South Asian youth meet in Islamabad to discuss common problems and find common solutions.
South Asia is often mistaken for regions that it is not. The average person tends to divide Asia into East Asia and the Middle East and quite often one is confronted with geographic claims (such as the common misconception that Pakistan lies in the Middle East) that are hilarious and depressing. Faced with such obliviousness, South Asian youth are under twice the pressure they should be as residents of a third world developing region. A critical geographical location, usually ignored by the rest of its global counterparts, South Asia stands at a crossroads wherein it has to stand united if it must avoid failing. While from Bhutan to Nepal, India to Pakistan and Sri lanka to Bangladesh, it might be a very diverse collection of people, it always comes as a surprise - and a pleasant one at that - to know how similar these people actually are. All countries that fall under the umbrella of South Asia have similar mindsets, shortcomings and problems and, therefore, solutions.
On April 8, 2016, some 200 delegates - all young students - gathered in Islamabad for a three-day International Youth Activism Conference. Delegates from all over South Asia flew into the Pakistan capital to discuss and debate common concerns. The Conference was organized by PUAN - Pak-U.S. Alumni Network - that aims to build on the shared intellectual, social, cultural and democratic values of the people of Pakistan and the United States to promote trust and understanding and to contribute to peace and prosperity of the two countries through youth exchange. PUAN has brought together delegates from all over South Asia to Islamabad to further the cause.
The young people connected quickly as friends and as youth activists
By Noorus Sabah Tauqeer fighting on similar battlegrounds. Over three days and twelve interactive sessions with two panel discussions and six outreach projects, the 200 young South Asians bonded on similar grounds, learning to deal with similar issues. The sessions covered education, human rights, climate change, extremism, interfaith harmony, political engagements, social media, social entrepreneurship, leadership development, communication and campaign design, fund raising and digital storytelling and visual diplomacy. Community service projects included tree plantation, empowering women and meeting with acid attack survivors, celebrating cultural heritage and sessions with children having disabilities.
The topics were relevant, given the region is replete with issues like religious intolerance, human rights violation, extremism, etc.
Social media is a tool that all South Asians actively use to voice their opinions; social entrepreneurship is another area that has taken hold of South Asian youth. Do the issues of gendered violence, abuse and racial discrimination hit the same nerve in all South Asians? Delegates came to the conclusion that it wasn't just in Bangladesh that bloggers were being hacked to death for expressing their opinion or it wasn't just in Pakistan that prominent people were gunned down for standing up for the minorities, or it wasn't just in Afghanistan that women were stoned to death in public, based on mere allegations.
United against common enemies, the South Asian leadership of the future engaged in networking, made new acquaintances and learned things ranging from language and culture to how to come to terms with the social and cultural challenges they are facing. Evan Ryan, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs attended the inauguration ceremony, along with Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy and Erin Molnar Mains, the U.S. Embassy's Assistant Cultural Attache.
South Asia has always fought back and stood its ground. The diverse region shares more than borders: it shares problems and it must share solutions.
The writer is a freelance journalist.