Ali is building a national youth service movement by enabling young people to launch their own community-based ventures. This approach provides personal development opportunities for at-risk, socially excluded and hard-to-reach young people, while at the same time sparking social and economical development at the local level.
The New Idea
In response to increasing social fragmentation in Pakistan and a growing disengagement of youth from their family and community, Ali established the National Youth Service (NYS) to foster fresh relationships in society—with youth as the key building block of a new societal structure.
Ali promotes Youth Service as a way to re-brand the image of young people in his country and to promote young people as the most promising resource available to meet societal needs. The idea is to give every young person a chance to demonstrate his/her talents, creative abilities, and potential to improve their communities. He believes the momentum for this movement should come from young people themselves—if done for them, it is not done at all. The beauty of this youth service program is its ability to serve several functions simultaneously: While improving the image and character of the individuals enrolled in the service projects, it meets high service needs and addresses violence, crime, and terrorism.
National Youth Service makes available a range of services for youth, including access to national and international aid agencies and universities, and short-term training and counseling to help them design, manage and raise funds for their enterprises and ventures. NYS, in partnership with International Association for National Youth Service, Innovations in Civic Participation and Youth Employment Summit (International), identifies young volunteers and publicly recognizes their aspirations in a setting where participants feel encouraged and supported to launch their social development venture. NYS provides training and mentoring support, and through its services, assists youth to make their venture into a viable enterprise with a potentially lasting impact on the community.
Young people between the ages of 15 and 30 constitute a majority of the Pakistani population. And yet very little is being done to harness their energy and potential to contribute to the community. Instead, Pakistani youth are expected to take on adult responsibilities like raising a family and earning money as soon as they are capable. In the poorest neighborhoods especially, young boys and girls rarely get an opportunity to dream and undertake creative ventures. Institutions that provide volunteer activities are scarce and not adequately organized, and the potential of Pakistani youth to do meaningful work and contribute to societal good is underestimated.
As a result—due to increasing unemployment and the flooding of labor markets with unskilled workers—many of Pakistan’s youth loiter in the neighborhoods, where they are scorned and looked down upon. At the family level, Ali sees a general tendency among boys to stay away from their homes and avoid doing household chores. The girls, on the other hand, are generally restricted to the home and only venture outdoors when accompanied by their brothers or elders. Social taboos prevent socializing between men and women and especially sexual counseling. This has resulted in young people finding other ways to socialize—but always under a watchful and suspicious eye of a society looking for ways to control them.
Many young people with good intentions are turning to religion, sports, and literary activities. However, such activities are perceived as a waste of time and discouraged. Performing and visual arts, cultural gatherings, and nature tours are prohibited for youth except where accompanied by an elderly family member or a respected community member (e.g., teachers). Social development activities like volunteer work are rarely encouraged, as young people are simply not trusted to participate in these activities under their own initiative. Pakistani youth simply cannot win: they are scorned for loitering, or considered with suspection when they organize activities.
Despite the restrictions on youth, they have through their own resources and creativity formed various types of organizations to take advantage of different vocations, skills, and interests. Among these are various sports clubs for boys, and handicraft clubs for girls. Ali feels that young boys and girls have greater aspirations and an abundance of energy but simply lack the support from their families, communities, and government to channel those energies into more meaningful work.
Ali started his program by helping young people set up a community school. This helped him gain useful insights into what kinds of training and guidance youth needed most. From this experience he developed a training program that includes modules on Youth Participation, Youth Action Planning, Leadership, Mentoring, HIV/AIDS and Sexual Reproductive Health, and Life Skills. With the help of the Youth Employment Summit (YES) campaign, he developed a method to reach out to a large number of youth through volunteer recruitment and legitimize his program through an oath-taking that brings them together with their parents, government representatives and community workers. In this ceremony, the most dedicated youth volunteers take their oath for one year of service in front of family and community. Representatives of the Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs administer the oath. The volunteers then receive a short training from Ali and begin their development projects. Throughout the year, Ali continues to support volunteers in mobilizing community, government and international aid.
In order to carry out this process at the national level and in a replicable fashion, Ali set up the National Youth Service. NYS is made up of young and senior persons involved in the development field, many of them experienced professionals. NYS proposes to launch an academy that employs professionals to impart training at the provincial level. Ali has also developed the training manual to standardize the training and to help the professionals contribute to training development specifically for youth.
Ali is mobilizing international assistance to provide funding support for the community development work and to advocate the cause of youth development with the government of Pakistan. He is now working with World Computer Exchange Program to establish computer-training facilities. At the government level, Ali advocates and provides consulting services to the government of Punjab on how best to utilize the budget for youth programming, given the various organizational constraints and limited expertise.
As a result of Ali’s work, Youth Service in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Kasur has opened 150 literacy centers in partnership with the National Commission for Human Development and has completed a survey on primary education at the district level in Kasur. Ali has also arranged for young women volunteers to acquire training in income generation skills and to impart their newfound knowledge to other women in their communities. At various districts of Punjab, Ali is assisting volunteers in establishing the first computer training facility in the area. He expects the projects will encourage other youth to participate as volunteers while community members and parents support and encourage them in the process. At the district level, he sees this as an opportunity to develop a sustainable youth-based community development program, which may include significant policy changes for youth development.
Ali was a good student and is from an educated family. His mother established a primary school and daycare center for poor children against family conventions, and has successfully managed and developed it. She now lets Ali use this school as a base to train youth and counsel them.
After graduation, Ali worked with the Family Planning Association. This provided him an opportunity to learn about the societal attitudes and tendencies toward youth, and to begin to develop his own ideas for reform. During this work he came across a young person in Lahore named Samiullah, who was planning to open a community school. The idea for NYS emerged from Ali’s involvement in Lahore with Samiullah: They worked together to found a tuition center in 1998 and later Ali helped register it and transform it into a school. They also found ways to support the school by using local community members (many of them young women) as teachers, administrators, and counselors. Today, the school is being run on a commercial basis by the youth of the area. Working with Samiullah made Ali realize the potential in youth to contribute to the society while undergoing personal development, and inspired him to work further in this arena.
Ali is ambitious and works passionately to promote the cause of youth. He is constantly tapping into resources and networks and is setting up a system to identify and support youth, especially in the poorest neighborhoods. He spends most of his time networking with national and international agencies to promote the cause of youth social entrepreneurship and to raise resources for NYS. He also works closely with the Provincial Ministry of Youth affairs to channel their resources into supporting youth initiatives and advocating for the integration of youth in the programs of international development organizations like UNICEF.