Blog - Sonia Shah Organization

SSO Scholarship Recipient Graduates from East West University

Angela on her graduation day

When Angela Uzeir took the job as a server at a gathering at Iram Shah’s house, she didn’t expect to be offered the opportunity of a lifetime by the end of her late night shift — the opportunity to get educated and pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse.

Angela was born in Albania in the midst of poverty. Her family fled to Greece during the time of the 1997 Albanian Civil War in 1997 and worked as farmers to make ends meet. Due to poor living conditions, Angela had to grow up in an orphanage away from family. When she moved to the United States in 2016, she didn’t qualify for loans. Angela worked long, difficult hours as a server to save up money, so she could build a better future for herself. Attending college seemed far fetched until that fateful evening at Iram’s house — hosted ironically in honor of her daughter, Sonia Shah’s vision to educate undeserved women.

After three years of hard work and with the help of Sonia Shah Organization’s Scholarship Recipient program, Angela walked the graduation stage on June 21 at East West University in Chicago with an associate degree in Biology, making her the first of her family to attend and graduate from college. She is also set to begin nursing school in January, 2020.

 

 

“For any girl education is important because it can give you an honorable life,” Angela said. “It can get you away from being a victim nowadays and being educated makes you independent …. it gives you an unconditional power.”

Sonia Shah, a young visionary, lost her life before she could attend college herself or live out her dream of educating young girls in impoverished countries. But what came of her vision — Sonia Shah Organization — provides education to not only 200 students in Pakistan but also empowers young women by granting scholarships to financially deserving girls in the U.S. — those like Angela. It is true what they say — it takes a village to raise a child, but in Angela’s case, it took an army of women.

“One day I want to pay back because [Sonia Shah Organization] really helped me to be the person I am today.” Angela is Sonia too.

Ramadan: The Month of Fasting and Giving

Ramadan: The Month of Fasting and Giving

What is Ramadan?

“Ramadan is by definition a time of sacrifice, where Muslims fast during the daylight hours all month, abstaining from all food and drink and other such practices. It’s a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on what’s important, and practice self-discipline. Unlike many other holidays, where people indulge, Ramadan is a time to show restraint” (Western Union Global).

Although “Muslims can fast at any time. Ramadan though is the only time of year when fasting is obligatory. Fasting improves self-control and discipline, also abstaining from bad habits such as backbiting, cursing, and fighting. And while those are forbidden all year long, in Ramadan, abstaining from them is absolutely crucial.

Muslims also fast to show solidarity with and compassion for the poor. Fasting allows them to experience hunger and thirst – even if just for a few hours a day – and motivates them to be more charitable and helpful to those in need” (Shawky, 2017). Muslims usually wake before dawn to take a small meal called “suhoor” and exert more effort in worship, praying, contemplating, helping others, giving charity, reciting the Quran (the holy book of the Muslims). The fast starts during sunrise where Muslims begin their day by eating healthy to have the stamina for the long day. Muslims are encouraged to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, especially during hotter months. “At sunset, Muslims break their fast, usually with a big meal with family and friends. Many Muslims also attend the mosque at night, to engage in special night prayers called “Taraweeh”” (Why Islam).

 

What is the significance of charity (Zakat) in Ramadan?

Charity (Zakat) is an integral part of the Muslim faith and, like fasting, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims are reminded to be generous and increase their charitable activities/donations during this month. “One type of charitable giving, which is known as Zakat, is obligatory for those who are financially able. There are two types of Zakat: Zakat al-Mal, which requires Muslims to give at least 2.5% of their assets to the poor and hungry, and another type, smaller in amount but for the same purpose, known as Zakat-al-Fitr which Muslims are required to pay before the commencement of Eid al-Fitr” (Charity Navigator).

Can I donate my required zakat to Sonia Shah Organization (SSO)?

Absolutely! SSO is zakat compliant and accepts payments in multiple forms. You can donate online at: https://soniashahorganization.com/donate/

Where does my charity go?

