Blending Art, Education & Aid: Climate Philanthropy & Relief Efforts in Pakistan

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela


{Featured Photo: A wall at the campus of the University of Karachi, in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo was taken during my doctoral fieldwork on January 11, 2018.}

At the beginning of the year and mid-year, we embrace the opportunity to reflect on what progress has been made at a personal and collective level, and what we hope to accomplish in the new year. I began something special at the beginning of this new year, an initiative that I hope to continue on an ad-hoc basis, or as long as I have the capacity. Here, I share the motivations behind the initiative.

In the past few years, we have endured significant challenges around the world, tragedy and loss at a personal and collective level. Besides the ongoing recovery and healing from the individual and collective trauma caused by a deadly global pandemic, it has been over a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led to significant loss of life and political and economic strains beyond the boundaries of Eastern Europe

We are approaching two years since the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan grabbed the attention of the international community after 20 years of U.S. occupation. According to the Global Peace Index, for the eighth consecutive year, Afghanistan ranks as the least peaceful country in the world. Women are facing the most egregious human rights abuses, along with being banned from university education and employment with international organizations and NGOs, like the United Nations. As the devastating humanitarian and refugee crisis spills over to its neighboring country, the catastrophic 2022 floods in Pakistan characterized the country as one of the first to experience the cataclysmic damages connected to the adverse effects of climate change. One year after the historic floods, serious challenges remain across education, healthcare, infrastructure, water management, and governance.

It can be challenging to find a “unified vision” for our unique contributions in our daily lives through our academic and professional pursuits. On many things, I like to try to “connect the dots.” Following this notion, I briefly draw a nexus among multiple themes for an initiative I began at the end of 2022, an indie-painting auction, which cuts across Education, Art, Aid, Philanthropy, Climate Change, and specifically for Pakistan.

The Pakistan Floods

Last summer and fall of 2022, during the monsoon season, Pakistan faced the greatest humanitarian disaster the country has seen in more than a decade. The last flooding in Pakistan that resulted in similar damages occurred in 2010. And once again, in 2022, another massive natural disaster rang the alarm bells on climate change around the world.  Floods from heavy rains resulted in over 33 million displaced, more than 1700 killed, and thousands of acres of crops/food, homes, farmland, livestock, and infrastructure destroyed. Experts confirmed it was one of the worst floods in the country’s history, and notably became one of the worst humanitarian disasters, making Pakistan the first country to experience the adverse impact of climate change, already taking place around the world.

At one period during the past year, multiple sources confirmed that one-third of Pakistan was underwater, and to this day, the country still has not fully recovered. After the 2022 floods, waters receded in some areas, remaining more stubborn in others, particularly within the Sindh Province, being hit the hardest. The water in many large land areas had not receded at the start of this year. Many farms and towns remain impacted by the aftermath of the floods.  “UNICEF estimates around 20 million people, including 9 million children, still need humanitarian aid in flood-affected areas.” While this was not the first time Pakistan experienced such a disaster, the international community was reminded that past lessons were not incorporated, and the need to prepare for what lies ahead.

One year later, as floods in Northern Pakistan are picking up again, the humanitarian situation remains dire on top of the already worsening political and economic crisis. Among the biggest concerns remain Pakistan’s children, with special regard to their health and education. Conversations on the climate crisis, sustainability, and relief efforts in Pakistan must continue, even as the noise dies down when disaster hits. This will be an ongoing challenge for Pakistan and many other developing countries facing the brunt of the climate change crises going forward.

Aid and Climate Philanthropy

Advancing climate change philanthropy became a stronger focus in recent years, beginning a more serious dialogue with intentional efforts among critical international players, as with the World Economic Forum this year. According to Devex, climate philanthropy continues to face difficulties despite the small gains achieved.

In this piece, sharing results from a Climate Works Foundation report, a key point:

“The findings reinforce perceptions that the philanthropy sector is failing to tackle climate change during what scientists have warned could be the last window of time to stave off its worst impacts.”  

The report notes the crucial account that time is running out. A recent report, referenced by Devex, emphasizes how there is “much alarm” and recognition of the need to take action, but insufficient efforts to advance climate philanthropy. Hence, the philanthropy sector needs to push forward with stronger efforts to address these critical challenges we are already confronting today.

Based on data and reports from climate scientists, we have sufficient evidence to conclude that the world is going to look very different for our children in the future.

