Empowering Youth in Pakistan

Qaisar Roonjha

“If not me, then who?” That’s the question that has driven Qaisar Roonjha, MA SID’19, to create an organization to improve the lives of children in Pakistan—and to come to the Heller School to take his efforts to the next level.

Growing up in the rural, impoverished province of Balochistan as one of nine siblings, Roonjha attended poorly-funded public schools and witnessed the struggles of his fellow classmates. 

“Seeing how girls were discriminated against, and how young people were exploited politically—that was my motivation,” he says.  

That’s why he created Welfare Association for New Generation (WANG), a youth-led organization to empower youth across Pakistan, particularly girls. 

“A girl with an education is a revolution. A girl can change the life of her family with the power of education,” he says. 

WANG awards about 200 scholarships per year, and also runs two programs to help keep students in school to combat high attrition rates. One trains volunteers to go to students’ houses and take them to school each day. The other provides sports equipment and trains teachers to use sports as a way to engage students around leadership, fair play, hygiene, human rights and more.

“If school becomes more engaging for students, students won’t drop out,” he says. 

In addition to running WANG, Roonjha has worked with a number of international agencies, such as the UN Population Fund and Atlas Corps, as a freelance trainer and facilitator. He’s passionate about gender equality and reproductive rights—especially for transgender people. “They are very marginalized and need safe spaces,” he says.

As his work took him across Pakistan and to Europe, Roonjha decided that he wanted to pursue a degree at a foreign university to broaden his perspective. He picked Heller for its social justice focus and international reputation, where he’s now wrapping up an accelerated one-year MA in sustainable international development.

“Heller helped me to understand the theories behind what I was doing in my work,” he says, including writing grant proposals, budgeting and donor relations. 

Another reason he chose Heller was for its international network. Roonjha attributes much of his success to his ability to build connections, and his classmates and professors didn’t disappoint.

“You meet a lot of inspiring people and you learn the way they have done things in their own countries,” he says. “I now understand the problems in Nigeria, the challenges to young people in America, the struggles around gender identities in India. That’s critical as an international development sector professional.”

Students participating in WANG activities in Pakistan
Students participating in WANG activities in Pakistan
Students participating in WANG activities in Pakistan