Your contributions help us do two things:

  1. Run the Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra, Pakistan and educate girls who would not otherwise get the chance to change their lives, and

At the Sonia Shah Memorial School, it costs $300 to educate a girl for a year. It can cost $5000 to $20,000 per college student here in the U.S. Please consider one of these meaningful amounts as your contribution this year for Ramadan!

Sonia Shah Memorial School, Kangra, Pakistan

  1. Provide college scholarships to underprivileged women in the US.

In addition, SSO also provides college scholarships to underprivileged women in the US. Almost half of the donations we receive go towards helping women empower themselves through education.

How do underprivileged Muslims around the world survive Ramadan?

Unfortunately, Ramadan can be a time of hardship for many Muslims, especially younger children who need more nutrition. Many Muslims also face dizziness and other health concerns due to weather, long work hours and lack of proper dinner. Ramadan can be especially hard for younger girls who may be in the age of menstruation, young motherhood, etc. In addition, many underdeveloped countries also have a hard time providing basic necessities such as clean water, electricity, and shelter to many of their citizens. SSO also strives to overcome some of these issues. If you are interested in helping, please donate here: https://soniashahorganization.com/donate/

Why does Ramadan begin on a different day each year?

“Because Ramadan is a lunar month, it begins about eleven days earlier each year. Throughout a Muslim’s lifetime, Ramadan will fall both during winter months, when the days are short, and summer months, when the days are long and the fast is more difficult. In this way, the difficulty of the fast is evenly distributed between Muslims living in the northern and southern hemispheres” (Why Islam).

How can non-Muslim co-workers and friends help someone who is fasting?

“Employers, co-workers, and teachers can help by understanding the significance of Ramadan and by showing a willingness to make minor allowances for its physical demands. Special consideration can be given to such things as requests for vacation time, the need for flexible early morning or evening work schedules and lighter homework assignments. It is also very important that Muslim workers and students be given time to attend Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. Eid is as important to Muslims as Christmas and Yom Kippur are to Christians and Jews. A small token such as a card (there are Eid cards available from Muslim bookstores) or baked goods are given to a Muslim co-worker during Eid ul-Fitr would also be greatly appreciated. Hospital workers should be aware that injections and oral medications might break the fast. Patients should be given the opportunity to decide whether or not their condition exempts them from fasting” (Why Islam).

 

 

Sources:

https://www.westernunion.com/blog/everything-need-know-ramadan/

https://stepfeed.com/10-common-questions-about-ramadan-and-their-answers-5202

https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=800

https://www.whyislam.org/islamicteachings/faqs-about-ramadan

Pakistani Girls Introduced to Kindles for Education

 

Author: Shahzmeen Hussain | One of the young ambassadors of Sonia Shah Organization.

Contributor: Angela Ouzeir

 

 

 

In corners of the world where a chalk squeaking against a blackboard is more commonly heard, our students at Sonia Shah School in Kangra, Pakistan gleefully play with their eReaders. Seventy-two Kindles have been introduced to six out of the seven grades at the school of 170 students, 110 of whom are girls. This was possible with the generosity of Dale Copps’ Bookworld with a mission to place a Library of the world’s most important, educational, and entertaining books into the hands of every child in the world. Thanks to one of the board members Greg Mortensen for introducing Bookaworld to Sonia Shah Organization.

For many parents in Pakistan, the most fundamental barrier to sending their children to school is poverty. In 2016, the government determined that about 60 million Pakistanis—6.8 to 7.6 million families—were living in poverty, about 29.5 percent of the country’s population. The new government, elected in July 2018, stated in their manifesto that nearly 22.5 million children are out of school. Girls are particularly affected. Shall I feed my daughter or educate her?

