Blog - Sonia Shah Organization

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Sonia Shah School clear of dengue fever — so far

By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 13 Sept., 2017

As the spread of dengue fever reached has reached epidemic proportions in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, Sonia Shah School officials are working hard to prevent spread of the mosquito-borne virus.

“All students and staff are clear so far,” Mahnaz Ishaq, volunteer operations director, said Wednesday.

Dengue virus is transmitted by bites from infected female mosquitos, which breed in standing water. The best preventative measure is to kill the Aedes aegypti mosquitos and their eggs.

“I just spoke with the village,” SSO president and chair Iram Shah said Wednesday. “The government is spraying in the village, including the Sonia Shah School. We are also testing our staff. So far all clear. Apparently, it is spreading in the city of Peshawar [the provincial capital] faster than in the village. We are keeping a close eye, especially on the women.”

Dengue’s symptoms — including high fever (40°C/104°F), severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, swollen glands and/or a rash, — typically last two to seven days, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, if it evolves into severe dengue, aka dengue hemorrhagic fever, patients can experience respiratory distress, severe bleeding, organ impairment and death.

In some regions of Pakistan this year, severe dengue “has become a leading cause of hospitalization and death among children and adults,” the WHO reports.

Since there is no cure, early detection and proper medical care are key to keeping death rates down.

More than 2,000 dengue cases in Pakistan have been lab-confirmed in Pakistan as of this month. Of those, 1,279 are in KP, according to a WHO Sept. 3 report. The disease has already killed 20 people in the province and an additional 666 people were infected in KP just this past weekend.

“The current situation needs to be responded [to] with a sense of urgency,” WHO has warned. “Dengue fever … [is] difficult to control.”

More than half, 52 percent, of confirmed cases in KP have been among adults age 25 to 64; followed by 29 percent among teenagers and young adults (15-24); 16 percent among children (0-14); and 3 percent among people over age 65.

A WHO dengue investigation in Peshawar in August found a “huge number” of uncovered water containers at houses and workshops; 80 percent of water samples tested positive for the virus. Dengue is typically found in tropical and sub-tropical climates, most commonly in urban and unplanned semi-urban areas.

The KP government’s effort thus far includes massive insecticide-spraying campaigns (fumigation prevents mosquito eggs from turning into larvae) and health workers going house to house to warn about standing water and distribute mosquito repellant.

KP Health Services has advised all school and college students to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants and apply insect repellent to their hands and feet, The Express Tribune reported. Schools should also treat or drain all standing water — in drainages, water air coolers and even flower vases — in and near schools; hold daily dengue-awareness sessions in schools; and suspend morning assemblies since mosquitos usually bite in the two hours after sunrise and two hours before sunset.

Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics according to the WHO. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries, with at least 390 million infections per year and 3.9 billion people at risk.

“The global incidence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades,” the WHO reports. “About half the world’s population is now at risk. … Not only is the number of cases increasing as the disease spreads to new areas, but explosive outbreaks are occurring.”

In KP province, this week’s seasonal rains have not helped.

“Our efforts have been flushed away and we expect an increase in dengue cases,” Peshawar’s Deputy Commissioner Saqib Raza Aslam said. “Mercury levels have also dropped post rain, which is a catalyst for the egg-to-larvae process of a mosquito’s life cycle.”

However, he added, “We have not lost hope and will double the efforts involved to avoid another outbreak.”

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Ordinary people doing extraordinary things: This deserves a celebration!

A Night of Celebration and Joy
Saturday, 16 Sept., 2017 | 6 p.m.
Logan Square Auditorium | 2539 N. Kedzie Blvd, Chicago, 60647
$75 per person
For tickets, click here.

 

By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 23 August, 2017

Prepare to be transported halfway around the world.

In just three short weeks, Sonia Shah Organization (SSO) will open the doors for A Night of Celebration and Joy in Chicago, and we hope you’ll be there, too.

Musicians, poets and DJs spinning multicultural dance music for all ages, will all be on hand as we celebrate our work educating girls and empowering women in Pakistan and right here in the United States.

