Active Citizens programme of British Council links young leaders from 24 countries, including Pakistan and UK. The programme encourages young people to engage with their communities through social action projects. It also provides them with an opportunity to establish linkages with young people from other communities through its national and international exchange visits. I believe it’s very important to have a better cultural, economic, social and political understanding of other communities as in today’s world – thanks to globalization – we’re increasingly encountering different communities, cultures and perspectives.
The tagline “Locally Engaged and Globally Connected” perfectly describes the essence of Active Citizens programme of British Council. I’d been associated with the programme for about two years, but didn’t get the opportunity to experience different cultures, i.e. till I got selected for International Study Visit (ISV) to Egypt. I still remember the time when I was sad because I’d missed the deadline to apply for it. Then, fortunately, the deadline for applications was extended. I filled the form with whatsoever no idea that I’d actually end up getting selected. Nevertheless, I was shortlisted for interview, and a few days later, I received an email informing me of my selection. Sometime later, I received another email which indicated my placement at Egypt. It was just another day in my life. I was sitting in my university’s common room with my friends. I hadn’t been able to talk to them since morning due to soar throat, that is of course till I opened my mailbox. As soon as I got to know that I’d be visiting Egypt, I jumped and screamed with joy. My friends were shocked, but I couldn’t help it. No one would have felt as happy about getting to visit Egypt as I did that day. I’d always been inspired by the Arab Spring, and getting to meet Egyptians felt like a dream come true.
My interaction with different communities began as we boarded the plane for Cairo, Egypt via Doha, Qatar. I was accompanied by Jan Muhammad from Quetta and Shuja Umar Qazi from Karachi. The three of us belonged to different regions of Pakistan. It felt great to interact with them and prepare our country presentation for the rest of ISV participants.
As soon as we landed in Cairo, we were approached by British Council’s representative. He helped us through the immigration office and drove us to our hotel. It was the first time I experienced right hand traffic, and I just couldn’t help chirping excitedly. Jan and Umar made it a point to compare Egypt with Pakistan wherever we went. It was a thought-provoking excerise as observation helped us gain a better understanding of our host country.
At the hotel lobby, we were greeted by the beautiful Salma Hadad from British Council. She helped us with the room assignments, and it felt totally at home.
After a good night’s sleep, we went to Fairmont Nile City early in the morning. There we’d our workshops. We were introduced to ISV participants from 13 nationalities. Activities were planned to help facilitate our interaction. Karam Hilly from Syria was the first foreigner I talked to. In one of the group activities, Karam and I were required to introduce ourselves to each other and reflect our understanding in the form of a doodle. Here’s Karam’s doodle of me:
Although Karam and I faced difficulty in conversing due to our varied English accents, his doodle described me perfectly. This led me to conclude that our similarities will always dominate our differences.
We’d more workshops and community visits planned in the coming days, which helped us gain a better insight of Egypt and other participating nationalities. I noticed that our facilitator Kate Dempster made it a point to spend time with each and everyone one of us. She was a very accommodating and encouraging lady.
To add to that, I was amazed by the similarities South Asians had with each other. We sang the same songs, and laughed at the same lame jokes. It felt sad to realize that we shared a tragic past and years and years of hatred.
The highlight of the visit was the trip to Alexandria. Alexandria had a unique European touch in its infrastructure, and the lovely view of Mediterranean Sea from my room was simply magnificent. Moreover, I was overwhelmed and inspired by the community visits. We visited six communities, and the fact that there are brave young people out there who’re contributing to make a difference was truly inspirational.
All in all, it was one of the best experiences of my life. By the time I boarded the plane for Karachi, Pakistan via Doha, Qatar, I could relate to an Egyptian, I knew how Arab countries are positioned on the world map, I felt love for South Asians, and most importantly, I knew amazing people from 13 nationalities with whom I could collaborate. Together we could achieve the vision of making this world a better place to live in.
I cried as the plane took off, because I was sure that I’d never get to spend another one week of my life with this amazing group of energetic people. The experience was now a memory, preserved in my mind to be cherished forever!