Since its initial brick was set down in 2012, soon after Sonia’s unfortunate passing away, Sonia Shah School has grown exponentially, granting marginalized children from the village an opportunity at life. Those who were never offered a chance to read and write now have access to the latest technology including computers, smart boards, and Kindles – E-readers in the developing world.

These recent technological advancements at the school have swept our students away to the world of the internet – allowing more mobility in their learning and education. Each Kindle has access to 1000 best ebooks selected for their level. This is the first school in the Pakhtoon Khaw province to have individual Kindles along with smart board and computers that can be used uninterruptedly by solar energy. The village has electricity for only 4 hours and load shedding for 20 hours. The Sonia Shah School is 100% run by solar energy providing electricity full day – Rural Pakistan turns to solar panels.

All students also receive textbooks, uniforms, and stationery. A visiting doctor provides basic vaccinations and wellness checks. A water filtration provides daily 800 liters of clean, fresh water to the village and security around the school is top-notch, with high walls, round-the-clock security, and closed-circuit TV cameras.

Recent final exams have also marked the end of the year – a significant accomplishment for students who have been at the school for 6 years, all the way from kindergarten. The school has gifted these students the ability to think on their own, as citizens of Pakistan and future contributors of the world. Sonia’s dream of empowering the unfortunate stays alive through these students’ accomplishments.

SSO also opened a women’s vocational center in 2016, teaching handicrafts and sewing skills to help women support their families. The center has proved wildly successful: all training programs have been full and the waiting list continues to grow. So far over 100 women have been trained in the vocational center and they are now contributing to the income for their families.

“I feel inspired by and hopeful for the young girls coming to school against all odds and changing their futures forever. The road is long but full of hope.” – Sonia Shah

Founder of Sonia Shah School late Sonia Shah 1993-2012. Mission to engage, educate and empower underprivileged girls.

 

Dale Copps founder of Bookaworld | Dale Copps

Greg Mortensen a humanitarian and a board member of Sonia Shah Organization

 

 

Celebrating Sonia Shah Organization’s 5th Anniversary

This fall, we are celebrating Sonia Shah Organization’s 5th anniversary! We hope you will join us on September 8th at the Logan Square Auditorium for our very special gala dinner. Performances by artist Aleem (@aleemmusic) and Safina Lavji from the Arthur Murray dance center will entertain and inspire our guests.

Importantly, as we celebrate this milestone, we want to pause and reflect on what we have accomplished as we make progress towards our mission and vision.

Sonia Shah Organization engages, educates and empowers underprivileged girls and women. We envision a world where every girl has a chance to change her life and communities around her through education and training.

In the words of our late founder, Sonia, we are changing the world one girl at a time.

WHAT WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED

Since our founding, we have built a school in Kangra, Pakistan that educates underprivileged children mostly girls and train women in the Vocational Center. Currently, we have 170 students with 110 girls in Sonia Shah School. Accomplishments include:

  • Free uniforms and medical check-ups for all students
  • Solar panels that generate uninterrupted electricity
  • Smart Boards and computers, and soon, Kindles, for the students
  • A water filtration system for the school and the village

We have open the Sonia Shah Scholarship program for women here in the US, offering university scholarships to women who are unable to fund their higher education otherwise. So far we have awarded 4 college scholarship for young women attending community and private 4-year college

Girls at Sonia Shah School

WHAT’S NEXT

As a nonprofit organization with no full-time employees and a lean operation, we are thrilled to have reached this 5th-anniversary milestone. We are entirely run on the support of our donors and hope that people who value justice and women’s rights will come to celebrate at our gala in September with us.

We will continue to work tirelessly to educate girls in Pakistan and here in the US, promoting literacy, professional skills, and gender equality — now and for years to come.

We are thrilled to celebrate the Organization’s progress with you at our Gala this September and hope that you will join us in a night of music, dancing, food , nd revelry as we make progress towards achieving our goals of education and empowering women both in Pakistan and here in the US. Get your tickets HERE.

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and sign up for our email newsletter HERE, to stay up to date with the Organization.

