The USAID Small Grants and Ambassador’s Fund Program (SGAFP) organized a publicity event on May 17, 2017, in Gilgit to showcase the program’s achievements and its overall impact in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) province. Ever since the inception of the Program in September 2010, USAID has supported 39 grants in 12 different thematic areas, and benefitted more than 175,000 people in Gilgit-Baltistan under the Program.

More than 200 representatives from the provincial government, grantee organizations, media and grant beneficiaries attended the event. Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman, Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan graced the event as chief guest. The Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, ministers and secretaries of different provincial government departments attended the event. Such high-profile participation and keen interest in the program by all stakeholders, especially the provincial government, made the event a resounding success. Rafia Rauf, the master of ceremony, welcomed the participants and highlighted the event objectives.

In his opening remarks, Saeed Ashraf Siddiqi, Chief of Party (COP), SGAFP provided a comprehensive introduction to the program, it’s objectives, accomplishments and contributions to the various development aspects of the region. He shared with the audience that, “True to its rich cultural and social heritage, the province of Gilgit-Baltistan has offered a remarkable response to grant opportunities under SGAFP. Till today, we have received more than 180 project proposals from across the province. In Gilgit-Baltistan, USAID has supported 39 innovative grants valued at US $4 million under 12 different thematic areas. Spread across the region, these grants have fostered inclusive growth and promoted community participation in the decision-making processes at all levels. From supporting children’s literacy, to providing small scale energy solutions, to imparting vocational skills, this program has made a remarkable transformation in the lives of over 175,000 people across Gilgit-Baltistan, including 75,000 women.” While giving the participants glimpses of the diverse grant projects implemented in in GB under the program, he highlighted SGAFP’s success in leaving its footprint in all 10 districts of the province.

The ensuing segment featured a 20-minute documentary titled “The Last Sanctuary’ developed by an SGAFP grantee, Walkabout Films Private Limited (WFPL). Aimed at promoting the conservation of brown bears living in the Deosai National Park in Skardu, Gilgit-Baltistan, the documentary highlighted USAID’s contribution in the area of wildlife preservation. This internationally acclaimed documentary has been awarded the prize for Protection of Nature at the prestigious Film Festival held in December 2015 in France. The mesmerizing documentary held the audience spell-bound with its lofty content and form; and a powerful message for conservation of brown bear living the Deosai National Park.

This was followed by a very fetching tableau performance on Allama Iqbal’s inspiring poem “Lab Pai Ati Hai Dua” by a group of orphan children from CEENA Health and Welfare Services (CHWS). USAID has supported the organization’s orphan support program by upgrading and equipping its two centres – Early Childhood Development Centre & Early Childhood Development Centre – thereby benefiting more than one hundred orphans residing at the center. The children’s scintillating performance on Iqbal’s masterpiece coupled with their exquisite outfits received generous applause from the audience.

Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman, Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan in his remarks acknowledged and appreciated USAID’s support in furthering the development of the region. He observed that “the grants awarded through the program are not only complementing development priorities of Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, but are also empowering the people of Gilgit-Baltistan through community based self-help initiatives.” He particularly appreciated USAID’s contribution in the thematic areas of energy, education and entrepreneurship. He pointed out that the GB’s government envisioned to replicate and scale-up the endeavors of international donor agencies like USAID. For this purpose, the GB government helped establish the Gilgit-Baltistan Rural Support Program (GBRSP).

The Chief Minster in his thought-provoking address, suggested few sectors/thematic areas for future support by USAID. These included specialized trainings to the educated youth in the hospitality industry especially cooking and management to enable them to open small scale guest cottages at the village level. It would not only provide them with a respectable living but would also promote the tourism industry of the region. He also suggested to explore other options of small village based energy solutions such as solar and wind energy.

He thanked USAID and SGAFP for their assistance, and pledged Government of Gilgit-Baltistan’s continuous support for USAID’s development projects in the region.

Mr. Bulbul Jan, Executive Director of Karakorum Associates for Educational & Economic Development (KAEED), a grantee organization, shared his experience of working with USAID and the importance of providing skill development opportunities for boosting entrepreneurship. He highlighted how USAID grants had benefitted 270 local women and their families through capacity building in in Wool Processing and Entrepreneurship Development in District Ghizer, Gilgit-Baltistan. The project immensely supported the targeted vulnerable group and transformed their lives by making them productive and contributing members of society.

This was followed by an enthralling performance by a group of young artists from Bulbulik Heritage Centre. USAID helped establish the center through a grant to preserve and promote the rich but endangered heritage of Wakhi people living in Gojal valley. The eight-member group of young boys and girls, with their traditional attires and melodious songs sung in the Wakhi language created a spellbinding effect. The youngsters received tremendous applause from the audience. The musicians trained at the center have been winning accolades for their talent at Lok Virsa and Music Mela in Islamabad as well.

Mr. Fida Muhammad Nashad, Speaker, Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly also shared his views towards the end of the event. While appreciating the work being done under SGAFP he observed that, “Although the grants under this program are called “Small”, their impact is huge. They create ripples in the fabric of society, making communities more resilient, and more protective of the earth, of Pakistan’s cultural heritage, of the underprivileged and marginalized.” He thanked the American people and the U.S. government for its continuous support to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

This marked the end of the event. The master of ceremony thanked all the guests for their participation and the speakers for their kind words of encouragement and appreciation before concluding the event.

The visibility event in Gilgit-Baltistan – Creating Opportunities and Inspiration – was noteworthy in many respects. Participtation of the Chief Minster, Speaker, Deputy Speaker and almost the entire provincial cabinet along with the members of senior bureaucracy, national and international organizations and donor funded projects made the event a resounding success. All the participants took keen interest in the Program’s contributions and accomplishments in GB and generously lauded USAID’s support for the development of the region.

Key among these being participation of senior most members from the government and bureaucracy; and attendance of grantee organizations and project beneficiaries from all 10 districts, including the far-flung areas of Skardu.

The event provided an opportunity to the government representatives and the SGAFP team to directly interact with the representatives of grantee organizations and grant beneficiaries to gain first-hand information about the impact of grants in transforming their lives. The event attracted significant publicity and media coverage.

A video montage capturing key highlights of the event can be accessed by following this link.