Progress Archives - 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.”

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 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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