Qasim Aslam

  • Co-founder, The Safe Space
  • Pakistan

Impact area: Mental health; Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3

In Pakistan, lockdowns and school closures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated feelings of anxiety and uncertainty among students. Financial stresses imposed on families, fear of losing loved ones, and isolation all contributed to a decline in youth mental health, with schools and teachers ill-equipped to respond.

Looking to bridge this gap, Qasim Aslam and Tooba Fatima co-founded The Safe Space, a subsidiary of Beyond the Classroom. “Unfortunately, traditional education systems had neither the systems nor resources to address the mental health pandemic unfolding alongside the virtual one,” says Qasim. “Our intervention sought to address this problem by equipping adolescents with tools and resources to process and regulate difficult emotions like anxiety, frustration, grief, and distress.”

With support from the Global Youth Resiliency Fund, the program was launched in five schools in and around Mingora, a city located in a mountainous region 600 km northwest of Lahore. There, psychologists trained 18 teachers to deliver a youth-friendly mental health curriculum—available in both English and Urdu—to 360+ students, ages 12 to 16.

Said one teacher, “A student’s development involves not only academic learning but their psychological growth. Through the training, we realized this is a three-dimensional process, where students, teachers, and parents are all linked. Through the interaction of all three, we can have fruitful results in society.”

Teachers were taught to how to process sensitive information with students using age-appropriate language. Sessions focused on regulating difficult emotions and equipping students with practical skills, such as identifying and placing challenging emotions in a metaphorical worry box, that they could apply on their own. In all, 18 teachers were trained who, in turn, reached 360 students.

“The sessions were interesting,” shared Mohammad Junaid, a participating student. “Stress can be both positive and negative… if we don’t let our stress turn into distress. The deep breathing was a good exercise for us to learn, because through this activity I can lower my stress.”

Seventy-two percent of students reported that the training helped them to acquire the skills to keep their mental health in check, while 88 percent of teachers said they felt better equipped to care for the mental wellbeing of their students.

Learn more about Qasim's work here.