Inspiring Hope: Smith Senior Wins Davis Prize for Project in Pakistan

A Smith senior is one of fewer than 100 students from participating American colleges and universities to receive a 2016 Davis Projects for Peace Award.

Ayesha Sadaf Khan will use her award from the Davis United World College Scholars Program to establish Nafisa Ghar (Precious House), a handicraft enterprise for mothers of students in the Kiran School in Karachi, Pakistan.

NafisaGhar

The project was sparked in part, Khan says, by seeing films by Smith alumna and fellow Pakistani Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy ’02. An interview with a school principal featured in one of those films, “Ho Yakeen,” inspired Khan to develop her Davis Prize-winning proposal.

Sabina Khatri, the principal interviewed in “Ho Yakeen”—and whom Khan met through a Smith mentor—will be Khan’s partner in the Nafisa Ghar project.

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Khan, who is majoring in engineering and English at Smith, is now helping to recruit mothers from the Kiran School community for the handicraft enterprise. A 10-week training program will begin this month for the artisan mothers, culminating in a trade exhibition of their products at a mall in Karachi.

Khan aims to create “a safe space” in an apartment above the school where the mothers can be “empowered to convert their talents in ancient craft techniques into a sustainable, revenue-generating business,” her proposal states.

Ultimately, Khan hopes that “seeing their mothers empowered and employed will encourage the Kiran School’s current students to become more hopeful about their futures.”

Here’s what else she had to say about her award-winning project:

How did you get the idea for Nafisa Ghar?

Ayesha Sadaf Khan: “I watched a documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy about the principal of the Kiran School, Sabina Khatri. One of my mentors in Pakistan connected me with Sabina, and we had a Skype conversation. Last December, I went to the school and saw all of the different activities going on. Sabina told me that she had tried to do something on a small scale where women could sell their crafts. We decided to propose a micro-finance project and create an artisan space where mothers at the school can make and sell their products.”

What are some of the products women will make in the new space?

AK: “Embroidery, pens, petal work and bangles covered with embroidery. With our project, the women will be supported by a digital marketing effort and training in English, financial literacy and other subjects they need to start their own ventures.”

You have also proposed specific strategies for sustaining the project beyond this summer’s training.

AK: “It was important for me to have a backup plan, so I talked to some of my mentors about how to do that. We plan to use 40 percent of the income from sales of the artisan products to create a sustainable capital pool that will fund more training for the mothers and help them invest in more micro-business.”

How have mothers at the Kiran School responded to your idea?

AK: “They’re very excited. They are really very talented and keen to become self-sufficient. Most of the mothers also teach at the school. Some are stay-at-home moms. Any extra source of revenue is helpful to them.”

How will the Davis Peace award help advance your project?

AK: “It gives us funds that the school now lacks to get the raw materials for the women to make their crafts. It also gives me an educational opportunity—I can learn how to start a micro-business venture. My hope is that the project stays a revenue-generating business.”

How has Smith helped prepare you for managing this project?

AK: “I’ve had a lot of exposure to responsibility at Smith. I came here to study biochemistry and medicine—I didn’t know I would be doing a micro-business project. I received preparation in my engineering and English classes and had exposure to real-world projects through the Engineering Design Clinic. The focus on STEM in an all-women environment at Smith has been important to me. I’ve also had a lot of support from alumnae mentors. There’s a strong Smith alumnae network in Karachi.”

With graduation coming up, how are you reflecting on your time at Smith?

AK: “Sylvia Plath’s thoughts about her Smith experience resonate strongly with me. In a letter to her mother, she wrote, ‘The world is opening at my feet like a ripe, juicy watermelon.’ That is how my Smith experience has been.”

About Davis Projects for Peace

Established in 2007 by the late philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis, Projects for Peace supports projects by undergraduates that create “building blocks for peace” around the globe. Winning proposals from participating colleges receive $10,000 implementation grants.

Smith’s participation in the program is coordinated each year by the Lewis Global Studies Center. A committee reviews applications, which are due in January, and the top proposals are submitted to the Davis Foundation.

Last year, Smithie Lou Laura Lydia Goore ’15 won a Davis prize for a girls’ empowerment project in Côte D’Ivoire.