Blog - Sonia Shah Organization

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My Gift to Sonia: From Iram on This Mother’s Day

Motherhood is different for every woman on the planet. My experience is vastly different from my mother’s, for example.

Born in a remote rural village in Pakistan, my mother Kulsoom grew up in a patriarchal society where girls and women had few opportunities to engage with the world outside their homes. When she married and had children, she insisted my father move the family to the city, where she believed her daughters might be able to pursue the same opportunities as her sons.

Sonia with Kulsoom

Her determined efforts effectively launched us into the world with skills, awareness and opportunities vastly different than she had been given. I am who I am today because of her.

When I left Pakistan for higher education, I moved half a world away from my mother to pursue the opportunities she had made possible. I earned my bachelor’s degree and my MBA from the University of Chicago. And I felt Mom’s support with every step I took. But I did not truly appreciate her experience until I had a daughter of my own.

Sonia was my first child and she sashayed into the world undaunted. She was smart and curious. She took risks and made things happen. Sometimes, Sonia’s confidence and determination were anxiety producing or bittersweet, much as I now understand my departure from Pakistan was for my mother.

Motherhood is a balancing act. We strive to protect our children while simultaneously knowing that difficult experiences will make them stronger and more resilient. My two younger sons Issa and Adam remind me of this daily!

Tragically, Sonia died two days before starting her freshman year at The College of William and Mary. She was just 18 years old. But she had already made her mark. She started the Sonia Shah Memorial School in her grandmother’s village, ensuring that generations of girls there will have the same access to quality education as she did. She made us all proud.

Sonia Shah Organization - Sonia and Iram ShahMy mother Kulsoom is now 87 years old, full of life but getting very frail. I remember her as a vibrant, strong woman, a driver behind my successes and achievements. I know she has entered the last chapter in her life and I feel blessed to care for her. Every day is a privilege.

On every Mother’s Day, Sonia gave me a gift of jewelry with a heart. I joked with her that I had “too many hearts.” Now I know that’s not possible.

Taking Sonia’s vision of educating underprivileged girls is my gift to her for the rest of my life.

Happy Mother’s Day to women around the world!

Iram Shah is president of the Chicago-based Sonia Shah Organization   

Read more about the legacy of these three amazing women on our website, www.soniashahorganization.com

Sonia Shah Memorial School providing healthcare to children in Kangra, Pakistan
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Good health = good learning: SSMS medical checkup ‘camp’ diagnoses & treats students

Sonia Shah Memorial School providing healthcare to children in Kangra, Pakistan

Dr. Ashfaq Utmanzay checks the heart and lungs of a Sonia Shah Memorial School student during a recent medical camp at the school.

By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 11 Feb., 2017

KANGRA, Pakistan With promises of fewer stomachaches and more energy, the students at Sonia Shah Memorial School (SSMS) lifted the small plastic bottles of deworming medicine to their lips.

Sonia Shah Memorial School providing healthcare to children in Kangra, Pakistan

A young student at Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra, Pakistan, swallows her dose of de-worming medicine.

Some of them took a first tiny sip, cautiously testing the white liquid. Others turned their faces toward the sky and bravely poured it into their mouths, their Adam’s apples jiggling as they swallowed.

Deworming was the first order of business at SSMS’ recent one-day “Medical Checkup, Screening and Supplementation Camp,” part of the Sonia Shah Organization’s (SSO) effort to augment the limited healthcare options for the poor in Kangra. 

“Many of our students are malnourished and anemic,” SSO chairwoman Iram Shah said. “We cannot turn our faces away. We have to take care of the children who come to our school.” 

Sadly, in Pakistan, a rapidly developing country of nearly 200 million people in an area half the size of Alaska, most indicators of the nation’s health “are either failing to improve or worsening,” according to the World Bank. For example:

The solutions to this reality are complex, but school-based medical visits play a significant role, said Dr. Ashfaq Utmanzay, who organized SSMS’ medical camp.

His most distressing, and urgent, discovery was that Ursula, a girl in class two, has a rare heart condition known as Tetrology of Fallot (TOF), “a serious congenital heart disease,” Utmanzay said.

