2018 APF Fellow: Samar Shahid

“What is Pakistan like?,” is a recurring question I have been asked throughout my life. It is a common inquiry which I was guilty of answering with a regurgitated composition of answers that I have personally received. Over time, I had gathered various descriptions of Pakistan, and was unable to accurately distinguish fact from fiction. Frankly, exaggerated accounts of the nation being dangerous, chaotic, and socially constricting rid me of any profound desire to visit my very own motherland. However, disparaging narratives of Pakistan made me starkly aware of my privileges as a Pakistani-American, entitled to quality health services and education. I believe health care and education ought to be a basic human right for all persons. Being an American Pakistan Foundation (APF) Fellow for National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) enables me to play a part in improving quality and outreach pertinent to women’s reproductive health in Pakistan, and perhaps, finally answer the million-dollar question.

Four weeks flashed by, marking the midpoint of my first trip to the motherland. These past few weeks, I was exposed to both well-known, capital cities of Pakistan, such as Islamabad and Lahore, as well as closely-knit rural areas. In Islamabad, I visited the famous Faisal Mosque, where I was left mesmerized by the intricate architecture and breathtaking backdrop of the Margalla Hills at every glance. Similarly, in Lahore, the Badshahi Mosque took my breath away. Although, the sweltering heat radiating off the red sandstone floor with white marble inlay may have also played a part in that. Nonetheless, you soon embrace the humidity in Pakistan and overlook the droplets of sweat dripping down your spine, becoming immersed in the exquisite architectural elements and embellished interior. Unfortunately, not all of Pakistan is as lavishly adorned and well-kept, leaving the cruel realities faced by socioeconomically disadvantaged communities in plain sight.

In Rahim Yar Khan (RYK), a city in the province of Punjab, health and education are not prioritized in many remote areas due to lack of resources and low socioeconomic status. I had the opportunity to meet with a number of disadvantaged women about their reproductive health, specifically, birth spacing. NRSP has delegated monthly meetings which inform and supply various methods of contraception to help promote birth spacing as the primary family planning technique in rural communities. The project aims to improve the quality of life for poor women by involving local leadership and local communities in the provision of education and resources. This permits women to make informed decisions about their reproductive health. Obtaining real, detailed narratives from a group of women responsible for daily field work, home care, and child care indicated an immensely positive response to birth spacing. By preventing yearly childbirths, women can dedicate sufficient time to raising their child and upholding household responsibilities. When I asked women about their quality of life due to birth spacing techniques, I was often told, “Aab sakoon mila hai”, or in other words, “finally some tranquility.”

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Post by APF Fellow, Samar Shahid

Masters of Bioethics Graduate from Harvard Medical School

Placement: Delivering Accelerated Family Planning in Pakistan (DAFPAK)

Samar has collaborated with Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research for her Capstone Project, which entailed creating easily accessible educational tools for Institutional Review Board members to aid in upholding the highest ethical standards in research. Previously, Samar was a lead Clinical Research Coordinator for the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, where she conducted NIH research studies.