We are especially proud to announce two guests, Pakistani-American poet Shadab Zeest Hashmi; and Saadi Faraz, who will read the work of his father, the acclaimed Pakistani poet Ahmad Faraz (1931-2008). Both have deep roots in northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) region, home to Sonia Shah Memorial School.

 

“Sonia Shah Memorial School is in Kangra, in the northwest of Pakistan,” SSO President Iram Shah said. “It is quite a small village, close to the tribal areas. Both of these poets come from that area. They are Pashtun people. They understand the culture and the nuances.

“Just as Sonia, through her vision and determination, has brought the children of KP alive for us, Shadab will help to bring the place alive for everyone in the room. She will read some of her poetry, discuss her view of that place in the world and give everyone a glimpse of that region,” Iram said.

“Then through Faraz’ poetry and comments from his son we can better understand how the people of that area think, how they see the world. In essence, Faraz’ poetry brings the hopes and dreams of that place alive, and helps us to understand the connectivity that runs through all of us,” she said.

Ruby Writer, a Chicago teen and one of SSO’s growing team of Youth Ambassadors, will emcee the Sept. 16 event at Logan Square Auditorium on Chicago’s northside. Our Youth Ambassadors have all been inspired by Sonia’s story to make a difference in the world and we are excited to introduce them.

SHOES, SOLAR PANELS & SUCCESS

Sonia “could have started her mission here or in a bigger city in Pakistan and it would have been much, much easier,” Iram told Jerome McDonnell in an interview on Chicago public radio’s “Worldview,” program. “But she chose that [place] because she wanted to end the discrimination and suppression of women in that part of the world.”

SSO continues to make great strides in that direction, with 113 students enrolled, 60 percent of them girls, at the school, building renovations and a new solar-energy system providing round-the-clock electricity at the school. “The added electricity means, among other things, that some of the water treated in the filtration plant can run through a refrigeration system, providing cold, clean drinking water, which was especially popular during Ramadan, Iram said.

“This year we also gave sets of uniforms and a pair of shoes to our students — and our enrollment went up,” she said. “Some of these children in the village did not have clothes to wear to school, so the uniforms made all the difference. Students who were already enrolled are so proud of their new uniforms. It was like giving them an identity, a self-confidence, that they didn’t have before.

“We have also trained 100 women in our vocational center, really teaching them to become financially independent,” she said.

POETRY’S POWER

Two poets will help paint a picture of the place where all this good work happens. Why poetry? Because, as Claremont Graduate University’s Michael Kemp wrote, poetry serves as “a means to build empathy and bridge gaps of understanding between people who come from differing backgrounds,” and “a vehicle for messages of social justice.”   

Poet Ahmad Faraz (1931-2008) was born in Kohat, “a village about 70 kilometers from Sonia Shah School,” Iram said. “He went on to become one of the most well-known poets of Pakistan.”

He earned his master’s degrees from University of Peshawar, penned 13 books of poetry, and “enjoyed a near cult status in the pantheon of revolutionary poets,” according to his obituary in the New York Times. His first volume, Tanha Tanha, published while he was an undergraduate at Edwardes College in the late 1950s, was “a huge, instant hit.”

“A passionate voice for change and progress, Mr. Faraz was usually at his best when writing the poetry of love and protest,” the Times reported. “His romantic poetry made him particularly beloved by the young; the establishment was not so fond of his verses mocking and at times exposing the authorities. An advocate for the poor and downtrodden, Mr. Faraz raised his voice against capitalists, usurpers and dictators.”

He spent six years in self-imposed exile in the 1980s, protesting Pakistan president Gen. Zia ul-Haq’s military rule. In 2006, he returned an award given to him by then-president Gen. Musharraf, and said: “My conscience will not forgive me if I remain a silent spectator” as citizens’ rights were trampled.

Although he died of kidney failure in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, in 2008, the beloved poet’s words continue to inspire and comfort millions of people around the world.

“After Sonia’s death, a friend gave me a framed photograph of Sonia and me with this verse of Ahmad Faraz’ poetry: ‘I am alive after you are gone | See how resilient a defeated person can be.’ I look at it every day.”

