentor.
Because iACT works with youth on grassroots level in a marginalized area, the challenges are natural. Kamran, while discussing the programs and the attached difficulties in implementing them, said that most of the youth that comes in here has the typical classroom-to-gate mentality. They don’t want to engage in activities other than academics and that’s a difficult barrier to break through if you want to build well balanced personalities. “We adapt accordingly, then. One common method of communication is classroom counseling and conversation.”
“One of the major challenges we’ve been dealing with is the way people perceive what we’re doing here,” he said. “Because this centre was initially a CDGK vocational training centre back in 2008-09, people would come in and ask if we offer Mehndi courses here.” But things have changed for iACT over the years. Now, the staff sees an influx of parents and young adults every day who understand that the institute is trying to nurture well-rounded career oriented individuals who are equipped with necessary skills for modern era.
“Sports is one area where we’ve seen a lot of good response so we’ve built it in as a component in all our programs,” he added. The institute organized an Inter College Volleyball Tournament in 2010 which gained a lot of attention and since then a large number of local youth utilizes the campus sports facilities. “Now that we’ve combined both iLEAD and Connect programs, students enjoy lots of healthy sports activities almost every day at the centre.”
“You’d be surprised with the kind of sportsmanship we see around here,” said Syed Mohammad Mehdi, one of the Program Officers at iACT. He manages the Youth Empowering Spaces (YES) program which organizes workshops, seminars and events to facilitate and empower youth so that they can carve their life paths with complete self-awareness while keeping themselves engaged in healthy extracurricular activities. “Several players that practice here have played on national levels. One of our students has been selected for national under 19 cricket team, several girls who practice volleyball here are part of the Sindh volleyball team and a couple of our students play league hockey. We’re delighted to see all these hidden talents come forward.”
As someone who’s been in youth engagement and empowerment industry for over seven years, Mehdi sounded extremely passionate about his work at the institute. “It’s an inspiring story every day. You get to meet people who tell you that you’ve changed their lives, and you know that it’s true. It’s a remarkable, to be honest. Few of our fashion design graduates are working for biggest fashion houses in Pakistan. A graphic design graduate now lives in Dubai and is supporting his family with a full-time income. There’s a call centre training program that we run, our graduates get hired by customer services of major telecommunication companies. There’s a girl in one of our programs who is married with a two daughters yet she’s here and she’s learning community volunteerism. It’s all about making a difference.”
While discussing career counseling sessions run at iACT, Mehdi said that more than sixty per cent of the youth, who comes in at iACT to attend a career fair or a discussion, leaves with a dimension. They figure out their life goals and grow into more confident young individuals who know where to go and how to get there.
The institute relies on word of mouth as a major marketing avenue – youth not only from Model Colony, Khokrapar and Saudabad but from all over the city have been attending courses at the facility and the positive word gets around.
For sure, youth like Shareef, Nadia and Sobia have a vision of the future now. All of them want to continue their formal education and make a difference for their families and communities. All of them have great communication skills. They are confident, self-aware and have high self-esteem. In a locality facing daily challenges of poverty, lack of exposure, illiteracy and unemployment, the value of these traits cannot be emphasized enough. Around 1200 students have graduated from the Institute of Advancing Careers and Talents and the number continues to grow. iACT has certainly bridged the gap of a much-needed youth community center which is changing lives every day.
Cover Page – US Magazine 30th November 2012
Facebook Page: Youth Empowering Spaces
Offiical Website: iACT