Youth Ambassadors

Momina Khan
Nimra Irfan
Angela Uzeir
Ruby Writer
Amina Irfan
Shahzmeen Hussain
Sara Ashar
Julissa Martínez-Rosales
Manal Syed
Sara Bejko

Did you know that 65 million girls around the world are not in schoolA growing cadre of young people just like you are making a difference for those girls.

Young people have an essential role to play in building a better world. Active participation in SSO’s YA program gives them new confidence that their work matters, that they, too, can change the world.

“I’m Ruby, but I’m also Sonia. You’re all you, but you’re also Sonia. And that means that we all have the power to make an impact on this world.” – Ruby Writer

Their contributions influence others. Their compassion inspires. They learn from each other, and we learn from them!

It could be said that Sonia Shah herself was a Youth Ambassador herself, a citizen diplomat who set out to build a girls’ school in her maternal ancestral village of Kangra. Her efforts planted the seed. Her story continues to inspire.

Diverse group of girls and boys ranging from primary school to university students have joined the program.

Sonia Shah Organization’s (SSO) Youth Ambassadors consistently surprise and motivate us with their creative, determined and meaningful efforts to Be the Change.

  • These Youth Ambassadors tell their friends, families, classmates and communities about SSO’s mission to educate and empower women and girls in Kangra and right here in the United States.
  • They raise money for SSO.
  • They educate others.
  • They help us reach a wider audience.
  • They make the world a better place!

Would you like to become a Youth Ambassador for Girls’ Education?

Send us information (including photos and video, if you have them) about your efforts for Sonia Shah Organization, with answers to these questions: Why do you think some girls never get to go to school? Why is education important? Why is girls’ education important? How did you hear about Sonia Shah’s story? What is something you are doing or want to do to help these girls?

We will need your name, age, address and a photo of you
(make sure you or your parents fill out a photo release so we can include you on this page!).

Other things you can do:

  • Be a voice for these girls
  • Help at annual fundraiser
  • Write a letter explaining why girls’ education is important and what you are doing to help and send it to your local newspaper.
  • Donate

Be the change you wish to see in the world!

Momina Khan - President

30 year old law student with a nutrition background. She is the President of young ambassadors division. Her role entails organizing and running meetings, communicating with heads of committees and maintaining professionalism and efficiency in the organization. She is also a resource to all of the SSO young ambassadors and key decision makers.

Nimra Irfan - Vice President / Marketing Manager

Nimra is a passionate marketer with an analytical mindset who also enjoys creativity and design. As a VP of SSO, she works closely with the president and leadership team and acts as a resource to the team. She is also the Marketing Manager, where she is in charge of creating social media posts, website management, SEO and printed collateral. She believes in equality and education, and her passion for helping younger girls drives her to be an active member of SSO. Nimra holds a Masters degree in Marketing from West Virginia University and a Bachelors in Communication and Graphic Design from DePaul University. She also enjoys traveling and learning about various cultures and has been to 8 countries so far.

Ruby Writer - SSO Young Ambassador

Ruby is a16 years old high school junior who is extremely determined and willing to fight for global women’s education. She is a strong advocate for all women and someone who connects strongly to Sonia’s key vision for SSO.

Ruby Writer - SSO Young Ambassador

Ruby is a 16 years old high school junior who is extremely determined and willing to fight for global women’s education. She is a strong advocate for all women and someone who connects strongly to Sonia’s key vision for SSO.

Amina Irfan - IT Committee Head

Amina, also known as Red, is a big data & technology enthusiast. She is a 22 year old IT Project Manager at Abbott, Chicago. She graduated with a Bachelors in Information Decisions Sciences & a minor in Management Information Systems from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her role as the IT Analytics Head includes collecting and managing SSO databases, creating visual graphics to understand the audience better, and works closely with the marketing team to provide necessary audience insights. Red believes in breaking negative stereotypes, is a strong feminist and stands up for womens’ right across the globe. Her hobbies include traveling, reading, drinking loads of coffee and is a foodie. She is also a mom to two cats – Simba and Smores.

Shahzmeen Hussain - Writer/Member of Marketing Committee

Shahzmeen is a dental student at Midwestern University in Downers Grove, IL and graduated from the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign with a bachelor’s in Journalism.

“With my interests in storytelling and non-profit work, I came across Sonia Shah Organization at a dinner in 2016. Iram shared the compelling story of Sonia’s sincere vision and goals for the women 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’s 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 a catalyst in empowering women across the globe.”

Sara Ashar - Member of the IT Committee

Sarah is a 21 year old neuroscience major. She assists with IT Analytics along with supporting various duties from the other committees. Sara is passionate about equality and breaking the cycle of poverty, and believes that education is the key to defeating these locked barriers.

Julissa Martínez-Rosales - Secretary / - SSO USA Scholarship Recipient

Julissa is 19 year old SSO Young Ambassador, who is also a recipient of the SSO US based college scholarship program. Her role as a secretary includes documenting meetings and managing meeting calendars. She is also part of the IT Analytics committee where she analyzes databases and info-graphics of SSO audience.

Manal Syed - SSO Young Ambassador

Manal is 17 years old and is a senior in high school. She is passionate about service and human equality, belives in minimizing racial and gender discrimination and feels strongly connected to helping orgnaizations like SSO.

Sara Bejko - SSO Young Ambassador

Sara is a 23 year old Occupational Therapist and Nursing Student. She is an event data organizer, and supports with various duties within the organization and its committees.
Passionate and eager to help causes like SSO, so every child receives at least 12 years of free, quality education. She believes that each time empowered women stand up for themselves, they stand up and empower all women.

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.”

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.” 

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.

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.