Shadab Zeest Hashmi grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan, then moved to the United States and earned her bachelors’ degree at Reed College in Oregon. In her work, she often reflects on “the postcolonial Pakistani identity,” and “the often-fraught political and cultural exchanges between the United States and the Middle East,” according to the Poetry Foundation.

She has published two award-winning books of poetry Baker of Tarifa (2010) and Kohl & Chalk (2013) and teaches at San Diego State University’s MFA program as a writer-in-residence.   

“Shadab will speak to her experience and read her poems, in English, connecting to girls’ empowerment,” Iram said.

Hashmi’s essays on poetic forms such as the ghazal and qasida have appeared widely, as have her essays on Arab American issues. Hashmi has edited the San Diego Magee Park Poets Anthology and MahMag World Literature, is a columnist for 3 Quarks Daily and represents Pakistan on the Universe: A United Nations of Poetry website.

AROUND THE WORLD & BACK

The evening will also celebrate SSO’s first scholarship student, Zuleyma Cordero, who is about to start her sophomore year at college in the Chicago suburbs. She’s pursuing a double major in business and accounting and continues to impress us with her intelligence and determination.

Live piano music and fantastic DJs spinning tunes will round out the event at Logan Square Auditorium, a renovated century-old landmark and popular Chicago venue.

“Chicago is where Sonia’s mission stated and where it will be nourished,” Iram said. “This grand and elegant century-old grand ballroom, with its top-notch sound system, is the perfect setting for our celebration.”

Bring your dancing shoes!

Iram Shah with President Jimmy Carter
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A Tribute to President Jimmy Carter’s Legacy of Humanitarianism by Iram Shah

Our president, Iram Shah recently dedicated her time to Habitat for Humanity alongside former president Jimmy Carter! At the start of a recent conference call set to strategize, plan, and dream our growth, she could not help but gushed over her time and his wise words.

She wrote an article to share her experience,

“Watching the President at 92 standing in the sun with temperature over 80 degree Fahrenheit cutting wood for over 8 hours, I could not help but wonder is it his resilient body or his heart that keeps him going. You can not underestimate the power of heart. It wins again and again!”
Iram Shah with President Jimmy Carter

Read the entire article here, originally published on LinkedIn.

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Ramadan Mubarak! ‘Small acts of kindness on daily basis’

Children, exempted from the obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan, receive lunch at Sonia Shah Memorial School.

By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 22 June, 2017

Ramadan Mubarak to all our Muslim friends around the world!

Ramadan is the Islamic holy month, a celebration of the period in 610 A.D. when the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) received the initial revelations of the Quran.

In recognition of this holy occasion, Muslims fast — no food or water — from dawn to dusk for 30 days. “Fasting is seen as a way to cleanse the soul and have empathy for those in the world who are hungry and less fortunate,” according to history.com.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and begins and ends with the sighting of a new crescent moon. This year, it began May 26 and will end this weekend, between June 24 and 26. The end of the holiday is celebrated with Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival and one of Islam’s major holidays.

“Ramadan is about to end, and as Muslims look forward to Eid celebrations, we should also reflect on the blessed month and on our lives,” said Iram Shah, chairwoman of the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO).

“Ramadan is about self-constraint, love, peace, and giving back to humanity. Islam, which means submission, teaches us to live a meaningful life while perusing our interests and passions. It urges us to respect all religions, beliefs and people. It prohibits violence and promotes forgiveness. Ramadan showcases these traits and helps us to practice them for the rest of the year,” she said.

ISLAM IN THE WORLD

Islam is the world’s second largest religion, after Christianity, but the fastest growing, with 1.8 billion followers as of 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

In the United State, there are 3.3 million Muslims, or about 1 percent of the population. The first mosque here was built in the 1920s in North Dakota by Lebanese immigrants, according to history.com. The nation’s oldest surviving mosque was constructed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the 1930s.

Muslims believe Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final prophet in a line of prophets — including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus — chosen by God to act as messengers and teach mankind, according to history.com. Born in Mecca in 570 A.D., he  became a merchant who periodically retreated to a cave in Mount Hira, “ruminating on the social ills of the city.”