 

5

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.”

8

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!

Iram Shah with President Jimmy Carter
6

A Tribute to President Jimmy Carter’s Legacy of Humanitarianism by Iram Shah

Our president, Iram Shah recently dedicated her time to Habitat for Humanity alongside former president Jimmy Carter! At the start of a recent conference call set to strategize, plan, and dream our growth, she could not help but gushed over her time and his wise words.

She wrote an article to share her experience,

“Watching the President at 92 standing in the sun with temperature over 80 degree Fahrenheit cutting wood for over 8 hours, I could not help but wonder is it his resilient body or his heart that keeps him going. You can not underestimate the power of heart. It wins again and again!”
Iram Shah with President Jimmy Carter

Read the entire article here, originally published on LinkedIn.

5

Ramadan Mubarak! ‘Small acts of kindness on daily basis’

Children, exempted from the obligatory fasting during the month of Ramadan, receive lunch at Sonia Shah Memorial School.

By Karin Ronnow | Sonia Shah Organization | 22 June, 2017

Ramadan Mubarak to all our Muslim friends around the world!

Ramadan is the Islamic holy month, a celebration of the period in 610 A.D. when the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) received the initial revelations of the Quran.

In recognition of this holy occasion, Muslims fast — no food or water — from dawn to dusk for 30 days. “Fasting is seen as a way to cleanse the soul and have empathy for those in the world who are hungry and less fortunate,” according to history.com.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and begins and ends with the sighting of a new crescent moon. This year, it began May 26 and will end this weekend, between June 24 and 26. The end of the holiday is celebrated with Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival and one of Islam’s major holidays.

“Ramadan is about to end, and as Muslims look forward to Eid celebrations, we should also reflect on the blessed month and on our lives,” said Iram Shah, chairwoman of the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO).

“Ramadan is about self-constraint, love, peace, and giving back to humanity. Islam, which means submission, teaches us to live a meaningful life while perusing our interests and passions. It urges us to respect all religions, beliefs and people. It prohibits violence and promotes forgiveness. Ramadan showcases these traits and helps us to practice them for the rest of the year,” she said.

ISLAM IN THE WORLD

Islam is the world’s second largest religion, after Christianity, but the fastest growing, with 1.8 billion followers as of 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

In the United State, there are 3.3 million Muslims, or about 1 percent of the population. The first mosque here was built in the 1920s in North Dakota by Lebanese immigrants, according to history.com. The nation’s oldest surviving mosque was constructed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the 1930s.

Muslims believe Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the final prophet in a line of prophets — including Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus — chosen by God to act as messengers and teach mankind, according to history.com. Born in Mecca in 570 A.D., he  became a merchant who periodically retreated to a cave in Mount Hira, “ruminating on the social ills of the city.”

On such a retreat during the month of Ramadan in 610 A.D., he started receiving revelations from God, or Allah, via the angel Gabriel. The revelations continued for 23 years and were compiled by his followers in the Quran, which formed the basis for Islam.

At the heart of the religion are the Five Pillars of Islam:

Children drawing cold water from the taps at Sonia Shah Memorial School, Kangra, Pakistan.

* Shahada (declaration of faith);

* salat (prayer);

* zakat (charitable giving);

* sawm (fasting);

* and hajj (pilgramage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).

“The founding of Islam by Muhammad came at a time when the newfound wealth of Arabs in Mecca had led them to ignore the plight of the poor,” Karen Armstrong wrote in Fields of Blood. “Instead of hoarding their wealth and ignoring the plight of the poor, Muslims were exhorted to take responsibility for one another and feed the destitute, even when they were hungry themselves. They traded the irascibility of jahiliyyah [pre-Islamic age of ignorance and barbarism] for the traditional Arab virtue of hilm — forbearance, patience, and mercy.