Art and Education

In February of this year, I attended the Annual Convention for the Comparative International Education Society (CIES) in Washington, DC. It was my first conference attendance, specifically within the International Education Sector. I witnessed a refreshingly diverse and beautiful community of educators, scholars, academics, aid workers, students, and beyond who care about improving education for a more equitable world. One highlight was the infusion of arts throughout the conference, and various presentations focused on incorporating arts-based methods in pedagogy, something I have been exploring recently as well.

For the majority of my higher education, namely my doctoral dissertation and Masters thesis, I studied Pakistan. I had the opportunity during my graduate studies to travel to Pakistan and conduct fieldwork. It started with Karachi and Sindh during my Master’s fieldwork, and then extended to other cities around Pakistan during my Doctoral fieldwork. During my doctoral fieldwork in Pakistan, I had the opportunity to connect with the arts and culture of Pakistan around various cities of the country. I felt a critical connection of arts and culture within my doctoral study. 

Many informants for my dissertation research (development practitioners, aid workers, businessmen and women, CEOs, scholars, experts, academics, village leaders (men and women), government officials, journalists, etc.) were also artists, writers, painters, poets, architects, and historians. Their ability to embrace the intersections of their talents and contributions, or what the writer Jeff Goins has termed, “a portfolio life,” was one element that inspired me.

I was invited at a moment in 2018 to a renowned writer and artist’s home in Islamabad, for some chai and conversation, where she showed me her brilliant gallery of paintings in her home and gave me a signed copy of her recent book of paintings inspired by Alama Iqbal.

I’ll always appreciate her advice about not aiming for perfection in putting our work out there into the world. This remains a work in progress for me.

During my time in Pakistan, I  experienced enlightening “connect-the-dots” moments on my passion for art and international development studies or work in Pakistan. Witnessing this allowed me to see what could be possible for my life trajectory as well.

“Painting Heals Pakistan” Initiative

I have often advised other students and scholars deeply immersed in their studies, to pick up a non-academic hobby, (which involves the physical use of their hands and results with a finished product), while getting through their educational endeavor. We may be discouraged to do anything but place our heads in our books, but I find this rather unproductive. During my doctoral education, that “non-academic hobby” became painting.

Painting and drawing would always be on my mind, as my childhood passion, well into my adult years. And it was in the middle of my PhD program that I decided to explore and harness that passion more. I used the hobby for various purposes, i.e. coping with the stress and anxiety through a daunting process and journey. While painting could be a strenuous task, especially when experimenting with different mediums and techniques, it would result with a “finished product,” and that notion of a “finished product” outside of academic writing, can potentially send a message to the brain, when trying to complete such large feats, like the doctoral dissertation.

At the end of 2022, I began a fundraising auction for the flood relief efforts in Pakistan, which I had brought into the new year. You can learn all about this initiative here:

After the flood crisis emerged in Pakistan last summer/fall, like many others who have invested their time, energy, and education in this country, I was devastated. I knew that I wanted to share my paintings for a specific cause. It was at that moment I felt a calling towards an opportunity to connect my passion for painting and my sincere love for this country.

Many of my paintings were completed during my recent doctorate studies, while immersed in writing my dissertation on Pakistan and served as a source of “healing” for me in a very challenging journey, especially in the final years.

I found an opportunity to marry my passion for painting and a genuine love for Pakistan, a country that has endured many blows since inception, yet remains resilient.

I am not a professional artist, but art has always been a part of my life, and embedded in my education. As I went deeper into my doctoral studies, I found its value at a greater visceral level than I have before.

Hence, my motivations behind creating this particular auction and fundraiser, is directly connected to my education, particularly my studies on Pakistan, my passion for painting, and development challenges in similar contexts of fragility.

I have had the goal of bridging understanding about Pakistan to the world since elementary school, taking opportunities to talk about my trips to Pakistan and middle school culture fairs where I would share artifacts and photos from the country and my mother would cook food from Pakistan.

This piece on Medium is one example that shares this goal of serving as a bridge, highlighting some key lessons and observations from my Pakistan fieldwork during my Master’s and Doctoral education.

My grandfather on my dad’s side was a poet, writer, artist, and professor, who didn’t finish his PhD unfortunately, but eventually, his son (my father) would complete his doctorate, passing along the values of higher education to his children as well. Education has been invaluable to my family. Among the many other values my father instilled in his children, part of that was physical exercise and sports, and the other part of that was traveling the world. I am glad that I made Fieldwork travels in Pakistan a critical part of my graduate studies and education.

The Paintings and Intersecting Themes

The painting auction aims to support the ongoing flood relief efforts in Pakistan. There are many art auctions that support humanitarian missions around the world. While this isn’t a novel endeavor, perhaps the approach, the motivations, and the context might offer something different and special.

