Karachi, Pakistan, 3 December 2005 - His Highness the Aga Khan, Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and Chancellor of Aga Khan University (AKU), today emphasised the importance of civil society institutions such as AKU, in providing the rapid and effective response to those affected by the 8 October earthquake disaster.
The Aga Khan was presiding over AKU’s 18th convocation ceremony, marking the graduation of 275 students in the fields of medicine, nursing and education. The ceremony was attended by His Excellency Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as well as the Governor and Chief Minister of Sindh, federal and provincial ministers and secretaries, vice-chancellors, senior government and armed forces officials, diplomats, national and international academicians, donors, and prominent citizens. The Chairman and Members of the University’s Board of Trustees, as well as faculty members, students and parents also attended the Convocation.
In his address, Chief Guest, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said, “I am privileged to be in this centre of excellence, which is an icon of quality education all over the world.” Observing that unhealthy nations can never progress, he reiterated that in order to become global competitive players, it is necessary to acknowledge a new paradigm and education systems need to change. “We need an education culture that harnesses the potential of our young generation to the full and produces innovative people.”
The Prime Minister expressed his deepest gratitude to the Aga Khan for his contribution announced at the recent International Donors’ Conference held in Islamabad last month. He admired the Aga Khan’s vision, noting that, “Every time, Your Highness, you visit Pakistan, it is a source of pride for every Pakistani. You are an asset to Pakistan.”
He praised AKU’s planning, rehabilitation, educational and medical services for the quake-victims, and observed, “The strong emphasis on community health education that forms part of learning at AKU provides the students a distinct advantage in dealing with situations such as the one being faced by a large number of Pakistani citizens affected by this calamity.”
Stressing the importance of investing in all educational disciplines, including the Social Sciences, the Prime Minister announced on behalf of the Government of Sindh an allotment of 500 acres of land for AKU’s upcoming Faculty of Arts and Sciences, an addition to the 500 acres previously allotted by the Sindh Government in 2003.
Lauding the commendable achievement of the graduates, AKU President Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, explained that the University’s primary purpose is to develop the leaders of tomorrow, not only in Pakistan but in many other countries of the Ummah and the developing world. In keeping with this aim, the University has already grown to encompass ten teaching sites in seven countries of South Asia, Eastern Africa and Europe. Elaborating on the internationalisation of the University, Mr. Kassim-Lakha informed the audience that the University now operates a second teaching hospital in Nairobi and that planning had begun for the establishment of a new regional Institute for Educational Development in Tanzania.
Addressing the gathering, the Aga Khan reflected on the tragedy of the recent earthquake in Kashmir and the NWFP where tens of thousands of men, women and children lost their lives, communities were split apart and local economies were shattered by the force of nature. Despite these tragic circumstances, he rejoiced in the steadfastness and achievements of the new graduates. “We rejoice not only because you have become promising nurses, physicians, educators and researchers, but because at AKU you have also become educated men and women with expanded powers of reason and reflection,” he remarked.
He went on to explain that the earthquake had been a brutal reminder to the University of the reason for its existence. Global communications capture the world’s attention and generosity for only a limited time. Governments do their best to carry most of the burden of the basic recovery. However, specialised non-governmental organisations such as AKU, complement these efforts because they have the knowledge, professional manpower and experience to respond to the great array of ills that follow social trauma.
The work of AKU, continued the Aga Khan, had been made possible by response teams notably in the realm of public health, established to create model health programmes and health surveillance systems on the ground that have been studied and tested for many years. In addition, training programmes developed by the Aga Khan Health Service and by AKU’s Department of Community Health Science have proved important in the response.
Secondly, he noted, the effectiveness of AKU’s response was materially increased because the University is part of Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The Aga Khan Health Service had for several decades been studying and working with mountain people and villages; the Aga Khan Planning and Building Service was able to share its methodology for constructing temporary shelter and seismic-resistant construction; and the Aga Khan Foundation helicopters provided the transportation of materials and evacuation of serious casualties.
Despite these achievements, the Aga Khan questioned whether institutions of higher education were preparing future generations for the country’s needs, noting the importance of programmes such as architecture and the built environment, land planning, governance and civil society. Whereas AKU did not currently offer these choices, the Aga Khan felt it would be necessary to educate men and women in these areas in the future.
The Aga Khan also introduced AKU’s next President, Firoz Rasul, one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs. Mr. Rasul has served as a member of the Board of Governors of the University of British Columbia and has overseen the development of various projects including the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat building and Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, and the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre in Toronto.
The Aga Khan expressed his warmest gratitude to AKU’s first President, Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, noting that the substance and quality of the University today owed a great deal to his determination, energies and loyalty.
In closing, the Chancellor of the University stated that the leadership was changing at a time when reflection in the field of education beyond national boundaries was critical. He cautioned that the vital work of education is highly sensitive to local conditions and must take into consideration the role of local values, for educational change is also a deeply moral enterprise.
“As you now prepare to leave your university years, I congratulate you and I wish for you the deep satisfactions that can come from using all your powers in service to the progress of mankind. You are eagerly awaited by us and by a world of grave and sudden needs,” ended the Aga Khan.
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) was founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims. It is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies working to empower communities and individuals to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East. The Network’s nine development agencies focus on social, cultural and economic development for all citizens, regardless of gender, origin or religion. The AKDN’s underlying ethic is compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for philanthropic activity is in excess of US$300 million.
Chartered in 1983, the Aga Khan University (AKU), an agency of the AKDN, is Pakistan’s first private, autonomous university. Through its high academic standards in programmes relevant to the needs of developing societies, and its contributions on issues of health and education, the University continues to exert an impact in the countries where it operates. The University has so far graduated 3,684 doctors, school teachers, and nurses from Pakistan and overseas. Through its needs-blind policy and Educational Support Programme, AKU ensures that deserving students are granted admissions irrespective of their economic background. Forty-five per cent of AKU’s students receive some form of additional financial assistance through scholarships and loans. Since its inception, the University has disbursed US $1.126 million in financial assistance to students.
Aga Khan University’s Distinguished University Awards are conferred to recognise outstanding persons whose achievements have had a significant impact on society and on the University. This year, the University presented the title of Professor Emeritus to Dr Paula Herberg, Former Associate Dean of AKU-School of Nursing, for her contribution to the nursing profession in Pakistan and other developing countries, particularly in community health nursing, research and administration. Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta received the first University Research award to be conferred at AKU. This award recognises Dr Bhutta’s outstanding research and his remarkable role to the development of a research culture at AKU. Dr Bhutta’s pioneering work in nutrition and vaccination has made a major contribution to the understanding of effective ways of improving survival rates among infants and children.
This year’s graduates included 19 international students from Belgium, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bangladesh, Zanzibar, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and USA. Dr Sameen Ahmed of MBBS Class of 2005 received the highest number of awards and the title of ‘Best Graduate of the Year’, while Ms Gulzar Azizuddin Noorani from the School of Nursing received the ‘Outstanding Graduate Award’. S. Rubina Zaidi, a graduate of MEd programme of AKU-Institute for Educational Development, gave the valedictory speech.
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