pakistan 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!

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.

Second academic year under way at Sonia Shah School in Kangra

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By KARIN RONNOW | for Sonia Shah Organization | 6 June 2016

HINSDALE, IL – Three female teachers and 52 students have begun the second year of school at the Sonia Shah Memorial School in the shadow of the continued extremist violence that plagues the region.

“We are getting girls – and some boys – who were not in school before and teaching them with a strong curriculum,” Iram Shah of the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO) told the invitation-only crowd gathered for a dinner fundraiser at the Pakistan consul general’s home in suburban Chicago June 2. “The teachers are educated girls who are living in the village. They speak good English. And they’re bold.”

Bold is necessary, especially in Kangra, Pakistan, a remote, impoverished, conservative village in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, near the volatile Pakistan-Afghanistan border. “Kangra is not far from Swat, where Malala was shot,” Iram said. Protecting students and teachers is imperative at the fledgling primary school.

“The idea of building a school, she [Sonia] would do that, she was that kind of kid.” – Jeff Coleman

“People say Pakistan is a tough neighborhood,” Consul General Faisal Niaz Tirmizi told the guests. “Well, Kangra is a very tough neighborhood.”

The idea of building a school in this difficult environment came from Iram’s daughter Sonia. At at age 16, Sonia visited her maternal grandparents in Kangra and was appalled at the gender disparity in the rural government schools. She knew the value of education in her own life and wanted the same for the girls in Kangra. Over the next two years she developed a plan to build a private girls’ school in the village.

Sonia Shah Organization / Educating girls in PakistanNot every teenager could pull that off, said Jeff Coleman, father of Emma, one of Sonia’s dearest friends. “But the idea of building a school, she [Sonia] would do that, she was that kind of kid.”

Sonia started her project in 2011 and “convinced me to buy the land in the middle of the village,” Iram said. The project was moving apace in 2012 when Sonia died in a car accident just days before starting her freshman year at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. The loss devastated her family.

“When the tragedy struck, we couldn’t get our heads around this,” said Zafar Malik, a member of SSO’s US-based management team. “That doesn’t leave you. After that it was so hard to imagine that their lives could be brighter. But I told Iram. ‘There’s something big here. I can feel it. You have to do it now or lose it forever.’ They picked up what Sonia wanted them to do.”

It wasn’t easy. Just months after the school was completed and inaugurated in 2014, it was bombed. No one was injured, but the blast destroyed several walls and windows of the school building and the new water-filtration plant was destroyed. Days later, 148 people were killed in an unrelated bomb blast at a school in nearby Peshawar.

Despite the setback, Iram said at the visit this site time: “We cannot give in to terrorists, and this devastation, along with the tragedy of Peshawar, shows us that now more than ever, our cause is critical.”.

SSO rebuilt the damaged two-story school and water plant just in time for the first day of school in April 2015.

“Now this is the second year,” Iram told guests during an hour-long presentation. “The school has three full-time teachers, a principal, and a social mobilizer. And we have good security; now in Pakistan there have been other bombs and schools are required to have security guards.

“The teachers are educated girls who are living in the village. They speak good English. And they’re bold.” – Iram Shah

“The water plant supplies clean drinking water to more than 700 families in the village and health is getting better. Some families still don’t send girls to school. But many of those girls do come to get water and the school principal stands outside encouraging them to attend,” she said.

The principal’s efforts are multiplied by that of a “social mobilizer,” who teaches conservative and often illiterate villagers about the importance of girls’ education in hopes of increasing enrollment at the school.

“We had a woman first. It didn’t work,” Iram said. “Now we have a man and he talks to the men in the village about sending their daughters to school.”

These efforts are key because – as Sonia knew –uneducated girls face a grim future. “Women live inferior lives” in Kangra, the narrator of a four-minute video shown at the fundraiser said. “A life with good education and equal opportunities [for women] is a wish still unfulfilled in this village.”

Although it is too late for many women to enroll in primary school, SSO has also set aside two rooms of the school for a women’s vocational center, scheduled to open at the end of June. Handicrafts and sewing skills will help women make a little bit of money to help support their families.

To ensure quality education, all 52 students enrolled this year received textbooks, uniforms and stationery. Solar panels will be installed on the roof this summer to provide electricity to the school for lights and computers. Also, a team of three doctors continues to visit Kangra every three months to provide basic vaccinations and wellness checks.

 But all of this takes money, Iram told her guests. Operating costs for the school in 2016 are $139,185.

“The bigger charities don’t really need us, they already have so many supporters and resources. Iram needed me; the area she comes from is still very backward.” — Hamiya Tirmizi

Hamiya Tirmizi, who devoted hours preparing the house and the food for June 2 fundraiser, said, “Every year we are asked why we support one charity over another. Well, the bigger charities don’t really need us, they already have so many supporters and resources. Iram needed me; the area she comes from is still very backward.”

Her husband, Faisal Tirmizi, said, “I was born to a very powerful woman. I remember my mother always said the best way to transform society is to educate a girl. … Education is close to my heart.”

Emma’s parents, Jeff and Lucy Coleman, are also among SSO’s most devoted supporters.

“We’ve been to all the events, every one of them,” Jeff Coleman said “Our daughters were in high school together and hung out [with another student]. The three of them were a fun group. They were very smart, very engaged kids. I appreciated this group because they woke my daughter up a little. [Emma and Sonia] really loved each other.”

  One of the highlights of the evening was the introduction of SSO’s first international scholarship student, Aimon Wadood. This poised young Pakistani woman is pursuing an associate degree at Truman College in Chicago.

“Aimon has only been here for four years, so she has some language problems, but she’s very hard working,” said Zephyr Malik, who has played a key role in getting the scholarship program started.

His work in education in the Chicagoland area has shown him that, “The underbelly of the Pakistani community here is neglected. People who are cabdrivers and shopkeepers, their children are not doing well and [a scholarship] is the kind of thing many many girls here need. But this is not just restricted to students from Pakistan. We will help [disadvantaged] girls from all backgrounds. And the scholarship students will become our ambassadors. They are the people who will show SSO to the world.”

The Sonia Shah Organization needs your help. Please donate on the website, www.soniashahorganization.com, or by mail (1280 Carol Lane, Deerfield, IL, 60015, USA).

SSO is a registered 501(c)(3). The tax number is 801262104.

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