TOF is caused by four heart defects present at birth that reduce the oxygen in the blood. Surgery is typically performed in the first year of life, so Ursula’s late diagnosis makes her situation even more urgent. “She needs surgery, cardiac repair for TOF,” Utmanzay said.

Good health = good learning

In the developing world, people primarily suffer from avoidable health problems simply because they are poor, according to the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C. Poverty is the cause of or a significant contributor to hunger and malnutrition, illiteracy, lack of clean water and a scarcity of qualified health workers.

Sonia Shah Memorial School providing healthcare to children in Kangra, Pakistan

Every child is weighed and measured as part of the comprehensive checkups provided by Sonia Shah Organization.

Intestinal worms — hookworm, roundworm and whipworm exemplify the profound links between poverty and health. One of the most comment ailments among children in the developing world, worms are typically seen as a “disease of poverty, affecting the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth.” Worm infections cause anemia and malnutrition, impair cognitive development and make children more susceptible to other infections and diseases. 

At Sonia Shah Memorial School, the medical team found “about all” of the children were anemic, most probably caused by malnutrition and worm infestations, Dr. Utmanzay wrote in his final report.

Each child was weighed and measured, had their blood drawn and tested, and received a physical exam. Other findings included:

  • About half of the children had seasonal allergies and/or respiratory-tract infections;
  • About half the children suffered from recurrent diarrhea;
  • Four of the children had P. ovale malaria;
  • And, in addition to Ursula, six students had chronic health problems that required hospital referrals for specialized treatment.

Although the results were not surprising, given the high rates of disease and ill health in Kangra and much of rural Pakistan, they merit immediate attention. After all, good health is directly linked to children’s ability to learn. 

That’s why bringing a medical team to the school, right to the children, makes all the difference,” Shah said. “We know that healthy students do better academically, are better behaved and have fewer absences. We want our students to have the best possible shot at a brighter future.”

Treatment & prevention

In addition to deworming, all students who tested positive for seasonal and endemic diseases received medications such as ibuprofen, cough medicine or rehydration formula for rotavirus (a highly contagious gastrointestinal disease with acute diarrhea). The medical team also provided a two-month supply of supplements — multivitamins, iron, calcium and vitamin D — for each child.

Sonia Shah Memorial School providing healthcare to children in Kangra, Pakistan

Vitamin and mineral supplements are now being distributed daily at the school.

“These medications and supplements are given to students every day at school,” said Mahnaz Qureshi-Ishaq, who oversees school operations as a member of the volunteer management team.

That decision was made jointly by SSMS Principal Serish Hussain, Qureshi-Ishaq and the doctor.

“If we give the everyday supplements at the school, there is less waste and kids learn how to take them,” Utmanzay said. “Also, there is concern that if we send medicine home to illiterate parents, they will not be able to read instructions. Or the whole family ends up drinking the cough medicine in one day. Or they just won’t give the medicines to their children; parents already believe, wrongly, [that] polio vaccine makes their children infertile.”

The medical camp is an integral part of SSMS’s approach to quality education, Qureshi-Ishaq said. The school also operates a water-treatment plant, providing potable water for the school and the village.

“Child malnutrition is also a serious problem so we are also working on providing lunch for all students this year,” she said. “All of these tools — deworming, vaccinations, vitamin supplements, clean water and improved nutrition — help children reach thrive physically and intellectually.”

The medical team prepared a report on each child’s health and delivered two copies, one for the school and one for parents. The doctors and principal are working to schedule vaccinations for hepatitis B and typhoid. And in late spring, the medical team will return and check for improvement.

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SSO scholarships ‘have powerful effect’ on young women

Cost of higher education shows no sign of slowing

The costs of college education in the United States continue to rise every year, above the rate of inflation and well above lagging family incomes. According to the College Board, over the past decade:

The average cost for in-district students at public two-year colleges increased 18 percent between 2006-2011, and 11 percent from 2011 to the 2016-17 school year. As of this school year, the total cost at a two-year college (including tuition, fees, books, supplies and other expenses) averages $7,960 per year.

For in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities, costs increased 29 percent between 2006-2011, and 9 percent in the past five years. The average total cost for in-state students (with the addition of room and board) is now $24,420 per year.

