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.”

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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School Progress, Visit, and Priorities

Thank you!

In August, members of the Sonia Shah Organization visited the school in Kangra in to witness the astonishing progress in the year since the building was erected. Enrollment is now at more than 50 students, and the school is still accepting new attendees throughout the year. The school has 3 full-time teachers, a principal, and a social mobilizer. The students were all excited about learning and were eager to show off their knowledge. The water-filtration plant has been rebuilt after the bombing in December 2014 and is better than ever, providing water to so many local families. We have a team of three doctors who visit Kangra every three months to provide basic vaccinations, and we are hoping to be able to increase the care provided very soon. The community of Kangra is pushing to extend the school to 9th and 10th grade, so that the children can stay in school in the village longer (and you know every additional year of schooling makes a tangible difference!). We are simply thrilled and motivated by their commitment to the school and appreciation of the power of education. In fact, many villagers are taking their children out of the government-run school in Kangra and enrolling them in the Sonia Shah Memorial School. Finally, for those in the village who are too old to enroll in the school, we are prioritizing the building of a vocational center.

We think back often to Sonia’s dream, when it was just that–a dream. And today, it’s a reality. Why? Because of your support. So we have something we’d like to say:

Thank you.

Thank you for supporting us both financially and with your confidence and spirit; thank you for standing behind us when the school was bombed and we had to rebuild; thank you for believing in our cause and the dream of one girl to change the lives of many. We are only just beginning the process of changing the world, one girl at a time, but we feel so confident knowing that the process is indeed in motion.

Will there be challenges along the way? Certainly. But we know that together, with you, we can overcome them and that we will come out stronger on the other side. The trip to visit the school and our students was very fulfilling, but made clear to us that the school still has some needs so that the students can continue their education: 

1. Solar Panels

With unreliable electricity in Kangra and extremely high temperatures, solar panels would ensure that school is not interrupted. 

2. Uniforms

A school uniform will give the students a sense of pride and ensure that they have clean clothes to wear. 

3. Preventive Care

Health checks and vaccinations will also ensure that education is the top priority and that students are healthy enough to learn. 

4. Lunches

Many of the students’ families don’t have the means to provide meals, and class work is not retained on an empty stomach.

Our plans for the Sonia Shah Memorial School and the village of Kangra are ambitious, but resources go a long way within the cause. Did you know it costs only $126 to send a girl to school for an entire year? Contribute today and help us change the world, one girl at a time. We also offer recurring contributions, making it easier than ever to support SSO on a monthly basis–you set the amount!

Important Tax Information

As a donor or potential donor to the Sonia Shah Organization, we wanted to remind you of our tax ID information, for your records. SSO is a registered 501(c)(3), EIN: 801262104.

Progress After the Bombing

As you might remember, the Sonia Shah School was bombed in December. Fortunately, no one was hurt, nor did they injure our spirits! The water filtration plant and school building, however, were not so lucky. We are happy to announce we have been rebuilding! We could absolutely not have done any of this without our generous donors, and we want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It is you who is helping Sonia’s dream become a reality! Together, we can be resilient against violence and educate the girls whom we believe have the potential to change this world.

We have now hired the teachers for the school year, as well as 24-hour armed guards to protect the school and students when they arrive in only two short months. Help us fight violence with compassion and educate the girls who can change everything. There is still so much more to be rebuilt, but we know we can do it with your help.

Donate here.. We have one-time options AND easy recurring options!:soniashahorganization.com/contribute/

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The Sonia Shah Memorial School Is Open!

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After much preparation, fundraising, setbacks, and determination to see Sonia’s dream through, we are elated to announce that the Sonia Shah Memorial School is open, and the first class of students is in attendance. We can’t think of a better way to remember Sonia as we approach the 3rd anniversary of her tragic passing.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.52.36 AMTake a look at a progress report on the school and enjoy some photos of our very first students!

  • Construction, furnishing and setting up of school has been completed.
  • The Construction Work of HDF – Sonia Shah Memorial School Kangra was started on September 23, 2013 and completed in the month of February 2015. Additional work proposed subsequently has also been completed.
  • On 19th of October 2014, a ceremony was held to inaugurate HDF- Sonia Shah Memorial School. Education Minister KPK, Mr. Muhammed Atif Khan was the Chief Guest at the occasion and inaugurated the school. Apart from large gathering of village elders, Sonia’s mother, Iram Shah, was also present at the event. Watch the video from the inauguration.
  • Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.53.37 AMThe availability of teaching positions was advertised in newspaper & shortlisted candidates were called for interview. A panel conducted the interviews. Initially three teachers were hired, and more teachers will be hired as needed.
  •  The new teachers participated in a six-day long teacher-training workshop in the month of March 2015.
  • Enrollment campaign for admissions in Class Nursery to Class 5 in the School was started in April 2015. The social mobilization and motivation activities continued through HDF Mardan Region staff and teachers of the school. Banners were displayed on the school and at prominent places in the village. So far 38 students have been enrolled: 23 in Class Nursery, 14 in Grade-1 and one student in Class 4. Efforts are underway using our own staff and school teachers to enroll the maximum number of students in the school.
  • Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.53.48 AMText books have been provided to all the enrolled students.

Security 

The Sonia Shah Memorial School was bombed on December 14, 2014. There were no injuries, but the water-filtration plant was destroyed and several walls and windows of the school building were destroyed or damaged. The damaged parts of the school building and the room of filter plant have been reconstructed. As per assessment of M/S So-Safe Water Technologies (Vendor of Filter Pant) the original water filtration plant was completely destroyed, but a new plant was recently installed. Since the attack, two armed security guards have been deployed in the school to guard the school at night.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 10.50.34 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.53.23 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.53.13 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 10.53.01 AM

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The Sonia Shah Memorial School Is Open!

At long last Sonia’s dream was fulfilled on Sunday, October 19th with the opening of the Sonia Shah Memorial School in the village of Kangra in Pakhtoonkhwa, Pakistan. It was an emotional but happy occasion, and the village elders gathered for the occasion. Pakhtoonkhwa’s education minister, Mr. Mohammed Atif Khan, offered the opening ceremony; the program started with Khatme Quran and was followed by speeches.

Mr. Atif  Khan gave a touching speech reminding people of a young girl’s dream and mission to change the lives of poor girls of the village. He urged the audience to support and encourage such commitment and sacrifice. He ended his speech with an inspirational analogy of a bird who is trying to put out a  fire by bringing drops of water back and forth in her beak. Someone asks her the question, “How will you put out such a big fire with such few drops of water?” The bird replied, “On the day of judgement, I want my name to be included in the list of those who were trying to put out fire.. not in the list of those who caused the fire, nor in the list of those who did nothing!”

The school will open its doors in April 2015. Uniforms and lunch will be provided. The principal and the teachers are in the process of being hired. We will also start a vocational center for women of the village in 2 rooms of the school. Due to the constant electricity outage, we will install solar panels on the roof of the school. The water filtration plant is already providing drinking water to almost 700 households. Stay tuned for more update and progress! Click here to stay updated.

Thank you to all those who encouraged, supported and contributed to Sonia’s mission of educating and empowering under-privileged girls. Your name is in the list of those who tried to put out the fire!

Sonia’s legacy goes on!

We will continue to look to you for your support and commitment to this noble cause.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Sonia Shah Organization

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