“By caring for the vulnerable, freeing slaves, and performing small acts of kindness on a daily, even hourly basis, they believed that they would gradually acquire a responsible, compassionate spirit and purge themselves of selfishness,” Armstrong wrote.

RAMADAN PRACTICES

Fasting is at the heart of Ramadan’s month-long period of self-restraint and self-reflection. But Muslims are also expected to avoid unkind thoughts and words, say special prayers and make a significant contribution to improving the lives of the poor.

Fasting begins at sunrise each day and concludes at sunset. Pre-pubescent children and adults who are sick, elderly, pregnant, nursing or traveling are exempt.

“Fasting is seen as a way to purify spiritually as well as physically — a time to detach from material pleasures and be closer to God,” the Telegraph (UK) newspaper reported June 4. “The act of fasting is also believed to increase Muslims’ piety, reminding them that others are less fortunate than themselves.”

Throughout the month, Muslims carry on with their lives, going to work and school. Other Ramadan practices include:

     SUHOOR: The meal taken in the morning, before dawn on each day of fasting.

     IFTAR: The big communal meal served at sunset each day to break the day’s fast, the “break-fast.” Tradition calls for breaking the fast with a date and either water or a yogurt drink, followed by the maghrib prayer, then a full-course meal.

     ZAKAT: The obligatory charity to the poor and needy. This is expected of all Muslims throughout the year, but many Muslims choose to give generously during Ramadan.

 

RAMADAN & SSO

Sonia Shah (right) and her mother, Iram Shah.

This year, SSO installed a cooling device on several taps at the Sonia Shah Memorial School water-filtration plant in Kangra, Pakistan. This ensures that all students and villagers have cold, clean drinking water throughout Ramadan and Eid.

“Ramadan has a personal significance for me, as Sonia died on the second day of Eid, two days before leaving for college,” Shah said of her daughter, who started SSO. “She was fasting all month and was very excited to start her college life.

“Sonia wanted all girls to have the same opportunities as she had. Her legacy continues. Now we are helping girls in Pakistan who never before had a chance to go to school, and girls in the U.S. who had little chance to attend college to get education,” Iram said.

In the next few days, the sighting of the new crescent moon will marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid. Most schools and offices close during this period, as many people travel to spend the holiday with friends and relatives.

In the United States, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton hosted the first Eid dinner at the White House in 1996, a tradition that continued throughout the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, however, has announced it will not hold an Eid dinner.

To mark Eid, some friends and family exchange gifts. Many take the opportunity to perform charitable acts. Please consider making a donation to SSO.

“As we end Ramadan, change one girl’s life!” Shah said.

Read more:

  1. History of Ramadan: http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/ramadan
  2. What is Ramadan: http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/islam/articles/what-is-ramadan.aspx
  3. Muslim & Islam in the world: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/05/26/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
  4. Breaking the fast: https://www.thoughtco.com/ramadan-iftar-breakfast-2004620
  5. Understanding Ramadan: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/0/what-is-ramadan-and-when-is-it/
  6. What is Zakat: https://www.islamichelp.org.uk/zakat/

 

2

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

Sonia Shah Memorial School providing healthcare to children in Kangra, Pakistan
1

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.

Enxhi (Angie) Uzeir, 22, studies biology at East-West University in Chicago, and is one of two current SSO scholarship students.

I support SSO for the reasons of enabling me to achieve goals that might otherwise be impossible,” Angie explained. “Through it I became the first person in my family to be able to attend college and follow my dreams.” 

Mehreen Zakeri, 31, immigrated to the United States from Pakistan in February 2017 and now lives in Chicago with her husband. Prior to her move, she worked at the Oil Marketing Company in Karachi, Pakistan. Her decision to volunteer for SSO was sparked by her experience at the organization’s 2017 fundraiser in Chicago.

“During the event, I got to listen to one of Sonia’s letters,” she said. “It touched my heart, and her passion towards girls’ education inspired me to contribute towards this cause. I believe, as I quote John Dewey, an American educational reformer, ‘Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.’ Hence, education is the basic right of each child and specifically, an educated girl equals to an educated generation. So, this revolution is so powerful that being a part of it is an honor in itself.”

