Second Annual Youth Advocacy and Leadership Program on Capitol Hill:
SAPAC held its Second Annual Youth Advocacy and Leadership Program from July 13th-15th, 2016. Eight participants from around the nation came to Capitol Hill to join SAPAC to advocate for Sindhis. This entailed splitting these participants up into four different groups so that there could be as many meetings as possible. There were over 50 meetings on the Hill scheduled. One of the participants was returning from last year’s program, Saira Jatoi. She is a very passionate Sindhi, who wants to give a voice to the voiceless and shed light on the human rights violations occurring in Sindh. Executive Director, Fati Gul, joined in on various groups that had priority at the time of meeting to help out
To kick-start the event, SAPAC hosted a meet and greet on Wednesday, July 13th, in the evening. Everyone received a folder that included the itinerary for the following two days, a map of Capitol Hill, a map of Sindh, an article about the Lahore Resolution 1940, and an article about the plight of Sindhi Hindus by Kamana Mathur. The purpose of these handouts was to help educate the participants on the issues which face Sindhis, inform about the Representatives and Senators whose offices they were meeting with, and specify what things to ask Congress to do to help. Two special guests came to the meet and greet, Farzana Majeed and Sameeta Vikram. Everyone introduced themselves and provided fun information about themselves, and then jeopardy was played. Jeopardy was created by a SAPAC intern and provided six different categories to truly test the knowledge that the participants had about Sindh. These categories included: geography, culture, education, human rights, funding, and religious extremism.
Thursday, July 14th, was the start of the meetings on the Hill. SAPAC interns had prepared envelopes for all of the meetings which included a report on enforced disappearances, a brochure discussing Sindh and all of the issues that were to be mentioned in the meetings, and a letter that requested Representatives to join the Sindh Caucus. Thursday was a very busy day for both Congress and SAPAC because it was the last day of Congress’s session before a long break. Everyone appreciated the time that the Congressional offices took to meet with the SAPAC team on such a busy day.
The SAPAC interns and Fati Gul started the day at Senator Bob Casey’s Keystone Coffee with a light breakfast with the Senator. During the Meet and Greet, SAPAC had the opportunity to share their views and voice their concerns with the Senator himself, and his staffers. The SAPAC team was also able to ask about a very new piece of legislation that was introduced by Senator Casey into the Senate, called the STORM Act. One of SAPAC’s interns, Isaac Joseph, is from Pennsylvania and is one of Senator Casey’s constituents. Isaac is concerned about the problems that Sindhis face from religious extremists every day in Pakistan and was looking forward to discussing with Senator Casey the new bill that Casey is co-sponsoring that would help cut down on terrorist financing.
Afterwards, everyone participating in the meetings on Thursday went to Senator Johnny Isakson’s office to begin the official round of scheduled meetings. Everyone voiced their specific concerns during the meeting and were able to learn more about the STORM Act. Senator Isakson co-sponsored this bill along with Senator Casey. The STORM Act, if passed into law, would grant the President greater authority to designate and punish countries who aren’t doing enough to stop the financing of terrorist groups or who are complicit in supporting and protecting terrorist groups. This Act was originally intended as a response to the growing threat of ISIS in the Middle East but this can help control the acts of terrorism in these countries like Pakistan. They were able to express concerns about how some of the elements of the Pakistani establishment protect religious extremists and how this bill would help to put pressure on Pakistan and protect Sindhis from terrorism. Senator Bob Casey himself has made two trips to Pakistan in the past and reassured us of his commitment to protecting the rights of religious minorities in the country.
After this, everyone split off into their respective groups for the day of advocating on the Hill. Either at 11:00 am or 12:00 pm, groups took an hour lunch in whichever office building’s cafeteria they were in, and then they went right back to advocating on the Hill! One group had the pleasure of meeting with Representative Brendan Boyle in person. Representative Boyle is a member of the Foreign Affairs committee and was interested to learn more about Sindh and to get involved. He was mainly interested in the problems of religious extremism and USAID mismanagement and wanted to learn more about the Sindh Caucus. He mentioned that after the meeting he was going to conduct some research of his own and consult Representative Brad Sherman, the member of the Sindh Caucus, for more information. Most of the other meetings were with staffers in the various Congressional and Senate offices, and they were very successful. Whether it was religious extremism, women’s rights, or misappropriation of USAID funds, each office had its own interest that it was happy to help with.
Among the various offices that the SAPAC team met with on Thursday included Senators Ernst, Gardner, Markey, Flake, and Wyden as well as Representatives Pallone, Norton, Farr, Lowenthal, Rooney, Rothfus, and Shultz. Everyone was proud that they met with both Democrats and Republicans who were both in agreement on continuing to help Sindhis and fight injustices in Pakistan. Every group had a different meeting at 3:00pm, which was their last meeting of the day. Afterwards, SAPAC interns and Fati Gul headed to Representative Adam Schiff’s office to receive a VIP Tour of the Capitol Building. Representative Adam Schiff was the first member of the Sindh Caucus and has continuously shown support for Sindhis. The SAPAC team also dropped off an envelope containing information about current issues for Representative Schiff. A member of his office gave us the Capitol tour, and everyone greatly enjoyed being able to learn more about the United States’ history.
Friday, July 15th, the participants were first split into two groups so that there were people on the House side and Senate side of the Hill. One group met with Senator Marco Rubio’s Office staff to discuss important issues and how his office can help the large Sindhi community in the state of Florida. His office is also sponsoring the STORM act and was willing to meet with the Sindhi Community in events they have in Florida. Afterwards, the groups met Representatives Kyrsten Sinema, Jackie Speier, Robert Dold, Don Beyer, Elijah Cummings, Gene Green, Lynn Jenkins, Tom Marino and Lois Frankel to discuss human rights violations, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings in Sindh. While some of the Representatives were aware of these issues, most were unaware they was so blatant. Many members of Congress commended the idea of supporting education by helping provide textbooks to Sindhi school children as an alternative to USAID funds, which can be misallocated. After lunch in the Hart Senate Office Building, the group took meetings with Senators Joni Ernst, Ron Johnson, Amy Klobuchar, and Mark Kirk. Meetings continued with other representatives, and the SAPAC team ended the day with a tour of the Washington monument where the views were breathtaking once they reached the top.
SAPAC is very appreciative to all of those who participated in both the meetings on Capitol Hill, and the meet and greet. Being able to show these politicians how informed so many youth in America are and the importance of Sindh is to these youth really made an impact. It was a very successful program that will be continuing next year, in hopes that one day Sindh will be a safer place by advocating and providing awareness of Sindhi people everywhere.