The average cost of attending a private nonprofit four-year college increased 13 percent in those first six years, and 13 percent from 2011 to the 2016-17 school year. The average total cost at a private college is now $48,840 annually.

See more at     www.collegeboard.org

EXAMPLE: University of Illinois

Illinois resident:
Tuition & Fees $15,698-$20,702
Room & Board $11,308
Books & Supplies $1,200
Other Expenses $2500
Total: $30,706- $35,710

Non-Resident
Tuition & Fees $31,998-$36,992
Room & Board $11,308
Books & Supplies $1,200
Other Expenses $2,840
Total: $47,336-$52,340

Source: https://admissions.illinois.edu/Invest/tuition


By KARIN RONNOW | Sonia Shah Organization | 17 April, 2017

When Zuleyma Cordero was 19, she started college in Chicago’s western suburbs. Excited and determined, she knew a college degree was necessary for her to achieve her dreams of a business career.

“Education can have enormous personal benefits for those who acquire it, but it also has external benefits to the rest of society.” – The New York Times

Neither of her parents had gone to college. Her mom worked at a fast-food restaurant. Her dad juggled two part-time jobs at a restaurant and a retail store “so we can make ends meet,” Zuleyma said. Despite the family’s strained finances, both parents supported their daughter’s college ambitions, proud of her grit and academic success.

“Then my mom got really ill and she stopped working,” Zuleyma said. “Being the oldest of my siblings, I made the decision to stop going to school and work to help my dad out with bills at home. I did not want my younger siblings to stop their education and start working.”

Such a turn of events is all too common, especially given the soaring costs of higher education in the United States. More than half of students who leave college before graduating cite the “need to work and make money,” according to the Public Agenda organization. 

Four years later Zuleyma was still working. Her family’s financial situation had improved, but not by much. “I thought I could go back to school whenever I wanted, but it’s never as easy as it sounds, especially when we are paying off medical bills,” she said.Donate to College Scholarships for Women

Then she heard about Sonia Shah Organization’s (SSO) new scholarship program, which helps underprivileged young women in Chicago earn college degrees. She applied and was accepted into the program. Her prayers were answered.

Zuleyma, 24, is now in her second semester at Harper Community College in Palatine, Ill. Single and “with no children — yet,” she still works while studying accounting and business, but maintains a high grade-point average and hopes to finish with a double major.

If she had not received the scholarship, which covers tuition, fees and books, she said, “I would probably have had to keep working trying to save up for school.”

Equal opportunity to education

SSO’s scholarship program, like all of its endeavors, grew out of Sonia Shah’s dream of a world where all girls have the same access to education as she did.

Sonia, who died in car accident two days before beginning her freshman year at The College of William and Mary, embodied the “pay it forward” philosophy during her too-short life. In a college-application essay, she wrote: “It is only through the work of the women who came before me that I don’t live in ignorance and isolation.” Other girls deserve the same opportunities, she wrote.

SSO needs your help to fund college scholarships for Zuleyma and other needy young women. Our 2017 Scholarship Campaign goal is $10,000. All money raised will go to students.

Every dollar helps. You can make a difference.

“Given the chance, there is no limit to what these girls can do,” Sonia said. Research shows that a college degree increases a woman’s earning potential, improves her health (and her family’s), empowers her with critical-thinking skills, and increases her self-esteem. But that’s not all.

“Given the chance, there is no limit to what these girls can do,” Sonia said.

“Education can have enormous personal benefits for those who acquire it, but it also has external benefits to the rest of society,” the New York Times reported. “Workers with more education are more productive, which makes companies more profitable and the overall economy grow faster.

“But the great national crisis” is that too many “young adults are not going to college or, if they do, don’t graduate, in large part because they can’t afford it,” the Times reported. 

After a decade of double-digit price increases, the average annual cost is now $8,000 at a two-year college and $49,000 at a private four-year college.
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Help us provide scholarships for women in the US.

Help us provide scholarships for women in the US.

Help us provide scholarships for women in the US by supporting our fundraising campaign. We need to raise $10,000 to offer scholarships to 4 women by 2018. Do you believe that education can change everything? We do. Support the cause today by visiting this link.