When Rory McKee, a fifth-grader in Evanston, Ill., first heard Iram Shah speaking on the radio, she was stunned to learn that there are places in the world where girls can’t go to school.

“The radio person said there was someplace in Pakistan where girls don’t get to go to school because [their families] need help running the house and doing chores, so they choose their daughters to do that,” she said. That made her mad. “Girls should go to school because boys and girls are the same. Neither one is better. They should both go to school.”

Guided by her mom, Rory went to the Internet to learn more about how Iram’s daughter Sonia had started a girls’ school in a rural Pakistani village

“Sonia’s relatives live in Pakistan, and she visited them and was moved by meeting girls there that didn’t go to school,” Rory said. “[Sonia] wanted to do something about it. And I thought, there are a lot of people at my school. I could do something there. I wanted to get more money so more girls could go to school.”

So she did. Then a fourth-grader at Lincoln Elementary School in Evanston, she raised $200 for the Sonia Shah Organization (SSO). She said she wanted to tell these girls “that other people in the world care about them, their education.”

Zuleyma Cordero, 25, is a Sonia Shah Scholarship Program recipient, attending Harper Community College in Palatine, Ill. and on track to graduate in spring 2018 with a double major in accounting and business. She also works full-time and volunteers for SSO.

The first person in her family to go to college, she has said that Sonia’s legacy provides constant motivation, she added.

I think of what a great inspiration Sonia was and still is to this day,” Zuleyma said. “I like to reflect on how she is changing lives of young girls, including myself. And that it all started with the passion she had, and with the idea of making history. She didn’t give up at the sight of any difficulty, she pressed forward to achieve her goal.”

Zuleyma’s volunteer work includes help with fundraising campaigns and events.

Ruby Writer is a Chicago teen who became one of SSO’s first Youth Ambassadors after raising $600 to support SSO. Inspired by the film Girls Rising, she her friends “had the idea to bring the film to my school. We invited parents and friends” and explained how “necessary and life changing [education is], for not only the one girl’s life, but for the entire world,” said Ruby, now a 15-year-old freshman at Walter Payton College Prep. 

In conjunction with showing the film, Ruby launched an online fundraising campaign for girls’ education and, after hearing SSO President Iram Shah interviewed on Chicago public radio, decided to donate the proceeds to SSO.

“Sonia’s story really resonates with me because I feel as if I can compare to her,” said Ruby, who lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. We’re both young, driven, privileged girls, fighting for what I like to think we both feel is a fundamental right: education.”

Since then, “My mom and I have both become really strong supporters of this organization,” she said. In January 2017, Ruby and her mom, the artist Monica Rezman, were SSO’s ambassadors to the Women’s March on Washington, held on Donald Trump’s first day as president.

The mother-daughter duo also put in long hours to help organize SSO’s September 2017 fundraiser in Chicago, at which Ruby served as emcee. And she volunteered to do the audio recordings of Sonia’s college-application essays for the website.

“When I was reading them … I realized that so many people want to change the world and we all want to make an impact in such a positive way. But Sonia was able to articulate her aspirations so well. It made me cry. And since then, there’s no doubt in my mind that Sonia’s still with us here today and that she’s a role model for all of us,” Ruby said.

Shahzmeen Hussain, 22, graduated in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois-Champaign- Urbana, and now lives at home with her family in Skokie, IL.

“I came across Sonia Shah Organization at a dinner gathering over a year ago, where Iram shared the compelling story of Sonia’s sincere vision and goals for the children of Pakistan,” she said. “I come from a family that is dedicated to primary, secondary and higher education, so it was a no-brainer for me to become an ambassador for Sonia’s dream.

“It is true what they say, ‘If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ That change begins here, with us at SSO, and I’m proud to be able to improve the lives of children across the globe,” she said. 

