Training Young Leaders in Azad Jammu and Kashmir

Posted by Ajani Husbands
July 16, 2013
Students Attend Class at a Public Park in Pakistan

It was 9:00 a.m. and already sweltering. The temperature outside was well over 110 degrees Fahrenheit and inside the cramped library the air conditioner, in between rolling blackouts, kept the temperature somewhere between 95 and 100 degrees. A fan across the room blew warm air for a few lucky students in the front row. Young men in full suits and young women in kurtas sat attentively and taking notes on a new concept which they had been told will help them make a difference in their home towns. As the class began, everyone wrote down two words: “youth organizing.”

For two days, 50 youths from the Pakistan-administered Kashmir region known officially as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) gathered together to learn how to organize their communities and peers around societal issues they care about, such as education and science. To most in the room, “organizing” was a foreign concept. “Well, maybe this is how you do things in America, but this is Pakistan,” one student said after a particularly frustrating group exercise which required students to list available resources within their communities.

While youth organizing is an important part of American society, it is arguably even more essential in Pakistan, where 70 percent of the population is under the age of30. The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, therefore, decided to work alongside the AJK Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture to implement this two-day training program for prospective youth leaders in the region. Fortunately the Embassy’s Environment, Science, Technology, and Health officer Emerita Torres spent a few years as a community organizer and trainer before joining the Foreign Service and volunteered to lend her expertise to the training.

“You need an action plan that addresses the needs of your constituency and it must be specific,” she repeatedly emphasized to the Kashmiri students. Emerita explained that youth organizing is more than simply spouting a few key words to inspire applause; it requires critical thinking and analysis. Vagueness, she emphasized, is ineffective and simply would not do.

As the students began to embrace this concept, a clearer picture of the needs of AJK youth emerged. “Our group plans to organize university students in our school district to tutor low-income students,” one girl announced after a group exercise. “We plan to organize science students to sit down with faculty and find a way to improve equipment in the science lab,” another student declared. One by one, students discovered that, by understanding the needs of their constituencies and devising specific suggestions to meet those needs, they could make a real difference in their communities.

The two-day intensive training succeeded in planting the seeds needed for young Kashmiris to begin thinking about concrete ways they could engender positive change in their communities. Working with this group was a big success and the U.S. Mission in Pakistan looks forward to future programs together.


Latest Stories