Ice hockey in the mountains of Pakistan

Teams playing ice hockey during the Winter Sports Festival. Credit: Canadian High Commission in Pakistan

Last month, communities in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan organized a series of Winter Festivals, aimed at bringing people together through winter sports.

Programs like the Winter Festivals help these remote and rural communities thrive during the winter months.

“The broader purpose of the Winter Sports Festivals is the economic and physical well-being of the communities of Gilgit-Baltistan, as harsh winters halt the physical and economic activities in these regions,” says Jamil Uddin, General Manager, AKRSP.  The Winter Sports Festival emphasized inclusive playing rinks, bringing together female and male ice hockey teams, and ensuring that everyone had the opportunity to play.

Credit: Canadian High Commission of Pakistan

These events were supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), Aga Khan Foundation Pakistan (AKFP), and Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), working closely in partnership with local communities and the government of Gilgit-Baltistan. In Pakistan, AKRSP, with support from AKF, aims to improve the quality of life of communities living in Pakistan’s mountainous regions through community-led efforts like the Winter Festivals.

The Winter Festivals also aimed to support local women entrepreneurs and raise awareness around climate change and environmental protection. Activities at each of the five festival venues included climate walks organized by local youth to shed light on the impacts of climate change in the region, and exhibitions and food stalls where hundreds of women entrepreneurs could display and sell their products.

Many of these women entrepreneurs were also supported by Broadening Economic & Social Transformation for Women’s Economic Empowerment & Recovery (BEST4WEER), a Canada-funded program focused on women’s social and economic empowerment.

Photos of women entrepreneurs at the Women Business Expos that ran alongside the Winter Sports Festivals. Credit: Canadian High Commission in Pakistan

Leslie Scanlon, the Canadian High Commissioner in Pakistan, and her team attended festival events, teaching and coaching young players, meeting with community members, and engaging with local leaders.

The High Commissioner underscored the importance of including women and girls in everything from politics to the economy to sports, to ensure that communities thrive. The High Commissioner also highlighted the importance of everyone in breaking down barriers and ensuring that women, girls, and differently abled people have opportunities to participate and succeed in life.

The Sports and Tourism Minister Raja Nasir Ali Khan also appreciated the efforts of the Canadian High Commission in Pakistan and AKRSP in promoting winter tourism in the region. “We want to see tourists coming to the area in winter as well,” he said. “That’s why we are promoting winter activities here and want to keep the area open for tourists round the year.”

Alongside travelling to different festival events, the High Commissioner also visited Canada-supported initiatives in the region, including a passive solar greenhouse supported through BEST4WEER. This greenhouse allows farmers to extend their growing seasons, supporting access to nutritious food and food security in the community.

With Canadian support, communities in northern Pakistan can continue to build sustainable, resilient, and inclusive futures, during the winter months and all year round.

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