I also believe there is great value in supporting indie art and artists and initiatives like this, the indie voices in pursuit of empowerment, contributing to the larger humanitarian efforts of philanthropists and the notion that any small effort has a big impact.

So far, the paintings have been auctioned for charities to support the ongoing flood relief efforts, understanding the significant mult-sectoral challenges that climate change will continue to create across Pakistan.

I have also now extended the painting donations as gifts to donors of my other fundraisers (listed on the website too).

The paintings represent a variety of emotions and concepts, emulating an “evolutionary process”, involving the need for patience, persistence, courage, tenacity, and “resilience.” For example, some older paintings show less quality than others, in terms of technique. For that reason, the paintings represent transformation, evolution, change, and growth.

The paintings displayed in the auction and the larger gallery comprise many completed during my PhD studies on Pakistan. I added paintings, and will continue to do so, that were completed recently as well as those completed while working on my dissertation.

This painting auction illuminates intersecting themes addressed within my doctoral experience. As the auction ends, I ask winners to fill out a form. In there, I ask them what themes resonate with them the most from this list: Pakistan, Climate Change, Aid, Philanthropy, Mental Health, Educational Milestones, Humanitarian Crisis, etc. 

While the international community stepped forward, Pakistan continues to require a lot of help. We all can try to do our part, individually and collectively, in small or big ways. I thought this would be the right place to extend the proceeds of these paintings: to the people of Pakistan, and to the people who care about the prosperity and future of this beautiful country.

My hope is to use this medium to spread the value of climate change philanthropy amid the dangers we face with climate change, and awareness of the development challenges in Pakistan and similar contexts, and the value of art in education, especially with respect to mental health challenges.

After rekindling my passion for painting as a hobby and completing many of the featured paintings during my doctorate studies on Pakistan, I felt a calling to dedicate the artwork for a particular cause. So, knowing that these paintings, which I consider to be a part of my journey, the yearning and fight to help build an understanding on Pakistan through scholarship, will be with people who care about the prosperity and future of this country, is truly consoling, humbling and honorable.

My paintings have been a profound source of healing for me, and I hope they serve, in some way, to heal others too.


More information can be found on the website.

I will be continuing the auction (ad hoc) for the next two months and possibly for the remainder of year depending on capacity. Currently, individual painting auctions are active. Please feel free to contact me or leave a comment below if you have any questions or feedback on the website, the auction, or the paintings. Please do return for updates. A more comprehensive gallery of paintings can be found as a menu option of the website, which will continue to be updated so you can view the different styles, and the newer and older paintings.

Please feel free to share this website with anyone who may be interested.

I believe the auction was a great initiative and a success, however small it may be, and I appreciate all those who participated in it thus far. It is humbling to have these paintings displayed in the homes and offices of my colleagues, friends, and family.  It is heartwarming to have a service element attached to the art I will share in this world. I am also a strong believer of “the gift economy,” and the power and benefits of gifting, which helps us build and nurture the skill of generosity and compassion in our lives, and keep us empowered and connected, building relationships with others. This has been a rewarding element of sharing my paintings for this particular cause, and what will allow me to sustain it.

While this effort began for Pakistan, I will continue auctioning my paintings for charities in Pakistan as well as other places including Afghanistan, Palestine, and other countries struggling with fragility.

I have learned that even the smallest impact, of what appear to be small initiatives and efforts can indeed have a large impact.

As noted earlier, when we reflect upon the goals we have for our new beginnings, on an ongoing basis, we often like to unify our vision for the contributions we wish to make in our lives. I find this initiative connects to my goals of producing art, in service of important causes, and regions of the world that I have long embraced and studied and will continue to support through my scholarship in the future.

Service begins from the heart, with the purest intentions, and we do all we can in our brief time on earth to aim for the sky.

Thank you for your support for the intersection of art, education, climate change philanthrophy, for Pakistan and beyond.

Wishing the rest of 2023 to be a prosperous and productive year!

In Solidarity, Power, and Peace,

Dr. Elsa T. Khwaja

“Only from the heart, can you touch the sky.” – Rumi

Painting Heals… Pakistan

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” – B.B. King

If you would like to support charities for their ongoing flood relief work in Pakistan or other charities I have noted directly, without participating in the painting auction, you can find all the information here: Charity Donation Choices – Painting Heals…Pakistan 


Thank you so much for your support! I do not intend to make any personal profit out of my art at this time, and I ship my paintings at no cost to anyone, but if you like my work, and would like to provide support for the shipment and continued production of the art, I have set up a buy me a coffee page for the main purpose of supporting my art and this painting auction. Thank you!


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