2018 APF Fellow: Meraal Hakeem

Pakistan has always been a place of conversations limited to family members and friends, a place where months-worth of biennial visits neglected social disparities and economic injustices. But this time, it was different. After presenting my passport to the custom’s officer, mumbling in my out-of-practice Urdu, I began to take in the capital, the city of Islamabad, glittering with excitement for the opportunities that the next eight weeks would provide.

Driving to the guesthouse arranged by APF and the National Rural Support Program, I was enchanted by the high-rise buildings, the freshly-tarred roads, the wispy clouds that settled over the Margalla Hills like a whimsical veil. I was excited to work in the city and on the 7th floor of the UBL Building, where I would be graced with this view every day. As we began work and latching onto projects, I developed an interest in an NRSP-run component of the nationwide Benazir Income Support Program, Business Incubation for Self-Employment. Under the supervision of Akhlaq Hussain, Programme Manager of Social Mobilization, and Agha Ali Javad, an NRSP General Manager, another APF Fellow and I edited the poverty graduation program’s Program Implementation Manual. We learned how the nation’s poorer households are divided into tiers of poverty and the social mobilization initiatives being taken to help them graduate from this tenacious cycle.

 While this work was rewarding on its own, the reward amplified as I began to notice the disparities between the classes within the city itself. After watching a seven-year-old helper-girl follow a young socialite mother, whose newborn child was presented to her in a portable cradle carried by a chauffeur into an esteemed eatery for a moment, before the girl was left to stand in a corner, unfed, to watch the sleeping baby as the mother devoured a scrupulously lavish entrée, I was able to truly appreciate the efforts of the poverty graduation program under BISE. The disparity between societies in Pakistan brought justice to a Fitzgerald quote I had spent so long mulling over. I felt “within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

However, these feelings were quickly relinquished as a couple of APF Fellows and I were even able to travel to a nearby village where another component of BISP, Waseela-e-Taleem, a project that worked to sustain education enrollment efforts by rewarding families with upwards of Rs. 750 each quarter if their children maintained at least 70% attendance is being implemented. We were pleased to learn of the doors of opportunity that opened up for these families with the extra income and their children, especially young girls, prospering at school. The villagers, congregated in the one-bedroom hut of a village elder, provided tangible evidence that the program was positively impacting rural communities. While the disparity between the village and the city are great, I am excited for what these poverty graduation programs have in store to alleviate these differences.

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Post by APF Fellow, Meraal Hakeem

B.A. Candidate for International Relations and Global Studies and Government at University of Texas at Austin

Placement: Benazir Income Support Program, Business Incubation for Self-Employment

Meraal has always been interested in dissecting the inner workings of globalization and nationalism and hopes to focus on international development and human rights in South Asia and the Middle East. As part of a Feminist Geography Research Collective on her campus, Meraal studies the different factors that make certain actors and policies dominant in the global arena while exploring the role of women and the aftermath of post-colonialism in societies across the globe.