March 2014 - Sonia Shah Organization

The Sonia Shah School was bombed.

The Sonia Shah School was bombed.

This week has brought the gravest of tragedies: the massacre of 148 at a school in Peshwar–132 of the victims children. Our hearts break for these children and their families, and there are simply no words to express this fully.

A couple days before the attacks in Peshwar, the Sonia Shah Memorial School was bombed. We are beyond grateful that no one was hurt, but the water filtration plant–which provided clean drinking water to more than 700 families–was destroyed. Walls were demolished; windows were shattered.



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Sonia’s dream has been damaged, but it will recover. Luckily, we can share with confidence that the villagers are enthusiastic about the development of the school and the water filtration plant. We know we have to rebuild–for the girls, for the villagers, for Sonia. We cannot give in to terrorists, and this devastation, along with the tragedy of Peshwar, shows us that now more than ever, our cause is critical.

We are matching donations until next Sunday.

From now until next Sunday, December 28th at midnight CST, we are matching every penny contributed to our current campaign which will help run the Sonia Shah Memorial School for an entire year and rebuild the water filtration plant, which cost more than $16,000. Your support is more important now than it has ever been before. Stand with us! Let us show the world that we believe in the importance of educating girls and changing the world.


If you have not yet contributed, now is absolutely the time. Double your difference, your influence, your piece of Sonia’s dream. Together we can rise up and say, “You won’t win. We won’t stand for it.”

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Sonia Shah Organization


Opening the Sonia Shah Memorial School – Campaign

We’re thrilled to announce that the Sonia Shah Memorial School building is completed and open! Help us prepare to welcome the first class of girls and offer them what would never have been possible without your help and support: a world-class education. With this campaign we are raising the year’s operational costs so we can bring in girls, feed them, teach them, and give them the opportunity to make a true difference in our world.

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The status of the Sonia Shah Memorial School.

  • Since our last campaign, the school building has been completed, and a necessary water filtration plant has been built and completed. The water filtration plant is currently providing drinking water to almost 700 households.
  • The school was officially opened with a ceremony on Sunday, October 19, 2014 in the village of Kangra in Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Pakhtunkhwa’s minister of education, Mr. Mohammed Atif Khan, opened the ceremony and gave speeches. He made an inspirational analogy of a bird who is trying to put out a large fire by bringing drops of water 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 on the list of those who tried to put out fire–not in the list of those who caused the fire, and not in the list  of those who 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 two rooms of the school. Due to the constant electricity outage, we will install solar panels on the roof of the school.

Sonia’s mother, Iram Shah, in Kangra, Pakistan for the opening of the Sonia Shah Memorial School in fall 2014

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What this campaign will do.

This campaign will raise the money for one year of operational costs.  The school will include 8 teachers (including one principal) as well as one woman in janitorial staff. There will be approximately 150 students in 6 grades: kindergarten to 5th grade. The breakdown of our operational costs are:
  • Teachers and principal salaries, training, travel and benefits: $1000 per teacher a total of $8000.
  • Books, stationery, eLearning, and library contents: $3000
  • Utilities, water and security services: $2000
  • Student health screening, immunization and everyday emergency treatment at school: $3000
  • Lunch, uniforms and hygiene training: $2000
  • Maintenance, and monitoring: $1000
Did you know that, in the US, the cost per public school student per year is $12,608? We are sending each child to school for an entire year for one-hundredth of that cost: $126. Imagine what we can do with your contribution!

I am Sonia.

Sonia knew that her education was everything in her life, from her cultural experiences and multilingualism, her travel, her experience as the youngest intern in the President’s Campaign of 2012, and the confidence in her own power and equality.

We look at each girl in Kangra, Pakistan and know that with a proper education, she too could be that remarkable girl we loved in Sonia. We look inward and know that each of us, benefiting every second of every day from our education, is just like Sonia, too–that without that education, we are each little girl in Kangra, Pakistan. We take nothing for granted, but instead assert proudly, I am Sonia!

