Being born & raised in San Ramon as a Pakistani boy was quite an interesting experience. My mom, who treasured the Pakistani culture due to being raised in Karachi, made sure to surround that culture around my family and I. I’ve tried all kinds of Pakistani dishes because of my mom and her love for Pakistani food and Shalwar Kameez at daawats and potlucks became a tradition because of her as well. If I can recollect, I think I’ve probably been to Pakistan 10+ times over the course of my life and I am truly grateful for that experience and for being able to relate with my community. But with all that said, I will confirm that the U.S will always be my home. I was born here. I was raised here. I made friends and went to school here. When I go to Pakistan, yeah I have fun, I enjoy the company of my family and enjoy the bustling life that the country has to provide but at the same time, I don’t fit in. I don’t feel like I get accepted. Maybe that’s because of my lack of cultural education in the country or my status as a foreign citizen. But even more so, I guess I can’t empathize with the struggles of a Pakistani citizen as I would with American one simply because I’ve lived that lifestyle.
However, my identity didn’t mean I couldn’t use my privilege to good use. I wanted to do something for the Pakistani community who didn’t enjoy the same luxuries that being in the US provided me. I decided to start a non-profit org called Project Aqua whose mission was to provide sustainable methods of obtaining water for those in need through handpumps, wells, and reservoirs. Together we raised funds for water equipment and would travel to Pakistan to oversee the water pumps being placed for the needy. Man, watching those kids enjoy fresh water, was elevating. We did that! We made it happen! Women who had to walk 5-15 km a day to get water now only walk 5 -15 steps because of Project Aqua and I was so glad to be a part of that journey. It made me realize that I might not be able to relate with the people there, but I can definitely help them.
At Cal, PSA was a means for me to continue that positive vibe by creating a strong community for both U.S Pakistanis like me and Pakistanis from overseas. As PSA president, I wanted to rip apart the boxes that Pakistanis put themselves in. I wanted U.S. Pakistanis to relate with international students and vice versa. There was no need for us to be fragmented in our bubbles, so I wanted others to engage with each other and build strong relationships over chai. I always thought of PSA as more than just an organization that hosts Pakistani events. I believe that its the perfect place to feel at home no matter who you are. Whether you’re a Pakistani international student whose traveled continents away and are looking for home because it’s so far away, or whether you’re a U.S born Pakistani who is trying to reconnect with your roots and find PSA to be the first step to that journey, or even if you aren’t Pakistani and want to engage with the culture.
As I look to graduate from UC Berkeley my passion for public health has allowed me to innovate and think of ways where I can improve the health sector for those who need it the most. After experiencing first-hand what my father went through with his heart surgery, I wanted to help people who were going through similar difficulties like him, which is why Public Health is a major that I am so passionate about. As some words of advice: to incoming PSA community members, I would recommend trying to keep learning new things. Don’t be satisfied with what you already know. Break your boundaries and your comfort zones. Understand other Pakistani or American lifestyles, and connect with them. These experiences with different people will help you grow and shape you to be a strong-minded person who knows who they are and who they want to be. Ultimately, by connecting with others, you can truly understand who you are and why you were put into this world.