sonia Archives - Sonia Shah Organization

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My Gift to Sonia: From Iram on This Mother’s Day

Motherhood is different for every woman on the planet. My experience is vastly different from my mother’s, for example.

Born in a remote rural village in Pakistan, my mother Kulsoom grew up in a patriarchal society where girls and women had few opportunities to engage with the world outside their homes. When she married and had children, she insisted my father move the family to the city, where she believed her daughters might be able to pursue the same opportunities as her sons.

Sonia with Kulsoom

Her determined efforts effectively launched us into the world with skills, awareness and opportunities vastly different than she had been given. I am who I am today because of her.

When I left Pakistan for higher education, I moved half a world away from my mother to pursue the opportunities she had made possible. I earned my bachelor’s degree and my MBA from the University of Chicago. And I felt Mom’s support with every step I took. But I did not truly appreciate her experience until I had a daughter of my own.

Sonia was my first child and she sashayed into the world undaunted. She was smart and curious. She took risks and made things happen. Sometimes, Sonia’s confidence and determination were anxiety producing or bittersweet, much as I now understand my departure from Pakistan was for my mother.

Motherhood is a balancing act. We strive to protect our children while simultaneously knowing that difficult experiences will make them stronger and more resilient. My two younger sons Issa and Adam remind me of this daily!

Tragically, Sonia died two days before starting her freshman year at The College of William and Mary. She was just 18 years old. But she had already made her mark. She started the Sonia Shah Memorial School in her grandmother’s village, ensuring that generations of girls there will have the same access to quality education as she did. She made us all proud.

Sonia Shah Organization - Sonia and Iram ShahMy mother Kulsoom is now 87 years old, full of life but getting very frail. I remember her as a vibrant, strong woman, a driver behind my successes and achievements. I know she has entered the last chapter in her life and I feel blessed to care for her. Every day is a privilege.

On every Mother’s Day, Sonia gave me a gift of jewelry with a heart. I joked with her that I had “too many hearts.” Now I know that’s not possible.

Taking Sonia’s vision of educating underprivileged girls is my gift to her for the rest of my life.

Happy Mother’s Day to women around the world!

Iram Shah is president of the Chicago-based Sonia Shah Organization   

Read more about the legacy of these three amazing women on our website, www.soniashahorganization.com

Celebrating Sonia’s dream on the Fourth of July

By Iram Shah

Sonia Shah Organization - Sonia and Iram ShahOn this day, the Fourth of July, we Americans celebrate our freedom with a sense of pride and much fanfare. We sometimes forget the abundant rights and privileges we have here: freedom of speech, education, equality and much more. Though far from perfect, America is still one of the places where you can live your dream. It is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Sonia was born in Chicago and lived a big part of her life in Europe, but was always grateful for the privileges she had as an American. She was also acutely conscious of the absence of these privileges in some parts of the world, especially in Pakistan.

Education is a great equalizer and a fundamental part of the American Dream, and Sonia wanted that for all girls. 

In her blog she wrote:

Sonia Shah Organization - Sonia and Iram Shah“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. … 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 [where] 24 percent 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.”  

Sonia’s dream to change the world one girl at a time is alive and progressing. We should never give up on our daughters and the future they can create for us. 

Happy Fourth of July!

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