Shahan, Program Manager in Islamabad, Pakistan
Islamabad, 3 May 2016 - As Program Manager, Shahan facilitates and assists in the development and implementation of all ICMC’s activities in Pakistan. With programs in several districts, ICMC provides assistance to refugees and other vulnerable individuals through several projects aimed at protecting survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGVB), improving livelihoods, and rehabilitating governmental schools.
How did you become involved in humanitarian work?
I’m originally from Pakistan, where I completed my undergraduate education. During my studies, I took several classes in the humanities field and developed a passion for politics and development: I was especially interested in understanding how political decisions at the macro-level can help uplifting communities. For this reason, I moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a degree in Development Studies at the University of London. I briefly remained in London to work after graduation, but I knew that I wanted to return to Pakistan.
In 2005, a devastating earthquake struck my country. There was so much to do: I participated in a reconstruction program, working with several organizations to provide relief to the affected population. Five years later, when heavy floods of the Indus River caused enormous damage across Pakistan, I supervised the distribution of relief items to the local communities and helped rehabilitating homes and infrastructure.
When did you join ICMC and what are the responsibilities of your current position?
I joined ICMC in 2010, as Program Officer. At the time, ICMC only had one small project in Pakistan. Since the very beginning, I have been deeply involved in the development of several new programs and in the expansion of the ICMC offices, which currently count over 70 staff members. Having been so engaged in its growth, I truly feel part of the organization.
As part of my daily activities, I manage ICMC’s programs in the country, ensuring that they are successfully implemented, and I monitor their impact on the community. In addition, I take care of our partnerships with other organizations and liaise with the authorities, representing ICMC in different fora.
What type of challenges do refugees and asylum seekers face in Pakistan?
Pakistan has received large numbers of refugees for the past three decades. We are currently the second biggest refugee-hosting country in the world: there are now over 1.5 million, almost entirely from Afghanistan, but many more are lacking any recognition of their status. Pakistan has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, so refugees cannot count on a number of legal rights. They are not entitled to work, but most of them are active in the informal market, significantly contributing to the national economy.
Many refugees have spent most of their lives in Pakistan, and it would be extremely difficult for them to return home. They face security issues, and often lack awareness of their own rights. In order to support these people, ICMC facilitates their access to education, employment and health assistance. At the same time, we work with the host communities to improve social cohesion and encourage refugee integration.
What are the most difficult and most rewarding aspects of your daily work?
Every day, I have to take care of a large number of activities: monitoring the programs, coordinating with the authorities, managing our relationships with the donors. Following up on all this is extremely challenging, and I constantly have to multitask.
I do enjoy working with the communities. For instance, it is really rewarding to see the smile on our trainees’ faces when they complete their vocational courses and receive their diplomas: I know that learning new skills and starting a job can truly change their lives. To them, this also means gaining access to education and health services.
One day, while I was at the ICMC SGBV project, I met an Iranian refugee family who required special health care. The family had missed the date of the doctor’s appointment, so we helped them get access to medical assistance. Their three-year-old son came to me, shook my hand and kissed me, thanking me for the help I had given to his family. That moment was really emotional, as I was not expecting this reaction from such a small child.
What is the thing you are most proud of in your work?
I am extremely proud of my team. Our work is never a “one-man show”: each team member has specific skills and abilities, and together we overcome daily challenges. Even when we are under pressure or facing difficult situations, we manage to remain calm and work together to find a solution. Within my team, I do feel at home.