On such a retreat during the month of Ramadan in 610 A.D., he started receiving revelations from God, or Allah, via the angel Gabriel. The revelations continued for 23 years and were compiled by his followers in the Quran, which formed the basis for Islam.

At the heart of the religion are the Five Pillars of Islam:

Children drawing cold water from the taps at Sonia Shah Memorial School, Kangra, Pakistan.

* Shahada (declaration of faith);

* salat (prayer);

* zakat (charitable giving);

* sawm (fasting);

* and hajj (pilgramage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).

“The founding of Islam by Muhammad came at a time when the newfound wealth of Arabs in Mecca had led them to ignore the plight of the poor,” Karen Armstrong wrote in Fields of Blood. “Instead of hoarding their wealth and ignoring the plight of the poor, Muslims were exhorted to take responsibility for one another and feed the destitute, even when they were hungry themselves. They traded the irascibility of jahiliyyah [pre-Islamic age of ignorance and barbarism] for the traditional Arab virtue of hilm — forbearance, patience, and mercy.

“By caring for the vulnerable, freeing slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, even hourly basis, they believed that they would gradually acquire a responsible, compassionate spirit and purge themselves of selfishness,” Armstrong wrote.

RAMADAN PRACTICES

Fasting is at the heart of Ramadan’s month-long period of self-restraint and self-reflection. But Muslims are also expected to avoid unkind thoughts and words, say special prayers and make a significant contribution to improving the lives of the poor.

Fasting begins at sunrise each day and concludes at sunset. Pre-pubescent children and adults who are sick, elderly, pregnant, nursing or traveling are exempt.

“Fasting is seen as a way to purify spiritually as well as physically — a time to detach from material pleasures and be closer to God,” the Telegraph (UK) newspaper reported June 4. “The act of fasting is also believed to increase Muslims’ piety, reminding them that others are less fortunate than themselves.”

Throughout the month, Muslims carry on with their lives, going to work and school. Other Ramadan practices include:

     SUHOOR: The meal taken in the morning, before dawn on each day of fasting.

     IFTAR: The big communal meal served at sunset each day to break the day’s fast, the “break-fast.” Tradition calls for breaking the fast with a date and either water or a yogurt drink, followed by the maghrib prayer, then a full-course meal.

     ZAKAT: The obligatory charity to the poor and needy. This is expected of all Muslims throughout the year, but many Muslims choose to give generously during Ramadan.

 

RAMADAN & SSO

Sonia Shah (right) and her mother, Iram Shah.

This year, SSO installed a cooling device on several taps at the Sonia Shah Memorial School water-filtration plant in Kangra, Pakistan. This ensures that all students and villagers have cold, clean drinking water throughout Ramadan and Eid.

“Ramadan has a personal significance for me, as Sonia died on the second day of Eid, two days before leaving for college,” Shah said of her daughter, who started SSO. “She was fasting all month and was very excited to start her college life.

“Sonia wanted all girls to have the same opportunities as she had. Her legacy continues. Now we are helping girls in Pakistan who never before had a chance to go to school, and girls in the U.S. who had little chance to attend college to get education,” Iram said.

In the next few days, the sighting of the new crescent moon will marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid. Most schools and offices close during this period, as many people travel to spend the holiday with friends and relatives.

In the United States, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted the first Eid dinner at the White House in 1996, a tradition that continued throughout the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, however, has announced it will not hold an Eid dinner.

To mark Eid, some friends and family exchange gifts. Many take the opportunity to perform charitable acts. Please consider making a donation to SSO.

“As we end Ramadan, change one girl’s life!” Shah said.

Read more:

  1. History of Ramadan: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan
  2. What is Ramadan: http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/islam/articles/what-is-ramadan.aspx
  3. Muslim & Islam in the world: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/26/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
  4. Breaking the fast: https://www.thoughtco.com/ramadan-iftar-breakfast-2004620
  5. Understanding Ramadan: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-ramadan-and-when-is-it/
  6. What is Zakat: https://www.islamichelp.org.uk/zakat/

 

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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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