Saqib RiazLearning Out of Wonder

Democracy symbolizes free and fair elections, rule of law, civil liberties, political freedom and legal equalities. Nonprofit organizations are implementing thousands of projects in the third world to promote democracy through inclusive programming for sustainable development so that people can understand how democracy works and how it is beneficial for improving governance structures – a prerequisite for enhanced efficiency and transparency in a society.

White House Group Photo

Back home in Pakistan, most people think that it is very difficult to adapt to the US culture and the society because it is very advanced and laws are very strict unlike Pakistan. Just three days after my arrival in Washington DC, I attended a session on the US Culture and History and the learned guest speaker mentioned of a possible cultural shock for immigrants especially the South Asians because of societal dissimilarities. However, I was ready for experimenting as a wise soul in Islamabad had told me just before boarding my plane that “your life is going to be much better in the U.S., the one you have been longing for. Just relax, get ready for the change and have fun.”

On the first day of my life in DC, going out with 21 other fellows from 14 different countries for a group photograph right in front of the White House, followed by Memorials’ Walk, getting caught in rain and then being stranded was exciting than any kind of shock. Being with these amazing people whom I had met for the first time, learning to pronounce their names in Korean, Spanish, French, English, Arabic, Hindi and Dari and then taking metro rail was altogether new yet thrilling.

Elevator

The only thing that made this whole experience excited was the diversity as all of us come from different continents, regions, backgrounds and ethnicities, have different faiths and religions, speak different languages and think differently. Everyone’s reaction to this whole scenario was also different – something new for a wonderer like me. Roaming around the streets at night, feeling safe and secure, watching people dance, sing and enjoy the lively environment also gave me a sense of being in my early teens when I used to witness all these scenes in Pakistan but not anymore due to worsening security situation and terrorist attacks.

Merger1

My first day in DC makes me agree with Greek Philosopher Epictetus’ quote that “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Out of joy, I responded to this whole scenario the way it should have been which is embracing diversity and welcoming it whole heartedly.

Being in a truly democratic, free and open society also gave me an opportunity to assess whether Pakistan is ready for an inclusive society where everyone is treated equally and everyone’s civil rights are protected by people in addition to the laws. It is premature to reach any conclusion, not because it is impossible, but because first I need to know how the U.S. managed to do that. This is what I am expecting to learn during my stay here – transforming diversity into inclusiveness and strength – one is the most challenging tasks Pakistan facing today.

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About Saqib Riaz

Saqib Riaz is a public outreach and advocacy professional with nine years of experience in nonprofit and media organizations. Saqib has demonstrated impactful contributions to improve the quality of elections as well as democracy in Pakistan. He managed the advocacy portfolio of Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), Pakistan’s largest election observation network, by contributing to mainstreaming the long-impending agenda of electoral and political reforms – a prerequisite for the deepening of democracy in the country. His academic grounding as a political scientist with a Master’s Degree from the University of Punjab, Lahore, has provided him the added advantage of steering complex advocacy campaigns to influence policy, legal and regulatory reforms. Harnessing the potential of new technologies, Saqib successfully blended traditional communication tools with more advanced and emerging social media to advance FAFEN’s electoral reforms work. More than 13,000 Twitter and 66,000 Facebook followers has given FAFEN a unique advantage of directly accessing attentive audiences interested in the country’s democratization. Saqib also excels in complete advocacy-based project cycle and has significant experience of working with projects funded by USAID, DFID, EU and The Asia Foundation. Keeping in view his expertise and skills, he recently worked on a unique project that is designed to study the relationship between citizens’ voices and actions, and the process of reforms in Pakistan’s education governance. Saqib started his career as a journalist and has worked with print and electronic media as desk editor and producer. He was the member of the founding team of Express 24/7, Pakistan’s first English-language news channel. His hobbies include traveling, trekking and photography. Currently, Saqib is serving at Meridian International Center in Washington DC and engaged in developing emerging leader programs and develop innovative U.S.-based and in-country short term educational programs. He also supports Meridian-wide communications channels and looks globally for new partners for campaigns and other prospective programs. He also explores innovative ways to engage with program alumni and develop curriculums for short training workshops.