We know that you believe education can change everything. And at Sonia Shah Organization, we’ve focused our efforts for years on changing the lives of the girls in Kangra, Pakistan. We hope to break the cycle for good, for good. For the good of the girls, for the good of their families, for the good of their families’ families. We aim to ease severe poverty, increase overall literacy, break the ignorance of isolation, and truly change the world, one girl at a time.

But last year, we decided that the desperate situation of higher education at home needs our attention, too.

Help us provide scholarships for women in the US

It’s no secret that college is more expensive than ever before. Student loans can encumber individuals for decades with high interest rates tacked onto years of inflated tuition, making college more and more unaffordable for all. So for those with no financial support, in no position to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt? For them, college too often becomes out of reach.

Yet a college education is more important than ever to the financial independence and social advancement of women. Specifically, a college education for a woman means:

  • increased wages,
  • lower levels of poverty and unemployment,
  • a decreased reliance on government resources,
  • lower maternal mortality rates,
  • lower infant mortality rates, lower fertility rates, lower smoking rates, significantly decreased chance of incarceration, higher rates of civic involvement, significantly decreased chance of divorce, longer life, better health, greater happiness.

A college-educated woman will likely make $1.5 million more than her high-school-educated counterpart. But the average student borrower from the class of 2016 took on over $37,000 in student loan debt. For an individual already struggling to make ends meet, this amount is too often the difference between chasing her dreams and passing on the chance.

Helping young women attend college and earn their degrees is a key part of SSO’s mission. No matter where a girl is in the world, higher education helps the student, her family and her community by empowering her with knowledge, increasing their earning potential, improving their health (and the health of their future families), and increasing the likelihood that they will be active participants in civic and community affairs. We believe that providing scholarships for women is a fundamental part of Sonia’s vision.

Before her untimely death, founder Sonia Shah wrote, “I want to make history, instead of just witnessing it.”

Well, let’s make history! To be able to provide college scholarships for women to 4 deserving, forgotten individuals, we need to meet our goal of $10,000. We cannot do this without you. Give to our campaign and help us witness real change in this world. We’re offering a catalog of perks at a range of amounts to thank you for your donation, and we think you’ll love proudly displaying Sonia’s quote on a v-neck t-shirt, attending our annual event in Chicago, or standing with SSO as a corporate sponsor. 

Donate Now

 

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Meet our mother-daughter ambassadors to Women’s March on Washington

By Karin Ronnow, Sonia Shah Organization | 20 January, 2017

When Monica Rezman and her 14-year-old daughter Ruby Writer arrived at the National Mall in Washington D.C., Thursday, one day before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, they were taken aback by the disturbing language and visuals all around them.

“Tough day on the mall,” they wrote to Sonia Shah Organization (SSO) Thursday night. “Can’t wait for women to come and take over this city.”Scenes from the Women's March on Washington

They sent a photo of two men wearing red T-shirts with “Donald Trumps Hillary” on the front, and “The Witch is Dead” on the back.

They photographed trucks plastered with posters proclaiming “End Planned Parenthood: Endangered Species,” and “We Must Obey God Rather Than Men,” ironically juxtaposed with “Defy Tyrants” above a photo of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini (1900-1989), the deceased religious and political leader who made Iran an Islamic republic. 

Scenes from the Women's March on WashingtonScenes from the Women's March on Washington

“At a time so low and scary in our country and its government, I feel that you can’t just sit at home, lock your doors, and wait for the day that the sun comes back out, because that won’t happen unless we all do something,” Ruby said.

She and her mom, who live in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and teamed up with SSO this past summer, volunteered to be SSO’s “ambassadors” to Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.

Ruby Writer and friend at the Women's March on WashingtonThey will be among the hundreds of thousands expected to participate in what the Guardian (UK) described as “an extraordinary display of dissent on the president’s first day in office”; a march of support for the preservation of human rights and social justice amid President Donald Trump’s discriminatory remarks and proclaimed policy agenda

“Over 200,000 known people will be attending and that is only the number that have signed up with the organization,” Ruby, an eighth grader at the Pulaski International School of Chicago, said before heading to Washington this week. “I feel it will be full of many different types of people: races, genders, religions.

“Overall, I expect a group of people of all different identities who accept each other. Which is exactly why I think this event is so important; to spread the acceptance of all different people,” she said.

