Increasing employment opportunities for youth from Merged Areas

November 22, 2022

Shahzaib poses for a photo outside Construction Technology and Training Institute in Islamabad where is learning e-commerce.


Shahzaib was one of the brightest students at his school in Tiray Valley, Khyber, located in the Merged Areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. As a child, he spent his time building elaborate model homes and apartment complexes from Styrofoam and crepe paper. “I wanted to become an architect,” he said, recounting the earlier days of his life. “I used to tell my father I would build a lavish bungalow for him one day. He had high hopes for me,” he said, his face tensing up.

Soon after his high school exams in 2009, which he had topped, Shahzaib’s life jolted upside down. Militancy and the subsequent military operations had taken over the lush green Tirah Valley in district Khyber, forcing thousands of families out of their homes to live in poverty. Shahzaib and his family also had to abandon their beautiful ancestral home and relocate to the Jalozai refugee camp near Peshawar.

“Our house was razed to the ground. My school was gone too. The horrors of what had happened won’t leave me. I would twist and turn on that dirty mattress, stare at the gaping hole in my tent until I fell asleep,” he said pensively. “It was a dark time. But I think what kept me going was my passion for learning.”

Shahzaib said that even in the camp, he never stopped studying. Solving math problems was his favorite pastime. He also started teaching children in his pursuit of education and a better future.


Shahzaib and his peers work on their blog as part of their e-commerce course at Construction Training and Technology Institute in Islamabad


Nowadays, Shahzaib is studying e-commerce at the Construction Training and Technology Institute (CTTI) in Islamabad as part of the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) Accelerated Skills Development Programme (ASDP), a PKR 1.4 billion initiative explicitly designed to cater to the needs of the youth of Merged Areas.  

“Because of the conflict in which insurgents actively targeted schools, most youth could not complete basic education,” said Bais Khan, ASDP project coordinator. “Not having completed as much as matriculation has put them far behind the youth of the rest of Pakistan, especially those who were able to complete university education and are doing white-collar jobs.”

In 2020, UNDP Pakistan’s Merged Areas Governance Project conducted a baseline survey in collaboration with the Government of KP. The survey revealed that only 22% of the population in Merged Areas has studied up to the primary level, while more than half of the population has no formal education at all.

Based on the findings, UNDP Pakistan, with support from United States Agency for International Aid (USAID), designed an intervention to provide free trade and occupation skills training to more than 5,000 young women, men, and transgender individuals who have completed education till the primary level.

After completing the theoretical and classroom-based components of the course, students are connected to enterprises for apprenticeships across the country. Currently, 400 students are enrolled in the programme in different cities such as Peshawar, Malakand, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad.


Shahzaib's model homes and large complexes that he built to channel his creativity and love for architecture.


“This initiative is doing more than just delivering modern education,” remarked Naima Ibrahim, an instructor at CTTI who teaches e-commerce to Shahzaib and his peers. “I think one of the important things this initiative is doing is helping students polish their soft skills, get acclimatized with modern workplaces, and work with people from different cultures,” Naima iterated. “Soft skills are what you need to excel in a job interview. The programme is preparing them for that.”

“I am from Skardu and come from a vastly different cultural background. I had never taught students from the Merged Areas, and I also don’t speak Pashto,” she said, recounting the days when she first started teaching e-commerce to Shahzaib and his peers. “This was a new experience for me, as new as it was for them.”

“In the beginning, they were all very shy when speaking to me,” Naima explained. “They had never had a woman teacher before, that too from a different culture,” she said, commending her students for their willingness to learn while navigating the culture shock and language barrier.