Meridian Atlas Corps Fellow Hajira Khan speaks at the Second Annual Professional Exchange Spotlight Series at the State Department
On Friday, January 24th, the Loy Henderson Conference Room at the State Department hummed with the buzz of myriad accents. The room, host to countless diplomats and dignitaries over the years, was filled with a new generation of leaders — the current and incoming class of Atlas Corps Fellows and their colleagues and counterparts here in the U.S. This Second Annual Professional Exchange Spotlight Series was an opportunity for Fellows to meet supporting staff from the State Department and connect with local host institutions. Among those selected to address the group, was Meridian Fellow Hajira Khan.
Hajira is one of around 75 Fellows selected this year from a highly competitive pool of close to 3,000 applicants from around the world to pursue a six month to one year fellowship at a host institution in the U.S. Each Fellow brings roughly 5 years of prior work experience to their service; Fellows and institutions are carefully paired to ensure a mutually beneficial placement. In her time at Meridian so far Hajira has worked on two Pakistani exchange programs, follow-on for the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) program of which she is an alum, helped spearhead the Warm Up DC MLK Day event, and is currently developing a Meridian Action Planning Curriculum.
Addressing those assembled, Hajira explained how she was raised with a “lethal combination of values: respect, gratitude, and inclusion”; values which have fueled her drive to become a global changemaker. From the day she encountered an older woman sifting through chicken scraps in Lahore, to a recent brush with the spectre of poverty in the U.S., Hajira remains sensitive to the dignity of those whose stories too often go unheard. She expressed her excitement at meeting the other Fellows, others “as awesomely weird as me, driven to find innovative solutions to eliminate poverty in their communities and the world.” Hajira has already begun planning how she will build upon her work in the U.S. when she returns home to Pakistan this summer; her dreams include a center for underprivileged youth, an MLK day event in Lahore, and perhaps one day running for office in Pakistan.
Also present at the Professional Exchange Spotlight were Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department, and Lucy Tamlyn from the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan who welcomed the Fellows on behalf of the U.S. government. The State Department runs two special initiatives with Atlas Corps through Ms. Tamlyn’s Office and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, which provide additional sponsorship to increase opportunities for Fellows in their respective countries. One of these Fellows is Paul Lokaba, from South Sudan, who will be joining Hajira as Meridian’s second Atlas Corps Fellow on Monday, January 27th.
The unique perspective Hajira, Paul, and the many other Fellows bring to local institutions is yet another example of the power of people to people exchange and the values upon which Meridian was founded.