“I feel that you can’t just sit at home, lock your doors, and wait for the day that the sun comes back out, because that won’t happen unless we all do something.”

The Women’s March on Washington is expected to be one of the largest demonstrations in American history. The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech, has long held the record for the largest demonstration in the nation’s capital, according to PBS. Roughly 250,000 gathered that August day to protest “the injustice and inequalities black Americans faced because of the color of their skin.” 

This is not the first protest march for the mother-daughter duo. Monica, 58, a painter/sculptor whose abstract work addresses concepts of female identity, beauty and adornment, said Wednesday, “I protested when I was a child against the Vietnam War and throughout my adulthood for pro-choice issues [and] women’s rights, along with two marches supporting the Chicago Public School unions and teachers.”

Ruby, who was by her side at several of those events, said she sees this march a little differently.

Ruby Writer at a march supporting the Chicago Public School unions and teachers“I’ve been thinking a lot about this march in the days leading up to it, and I have come to a conclusion that I strongly disagree with some individuals saying that it is a ‘protest,’ because I feel that saying that gives even more attention to what’s wrong,” she said. “So instead of participating in this event to ‘protest,’ I am participating to support women and all minority groups in the nation, and in fact, the whole world.” 

Monica and Ruby contacted SSO late last summer, just before its annual fundraiser at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Ruby, deeply moved by the documentary “Girl Rising,” had “organized four showings at her school and spoke to the community about the importance of educating girls around the world,” he mom said. 

The teenage activist also raised $600 for girls’ education. When she heard Sonia’s mother, Iram Shah, on the radio, SSO’s story resonated with her own awakening to “how necessary and life changing [education is], for not only the one girl’s life, but for the entire world and its society,” Ruby said this week.

“Sonia’s story really resonates with me because I feel as if I can compare to her. We’re both young, driven, privileged girls, fighting for what I like to think we both feel as a fundamental right: education. Also, fighting for women’s rights in such a male-dominated world pushes me to feel even more passionate about this case, much like Sonia did.”

Saturday’s rally begins at the U.S. Capitol, followed by a march along an as-yet undisclosed route. The 10 a.m. start time coincides with the traditional National Prayer Service for the new president at the National Cathedral.

Stay tuned for more news from the Women’s March on Washington!

Sonia Shah Organization
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Help Us End the Year Right: A Message from Iram

My daughter Sonia had a vision, a dream that she left us when she was taken from us all too soon. Her dream was simple: A world in which all girls have the same opportunities for education that she had. For them to have the opportunities to change their lives; to be anything they imagine; to break the cycle for good, for good.

Today, four years after her death, the Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra, Pakistan, is thriving. The school is a safe place for students and teachers to teach and learn, inspire and create. A place where girls dare to dream of their role in building a better, more peaceful world.  The school is, truly, Sonia’s dream manifest.

The school is, truly, Sonia’s dream manifest.

Sonia knew in her heart that when we educate girls, we do so much more than teach them to read and write.

We…

  • empower them,
  • improve basic hygiene and health care,
  • decrease the chances of child marriage,
  • spark imagination, intellect and curiosity,
  • fight poverty,
  • and create future leaders.

We simply change the world — for the better!

The world we know today seems to pose more questions than answers. But if you stand with us, you make a positive impact… you provide hope.  The Sonia Shah Organization is at a critical juncture and we need your help.

Please, open your hearts and help us continue along this journey toward a brighter future. Stand with us.

Donate

Please, help us end the year right.Just click the donate button above and follow the simple steps. Give what you can to Sonia Shah Organization and help us change the world by empowering an entire future of girls. Don’t forget; there are only 15 days left in the year to make a tax-deductible contribution for 2016. We’re counting on you.

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This Giving Tuesday, stand with us.

It might be an understatement to say that things feel like they have been changing lately. We’ve witnessed the unexpected, the ugly, and the heartbreaking in quick succession. Some of us are even afraid to turn on the news or scroll our Facebook feeds, often anticipating violence, sadness, hatred, or devastation. There just seems to be so much happening, and so little that can be done. But there is a fire that has been ignited in us, hasn’t there? An urge, a need, to do something and to help. This Giving Tuesday, we want to harness that passion, because you can help.

sso-safetypin-logoWe wear the safety pin* to represent the actions we need you to take to stand up for what we believe in. And what do we believe in? We believe in the equality of all, in the power of education, and that girls’ and women’s rights are human rights. We believe that we can make a real difference, but that we need your help. We believe that education. can. change. everything.

