Fundraising Event Archives - Sonia Shah Organization

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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!

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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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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.”

More photos below.

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Good news on the long road to girls’ education

 

“I feel inspired by and hopeful for the young girls coming to the school against all odds and changing their futures forever.” – Iram Shah

By KARIN RONNOW | Sonia Shah Organization

A growing number of brave young girls in a village not far from the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border are defying centuries-old traditions and making history every day just by learning to read and write.

And more girls join them at the Sonia Shah Memorial School (SSMS), in Kangra, Pakistan, every week. Enrollment at the two-story school has increased to 75 students since the start of the second schoolyear, thanks in part to the “social mobilizer,” who works with parents to address concerns about safety and objections to girls’ education.

“I feel inspired by and hopeful for the young girls coming to the school against all odds and changing their futures forever,” said Iram Shah whose daughter, Sonia, started the school. “I am very happy to see Sonia’s dream coming to fruition.”

A well-traveled, multi-lingual Pakistani-American teenager, Sonia knew the value of education and wanted similar opportunities for all girls – especially those in her mother’s maternal village of Kangra, Pakistan.

“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,” Sonia wrote in a blog. “I have always been keenly aware that …  it is only through the work of the women that came before me that I don’t live in ignorance and isolation. Every girl in Pakistan deserves the chance to create similar change for herself and those around her.”

Sonia worked on the school until her sudden death in 2012 at age 18. Her family’s efforts to continue her legacy through the Chicago-based nonprofit Sonia Shah Organization ensured that the school was completed in 2014 and opened in 2015.

Kangra is a village of 25,000 ethnic Pashtuns not far from the Swat Valley, where Malala Yousafzai was attacked in 2012. Throughout this region, cultural opposition to girls’ education combined with rampant poverty and safety concerns prompt many families to keep their daughters at home.

But, the Sonia Shah Memorial School is thriving.

“The feedback is that the community is extremely happy with the Sonia Shah Middle School,” said Mahnaz Ishaq, a Sonia Shah Organization (SSO) volunteer who regularly visits and coordinates reports from Kangra.  “They very strongly feel the standard of education in our school is far superior to other schools in the area.”

Three female teachers – two with master’s degrees and one with a bachelor’s degree – teach all six classes at SSMS, from nursery (kindergarten) to class five. Higher-level classes will be added each year.

Security at the school is also top-notch. SSO added closed-circuit television cameras to its high boundary walls and round-the-clock security. Parent are “quite satisfied,” Ishaq said. “We have to keep in mind that there has not been a single student casualty, thank the Lord.”

To engage parents, a new parent-teacher association (PTA) recently held a meeting. Parents were reminded of their responsibility to participate in their children’s education by enforcing regular attention and checking classwork and homework.

“Parental involvement is paramount for realizing the importance of girls’ education,” Ishaq said. “If that is not present, then girls will not advance in such remote areas.”

However, “the majority of parents in these parts of Pakistan have never been to a school, so this is the first generation of students,” she added. With an “extremely low” adult literacy rate in Kangra, many families rely on older siblings to help keep tabs on younger children’s progress, she said.

These efforts to keep students academically engaged and learning are buttressed by quality teaching materials and well-trained teachers, access to clean drinking water and medical checks by visiting doctors.

In addition, SSO’s new scholarship program is also helping two underprivileged girls attend college in Chicago.

Next up will be adding solar panels to the school to provide a reliable source of electricity and expanding the scholarship program.

To keep all this going, SSO needs your help. The annual fundraising campaign is under way, culminating with its “Bringing the Worlds Together” benefit concert Sept. 17 at the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, featuring traditional Sufi qawwali music by the Fanna-Fi-Allah ensemble

To buy tickets for the concert, please visit http://bit.ly/2cXya6p

To make a direct donation, please visit www.soniashahorganization.com.

“The road is long, but full of hope,” Iram Shah said.

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