Shayaan Alvi Borok,16, lives in Oak Brook, Ill., and attends Hinsdale Central High School. “My mom is one of the board members, so she told me about the organization and I wanted to get involved,” Shayaan said. “I support Sonia Shah Organization because it is truly trying to make a difference in Pakistan, a place that I have a strong connection to. I am also a woman and undoubtedly believe that all girls deserve a quality education.”

Greg Mortenson is a humanitarian and girls’ education advocate. He is the co-founder of Central Asia Institute (CAI), an international NGO that established hundreds of schools, especially for girls, in remote and often volatile regions of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. He co-authored three New York Times bestsellers about his experiences, Three Cups of TeaStones into Schools and Listen to the Wind.

Mortenson grew up with three sisters on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, where his parents helped start a medical teaching hospital and an international school. The family returned to Minnesota in 1973, where Mortenson finished high school. He then served in the U.S. Army in Germany; studied at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., on a football scholarship; and graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1983 with degrees in liberal studies and nursing. For a decade he worked as a trauma nurse, putting in extra shifts to save money for mountaineering expeditions.

The sudden death of his sister Christa from epilepsy led him to climb Pakistan’s K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, in her memory. His experiences there changed his life, prompting the creation of CAI and his enduring vision to promote girls’ education around the world.

Mortenson left CAI in 2016, but continues to advocate girls’ and women’s empowerment. He says, “You can drop bombs, build roads or put in electricity, but until girls are educated, a society won’t change.”

He has received many accolades for his work, including the Jefferson Award for Public Service and the Sitara-e-Pakistan (Star of Pakistan) medal, and honorary degrees from 16 universities.

He lives in Bozeman, Mont., with his wife Tara Bishop, daughter Amira and son Khyber.

Dr. Sairah Alvi is a scientist, lecturer and philanthropist with a passion for the written word. With a PhD in hematology/oncology and extensive post-doctoral work, she works as a consultant for large pharmaceutical companies and an adjunct faculty member at International Islamic University and Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan and Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan.

Sairah’s first love, however, is Urdu literature. She is director of the Urdu Institute of Chicago, which promotes Urdu language and literature, and an ambassador for Pakistan’s National Book Foundation, organizing events at her home for writers, poets and musicians from Southeast Asia and the United States.

She was educated and has lived and worked in the United States, South Africa, England, and Pakistan. Her husband is an English South African physician and chairman of pathology at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

Sairah earned her master’s degree in global management from London School of Economics, two masters’ of science degrees in immunology and molecular genetics from the University of Cincinnati, and a PhD in hematology/oncology from Rush University in Chicago. She did her post-doctoral work at the University of Cape Town and the South African Institute of Medical Research in Johannesburg.

She has published over 100 original articles in peer-reviewed cancer journals, and continues to lecture extensively at various universities, medical centers and scientific conferences.

Sairah hosts most SSO board meetings at her home and plays a key role in organizing annual fundraisers, SSO-related events in Pakistan, and visits to Sonia Shah Memorial School in Kangra. Her other charitable activities include support for the ARCS Foundation, dedicated to advancing women in science and technology; and HDF and TCF, which build schools and health centers in Pakistan. She is a member of Good Samaritan’s Festival Committee and her family supports numerous arts and cultural organization in Chicago, including the Chicago Art Institute and Goodman Theatre.

She lives in Oakbrook, Ill., with her husband. They have three children: her oldest daughter is a physician; her son studies economics and international relations at University of St Andrews in Scotland; and her youngest daughter is in high school and aspires to be a lawyer. 

Ms. Iram Shah is a humanitarian and global corporate executive with a career across multiple industries and countries. A senior vice president at Schneider Electric, a global leader in energy management and automation, she also runs the Sonia Shah Organization, started by her late daughter, which focuses on educating and empowering underprivileged girls.