This Giving Tuesday, we ask that you stand with us. Harness the fire that’s been ignited inside you and use it to stand for what we believe in. We can change this world, one girl at a time… We just can’t do it without you.

Visit givesso.com or text SONIA to 31996 to donate. Thank you for taking a stand… and for standing with us. ❤️

With heartfelt gratitude,
All of us at Sonia Shah Organization

safety-pin-solidarity*”Safety pin solidarity” emerged after the Brexit vote and the increased prejudice and violence against minority groups that followed. By wearing a safety pin, an individual is identifying themselves as a friend to anyone feeling threatened because of who they are–no matter their religion, orientation, or color of their skin. The safety pin says, “I’m a friend. You can stand with me,” in a discreet way. 

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We Are Grateful.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy, Thanksgiving Day proclamation, 1963

We at Sonia Shah Organization are grateful every day for the opportunities and accomplishments that surround us: young girls and boys learning to read and write; girls who stay in school and pursue their dreams; women learning skills to support their families; access to precious clean water, nutritious food and good health.

We at Sonia Shah Organization are grateful every day for the opportunities and accomplishments that surround us.

No one does this work alone. Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran theologian who gave his life to fighting Nazism in Germany, once said: “It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” 

We are grateful to you, for supporting Sonia’s mission to educate and empower girls and women.

Enjoy this Thanksgiving Day. Fill it with love, respect, tolerance, courage, gratitude, forgiveness, simplicity and peace. Make a difference in the world.

Thank you.

Harper College where Zuleyma, Sonia Shah Organization scholarship recipient, attends school
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Opportunity to Achieve | Scholarship Update

Iram Shah and Zuleyma, Sonia Shah Organization scholarship recipientby Karin Ronnow

As part of its ongoing mission to support girls’ education, Sonia Shah Organization is helping two young women in the Chicago area (USA) achieve their dreams of a college education.

One of them recently shared this update on her progress:

“My name is Zuleyma and I am one of the Sonia Shah scholarship recipients. This past week I successfully finished my first set of business classes at Harper College. I thank the Sonia Shah Organization for the opportunity it has given me to go back to school and achieve what I believe is one of the most challenging and rewarding goals I have set for myself.”

Congratulations, Zuleyma! We are infinitely proud of you and your accomplishments thus far.

“I thank the Sonia Shah Organization for the opportunity it has given me to go back to school and achieve what I believe is one of the most challenging and rewarding goals I have set for myself.”

Harper College where Zuleyma, Sonia Shah Organization scholarship recipient, attends schoolZuleyma, 24, attends Harper College, a comprehensive community college in Palatine, Ill., a suburb northwest of Chicago. The college is named for Dr. William Rainey Harper, a pioneer in the junior college movement in the United States and the first president of the University of Chicago.

The school, which opened in 1967, prepares students for rewarding careers and/or for transfer to four-year universities. Today, it is one of the nation’s premier community colleges and one of the largest, serving more than 40,000 students annually.

Zuleyma studies accounting and business, and hopes to finish with a double major in those subjects.

SSO has established a small but growing scholarship fund to help underprivileged girls in Chicago afford an education. Please consider making a donation to help Zuleyma along her ambitious path!

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SSO brings worlds together in Chicago to celebrate ‘revolution’ in girls’ education

 

By KARIN RONNOW | For Sonia Shah Organization

CHICAGO, IL – Sonia Shah’s determined work on behalf of girls’ education make her a part of what humanitarian Greg Mortenson Saturday called “the greatest revolution of our time.”

In 2009, he said, Sonia, then a high school student, “told me how she wanted to change the world.” And then she got to work – doing more in the next few years to help the girls of a remote, conservative Pakistan village than anyone imagined possible.

The Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra, Pakistan, is her legacy, Mortenson told the crowd of Sonia Shah Organization (SSO) supporters, and is helping to change the world – one girl at a time.

