Blog - Page 6 of 6 - Sonia Shah Organization


New Developments

The last three weeks or so from the time of my last post have been busy. We could no longer use the land we had originally planned to build on, and so a new location had to be found. New estimates and blueprints also had to be drawn up, as the old plans couldn’t be used in the new location. The land has been surveyed, and contractors are now finally beginning to clear trees and brush in preparation for construction. We have also had to deal with the legal issues of transferring ownership of the land to the non-profit foundation that we have established for our project in Pakistan. After three weeks of long distance calls, we have finally begun our project. We are also closer to meeting our fund-raising goals. A very generous donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has graciously given us 3,000 USD, ensuring that we have the funds to continue building throughout the summer. Helena Potter, a colleague of my mom’s, was able to connect us to this donor and has been incredibly supportive throughout this entire process. These new funds come at an incredibly important time, as we have been unable to receive donations through our foundation’s website, which has not been working for the last week or so. The website,, should now be up and running.


School Visit

Yesterday I walked over to the the school for which we are trying to build a building, and was able to watch the girls studying and to speak with their teacher. Right now the girls (about 50 of them) study at their teacher’s house, and are scattered in their various class groups along her verandah and courtyard. Only about a quarter of them are actually sitting under fans (that only work when the electricity is working), while the rest have to make do with shade. The girls range from pre-k to grade five, and while the government provides them with textbooks, some of them are too poor to buy the notebooks and pencils they need to study. One teacher, also provided by the government (who is paid a salary of about 60 USD per month) has to oversee the lessons of all 50 girls. The girls are also unable to afford uniforms (one of the indicators used by the general populace to identify better schools in Pakistan).

Students and teacher sit in the heat, and try to push through lessons that run from about 8:30 in the morning to about noon, although officially class is supposed to begin at 7:00 am and end at 1:00 in the afternoon. The curriculum given to them by the government is in Poshto, the tribal language of this north-west region of Pakistan, and the village is in a rural enough place that both Urdu (the national language) and English (the official langauge) are taught as foreign languages, as no one in Kangra actually speaks either of the two often or well. The girls will be on a one month break from June 10th, and we hope to begin building their two-room school building then. The 6,000 USD we have already raised is now here in Pakistan and ready to be spent on building supplies and wages for laborers. If the contractors work quickly the school should be done by the time I come back to Kangra in September. Until the building is ready and we can begin overhauling the curriculum and teaching system, I am doing my best to provide the girls with whatever basic school supplies they currently don’t have, and with the fans and uniforms that will make their education more pleasant and legitimate.

More on my project soon to come, and please feel free to take a look at the pictures that I haven’t included in these blog posts: Most recent pictures from Pakistan


Women in Pakistan

I just wanted to take the time to talk a little bit about why I feel that supporting education for girls in Pakistan is such an integral part of Pakistan’s movement towards stability and development, especially at a time when both seem so unlikely. With the government spending approximately 13% of its GDP on defense and only 2% on education, Pakistan’s education system is heavily reliant on private funding. The poorest Pakistani families often go to great lengths to ensure that they can afford to send their sons to school, but rarely do the same for their daughters. Poor mothers need their daughters to help them at home, and poor fathers can rarely afford to even feed and clothe their children properly, and so view a daughter’s tuition fees as an unnecessary expenditure. These uneducated girls are then made dependent on their male relatives, perpetuating a cycle of destitution in a country in which 24% of its 170 million people live below the poverty line. Educating a girl can aid in the development and improvement of her entire family and even her entire community, and will stabilize a nation rocked by ignorance and hardship. It is now becoming even more important to continue to fund and support girls’ schools, as the Taliban has destroyed over 400 schools in the Swat Valley and tribal regions, and have targeted girls’ schools in particular. With tens of thousands of children left without a school and a government unable to rebuild schools quickly, I believe that it is essential to reach out to and educate as many girls as we can.



Our challenges with land did not end when we found a second possible location a month ago. The lands could not be transferred to the foundation, and we therefore couldn’t guarantee that the land and building would continue to be used as a school. The only thing we could do was to buy land that we could ensure would remain in the control of the foundation. After trying and failing to purchase two different plots, my mom was finally able to successfully buy a third plot with money taken from her own retirement fund. Land ownership and control is an incredibly sensitive issue in the rural areas of northwest Pakistan, and owning the land on which the school will be built will ensure that the school can be sustained. We have had to draw up new estimates and building plans for this new plot, and the added costs of these have put a strain on our existing funds. Any support you are willing to give would be very much appreciated, as we would like to begin construction as soon as possible and have the school ready to be opened for the next academic school year. Please donate on our website at


Life in the Village

After flying in to Islamabad and driving two hours to Peshawar, it was finally time for me to visit the village where all our project work is being done and where I will be living for over a month in the fall and spring. On the hour long drive to the village from Peshawar, it was somewhat daunting to watch the bustle of the city fall away, leaving only fields and streams. The big trucks and rickshaws were slowly left behind, until only the occasional tractor or tanga (a two wheeled cart that is pulled by a donkey or horse) could be seen. This village I am now living in, called Kangra, was my grandfather’s home, and the house that I am staying in was the house where my grandmother first came to live when she married my grandfather. Kangra is quite pretty, full of greenery, with animals and children running around everywhere. Any women walking outside are wearing chadars (literally translates in to the word for sheet, but is the name of the big shawl that women cover themselves with when they go outside) and burkas, as the village is small and conservative, and all the women here practice purdah (the practice of having women hide their appearance from any men not in their family).

I am living with relatives in the village, and their house is simple but beautiful. There are trees in the small central courtyard, and it is actually a very enjoyable place to be when the electricity is on and the fans are working. Pakistan is now approaching its hottest time of the year, and the electricity supply (especially in rural areas) is inconsistent. In Kangra, most of the afternoon and night goes by without electricity, and we are then reduced to using hand fans and finding shady areas to sit in our attempts to beat the heat. The villagers have a complicated system of regular electricity, a petrol-powered generator, and a UPS (no one I’ve asked knows what it stands for, but its a battery powered generator that charges during the hours that there is electricity). Even with these three different systems, we probably go at least six waking hours and most of the night without any electricity cialis-coupon whatsoever. Even in the cities the electricity is unreliable. The electricity here in Peshawar has already cut out twice since I started writing this post (thank God for auto-save!). Regardless of the heat and shortage of electricity, the village is a peaceful place, and I enjoy sitting on the verandah watching the chickens do crazy things (yesterday one knocked off the clothes drying on clothesline, and had to be helped out of the shirt it found itself in). My only complaint would be having to wrap up in the chadar whenever I go outside. Even the lightest chadar can feel heavy and hot in the midday heat, and I feel awkward and uncomfortable wrapping the cloth over my hair and face. Since its something I’m not used to, I always manage to wrap it wrong and then I’m stuck trying to re-wrap it while all the other women walk serenely by. Its a very different life, but its interesting and relaxing in many ways.


Construction has begun!

Construction on the land has finally begun! As you can see from these pictures that were recently taken at the plot, the contractor has begun the wall, and is now preparing the remainder of the land for construction. It is crucial to continue building now that we have begun, as the contractor may not return to a project that has been delayed for too long, and we don’t want to be left with a half-finished building. All readers, if you have yet to contribute to this cause, I would urge you to do so now, as we are getting closer and closer to successfully building this school, and a steady stream of funds have never been as important as they are now. Your support has been crucial since the very beginning of this project, and it is very much appreciated! Please visit to join our community and donate!

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