Iram’s corporate career of more than two decades spans numerous Fortune 500 companies — including Schneider, Gatorade, Coca Cola, BP, and Zurich Financial — in five countries in industries ranging from oil and gas to financial services and manufacturing. 

She has served on several nonprofit organization boards, including Seeds of Peace, Central Asia Institute, Schneider Foundation and Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity. She is passionate about girls’ education and women’s empowerment and has been thought leader and keynote speaker at national and international women’s forums. 

Iram earned a master’s degree in business administration from University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced General-Management Program. She was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the UK in 2005one of 11 top international Woman Leaders in Chicagoland by Chicago Women magazine in 2017; received the chancellor’s excellence award from Chicago’s East-West University in 2017.

She lives in Deerfield, Ill., with her husband Mahmood, two sons, and her mother.

Gianni and Giavanna Geati are 11-year-old twins in sixth grade at St. James School in Arlington Heights. Gianni plays basketball and soccer, as well as being a percussionist in the school band. And Giavanna, also a musician, plays piano and percussion in the school band. She also enjoys cooking and sewing. 

A year ago, when Gianni Geati was in fifth grade at Saint James School in Arlington Heights, Ill., his teacher assigned him and his classmates to each “write a news story out someone you know who has done a good deed or performed an act of kindness.” Coincidentally, Gianni, then 10 years old, had just heard about Sonia from his sisters — Giuliana, Liliana and Giavanna. They had just attended SSO’s 2016 fundraising event. 

“When [my sister] told me all about it, I was very inspired about all the things Sonia Shah did,” he said. “The next day in religion class I had to write about somebody who inspired me.”

Here’s what he wrote: 

“This girl, Sonia Shah, went to Pakistan and built a school for girls. In the past, only boys were allowed in school. Sonia helped many other girls go and get their education. She was only 17 years old when she raised money and made the plan to build a school. Unfortunately, Sonia died in a car crash. Her mother then founded the Sonia Shah Foundation.”

In an appearance onstage at SSO’s 2017 fundraiser in Chicago, Gianni explained, “I chose to write about Sonia Shah because I have three sisters and I think it’s very important for girls to get education.” 

Mr. Zahir Lavji is director of ZL Advisory LLC, a consulting service to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical-devices industries, primarily focused on commercialization. He also mentors healthcare start-up companies, entrepreneurs, university technology-transfer offices, and medical faculty. Having grown up in Africa and managed businesses globally for more than 30 years, Zahir is keenly aware of the important role education plays in personal and social mobility.

In 1972, Zahir left Uganda as a refugee during the mass exodus and emigrated to Canada where he established his new roots. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in pharmacology from the University of Toronto, and his MBA from the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, in Ontario, Canada.

He spent much of his professional career with Abbott Laboratories, an Illinois-based healthcare-innovation corporation working in more than 150 countries, from which he retired as vice president for international marketing. His career included commercializing billion-dollar pharmaceuticals and glucose-monitoring, medical-nutrition and critical-care devices. As regional director for Abbott in Central and Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, he successfully integrated the Knoll acquisition into single Abbott entities. And as president of Abbot Japan, where he spent eight years, he also managed business alliances with major Japanese pharmaceutical companies.

He devotes considerable time and expertise to mentoring healthcare startups from the Chicago Innovation Mentors group; chairs the Supervisory Board of Temple Therapeutics a development stage Biotechnology startup; is an active investor with Hyde Park Angels; is a Consultant with Breuer Partners & Company, a healthcare consulting organization; serves on the review committee for the University of Chicago’s Innovation Fund at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; and is a panelist for PROPEL-Sikich Investment Banking’s private workshop series.

In addition to pro-bono work in his field, his charitable activities include assisting the Aga Khan Foundation in the Midwest and serving as a standing member of the Alzheimer’s Association Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala.

He lives in Lake Forest, Ill., with his wife Rozmin and daughter Safina.

MENU