“Schools are being abandoned” across Pakistan and militants have twice attacked the Kangra school, he said. “But at the Sonia Shah School, the lights are on.”

“Sonia, one young woman, is part of the greatest revolution of our time.” – Greg Mortenson

Internationally renowned Fanna-Fi-Allah ensemble delights crowd with traditional Sufi qawwali music, performed with deep devotion, passion and ecstatic rhythm. Photo by Suresh Bodiwala.

Internationally renowned Fanna-Fi-Allah ensemble delights crowd with traditional Sufi qawwali music, performed with deep devotion and ecstatic rhythm. Photo by Suresh Bodiwala.

On a beautiful late-summer evening at the Museum of Contemporary Art, more than 175 people gathered to celebrate SSO’s growing list of accomplishments on behalf of women and girls. A passionate performance by the Sufi qawwali ensemble Fanna-Fi-Allah topped off the multicultural Bringing the Worlds Together event.

“At the ripe age of 17,” Sonia was tenacious about providing “basic education to girls in the world who are denied this fundamental human right,” SSO board member Zahir Lavji said during his program introduction.

Although Sonia died suddenly in a car accident in 2012, her dream lives on through her mom, Iram Shah, family, and a dedicated team of volunteers who run the Chicago-based nonprofit organization.

“Sonia was a gift who keeps giving and tonight I want to share what we have achieved with your generosity and support,” Iram told the crowd. “We have come a long way.”

“We have now 75 children in the school. Our filtration plant continues to provide clean drinking water to the village. We also have excellent security, with round-the-clock guards and new closed-circuit TV cameras,” she said, as photos of students lit up the screen behind her.

A girl in Kangra, Pakistan, holds a photo of Sonia Shah, part of a slideshow of images from the village. Photo by Suresh Bodiwala.

A girl in Kangra, Pakistan, holds a photo of Sonia Shah, part of a slideshow of images from the village. Photo by Suresh Bodiwala.

All three initiatives announced in 2015 are also well under way, she continued. Solar panels will be installed on the school in coming months, “which will provide uninterrupted electricity and security at night.”

A new women’s vocational center opened in June, Iram said. “We thought we may not get anyone to register. To our surprise 40 women registered the first day and we have a wait list of 100 women.”

And the first two recipients of Sonia Shah Scholarships, Aimon Wadood and Zuleyma Codero, started college in Chicago this fall.

For Zuleyma, the scholarship makes what she thought were impossible dreams a reality. “It is just a whole new experience for me. It gives me hope that I can ensure financial status for my family,” she said.

And it all started with Sonia.

“I first met Sonia at the Northshore Country Day School, where she was a student,” Mortenson recalled. This remarkable young woman spoke five languages, was the youngest intern on President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and took a gap year before college to work on the school in Kangra, her mother’s ancestral village.  “During that year she laid the seeds for the school.”

“This is a remote area, plagued by poverty and violence,” said Mortenson, an SSO board member and author of Three Cups of Tea, said of the conservative Pashtun village near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

SSO’s valuable work there is part of a broader movement to build a stronger world by empowering women and girls, he said. “It will take generations,” but because of her inspiring work, “Sonia, one young woman, is part of the greatest revolution of our time.”

“But the journey is not done, we have many mountains to climb together.” – Iram Shah

Ruby Writer, a Chicago teen who raised $600 to support SSO, is also “part of the greatest revolution,” program emcee Hasan Amin said.

Ruby explained that she was deeply moved by the movie Girls Rising, and she her friends “had the idea to bring the film to my school. We invited parents and friends and explained how hard it is” to promote girls’ education in these remote areas. That led to an online fundraising campaign.

After hearing Iram interviewed on Chicago public radio, Ruby said she knew SSO would be the perfect beneficiary of the funds.

With deep gratitude, Iram said Ruby’s contribution and all money raised Saturday night helps SSO continue its life-changing work.

“But the journey is not done, we have many mountains to climb together,” she said. “Many [students] come to school without a proper breakfast and are malnourished. Some of these kids don’t have shoes. We want to provide school lunches, uniforms and medical check-ups and expand the Sonia Shah Scholarship program.”

It is a journey of hope and promise, she said. “Please join us.”

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