iEARN Annual Conferences and Me

Farah Shafi Kamal
Executive Director, iEARN Pakistan

I was looking around in total amazement at the conference registration desk and a whole bunch of people from different nationalities around. This was the summer of 2000 at the convention centre lobby in Beijing, China; the arrival day for delegates of the iEARN International Conference. My first ever international conference, I was excited beyond limits, due to my flight schedule I arrived the night before, the formal conference opening is still a day away leaving a day free for me. While still figuring out what to do with the day, a very tall man with the brightest smile approached me said hello, shook hands introduced himself as Peter Copen the founder of iEARN. I saw a distinct happiness and respect in his eyes getting to know that I travelled from Pakistan for this conference, he invited me to a big room where some sort of meeting was going on. I sat next to him in total confusion— I had never been to a meeting like this, was cursing myself silently for coming here not knowing anything. Peter whispered that this is the iEARN international Assembly meeting in progress, and there was a quick friendly round of introductions.

I was invited to stay as observer, and in no time felt completely at home with 30 or so representatives from different countries. The discussion helped me understand right away how iEARN works, and the prospective opportunities it has for a country like Pakistan—opening doors to integration of technology in education specially K-12. I kept filling my notebook with information, ideas and initiative that can happen in the context of iEARN programs in Pakistan. That was without a doubt a phenomenal day in my life and career.

Later in the week a group of us were at a dinner table chatting away like a big happy family sharing about work, family and conference experiences. “Hey Farah, I am from Ljubljana, where are you from?” said one girl while sitting next to me. xcuse me what?, I thought,  Which place is this? I could not even pronounce it!, “Umm well I am from Karachi-Pakistan” I replied wide eyed, “I have never heard of this place.” We were from 17 odd countries representing almost all the continents huddled around one little table eating, joking and laughing together. Everyone welcomed me and was warm, full of love and zero stereotype for any nation and race. Wow, isn’t this ‘world peace’ in action, I don’t have to be crowned Miss World to attend an event like this. Where are all the political conflicts, racial differences and geographical boundaries? certainly not at this table and at this conference. The world map suddenly become alive and meaningful to me as I get introduced to people from different countries at different meal tables, attending sessions and workshops together, share ideas for classroom teaching and education at large. We bonded together while unwinding over a cup of coffee sharing our successes and challenges and exploring how we can support each other.

Life was never been the same for me after this conference. Fast forward,18 years and it would be more appropriate to say that it was not only a life changing experience, over the years iEARN have become “the life” to me. I, my colleagues, many Pakistani students and teachers represent Pakistan proudly at different iEARN Conferences around the world. I attended conference , in Japan (2003), Netherlands (2006), Egypt (2007), Morocco (2009 and 2017), Canada (2010) and Qatar in 2013. It’s like being a part of a big global family, I’ve made hundreds of close friends from around the world who care for me and are significant part of my life.  I explored the world through these travelling conferences visiting a new country every time, and getting to experience the people their culture and lifestyle. Knowing real people, experiencing their culture and bonding with them makes the world map beyond complicated lines and ineligible names of countries and cities on it. To me it’s real and meaningful, and I care for the world as much as I care for my country. Over the years developed a passion for travelling and exploring new countries and town around the world.

iEARN programs in Pakistan have been a straight success and an education initiative at the national level. iEARN Online projects ultimately made it to the National ICT in Education Strategy and are very well received by educators and schools nationwide, who are also eager to participate in these conferences. Every time I attend a conference I come back with ideas, networking and partnership to strengthen the classroom ties with those from other countries while bringing innovative learning opportunities to Pakistani youth.