Are you Sonia, too? Show us! Here’s how:

  •  Every contribution makes a huge difference in our school and in the lives of our students. Give what you can and help us change the world, one girl at a time.
  • Help us spread the word by using the hashtag #iamsonia on Twitter & Instagram! Tell the world why YOU are Sonia.. and why they are, too.
  • Show your support to your networks by posting a picture of you wish “I am Sonia” written on your palm or even a piece of paper – and if you post on Facebook, make sure you tag our Facebook page: Sonia Shah Organization.

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Nothing makes us feel stronger about Sonia’s legacy than support from people like you.

The remarkable story of a remarkable girl.

Sonia was an exceptional girl. She spoke five languages, was the youngest intern in the President’s Campaign of 2012, and kept the needs of others above her own. She completed her education a year early and at only 17 years old, she dedicated a gap year to go to Kangra, Pakistan and build a school for the girls of the village.

Sonia was determined that she would get to know the women of Kangra, understand their needs and then do what it takes to help improve their lives.  Sonia created a non-profit foundation to accomplish her task, and, in typical Sonia fashion, the foundation was in the name of her beloved grandmother, the Kulsoom Foundation.

Speaking 5 languages herself, she planned a bilingual school for girls with a curriculum that would be taught in Urdu and in English.  She procured the land, gathered the necessary donations, established the curriculum, began the search for the teachers, and oversaw the groundbreaking of the building.

For a girl born and raised in the United States and Europe to go live in a rural Pakistani village, amongst the village women, and observe and respect the conservative social norms – takes courage, resolve and a heart of gold. These attributes are the spirit of Sonia.

And then just as her dreams for the school were about to take flight, her young life was tragically cut short. Usually, when a person passes away at this young an age, people speculate on what this person would have achieved if they had lived for a longer time.  However, in the case of Sonia, we find ourselves wondering how this unusual girl was able to achieve so much and impact so many in her all too brief eighteen years of life.

Sonia’s mother, a woman whom she revered for her ambition, intelligence, and heart, carries on the efforts in Pakistan, fulfilling Sonia’s dream as her legacy. Sonia’s story and dreams for girls in Pakistan have inspired so many to give their time and resources to help make this dream a reality.

Pakistan as it is.

In Kangra, Pakistan, only 3 out of 10 girls ever go to school, and hardly any of them ever get to high school. In Pakistan there are over three million girls not in school, and almost half (49%) of the girls who do begin primary school leave before completing the final grade.

This is especially troubling, as by 2050, Pakistan will have the 4th largest population in the world behind, China, India and the USA. Yet Pakistan only spends 2.7% of its annual GDP on education, spending seven-times that on defense. The effects of such a poor education system are evident. Pakistan’s total literacy rate is a dismal 50%, while only 36% of Pakistani women are literate.

Education can change everything.

As a teenager, Sonia Shah recognized and understood this potentially world-changing notion. She wrote of her heritage, gratitude, and wisdom from personal experience in an essay at only 17 years of age:

My grandmother was married at the age of thirteen and left school after passing the eighth grade. Despite her lack of formal education and a life lived in the rural northwest of  Pakistan, she was intelligent and ambitious. She convinced her husband to move their family to Peshawar, the largest city in the region, and ensured that all six of her children received the best education available. My grandmother’s almost ferocious support of her children’s education encouraged her youngest child, my mother, to enroll as the only female in a class of 80 at the local business school. On the first day of classes, my mom’s teacher asked every student in the room about their plans for the future. When my mom responded that she wanted to travel to  America to get her MBA, he laughed. Mama remained unfazed. She eventually did go on to get  her MBA at the University of Chicago, and it is thanks to her determination that I enjoy a world-class education and the comforts of the West.

In addition to her firsthand experience of the immense difference education can make, Sonia was also well aware of the facts. Indeed,

  • Literacy translates directly to success in the workforce.
  • Women with a secondary education earn 70% of what men earn; with a primary education, they earn 51% of what men earn.
  • Illiterate women with no completed education earn even less than 51% of what men earn.
  • Yet perhaps most astounding of all, women with a high level of literacy earn 95% more than women who are illiterate.

Armed with the facts, the experience, and clearly the intelligence and ambition that had been passed down through the women in her family, Sonia Shah made it her mission, despite her young age, to change the lives of thousands of girls in Kangra, Pakistan by building a girls’ school herself and providing desperately needed education.  Yet Sonia’s story was tragically cut short before she could see the opening of the school.

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