By Asian Media USA ©
Chicago, IL: Nearly 200 people assembled in to Sonia Shah Organization’s “Bringing the Worlds Together,” a multicultural fundraising event on Sept. 17 at the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago. Notable guests – including author and humanitarian Greg Mortenson and the consul generals of Pakistan and Macedonia – flowed onto the outdoor terrace on the beautiful late-summer evening, enjoyed Mediterranean cuisine, wandered the open galleries and were treated to hours of traditional Sufi qawwali music performed by the Fanna-Fi-Allah ensemble.
Sonia Shah Organization (SSO) board members Zahir Lavji and Dr. Saira Alvi began the program. Saira recited poetry and Zahir set the stage for updates on SSO’s progress and plans.
“At the tender age of 17,” Sonia was tenacious about providing “basic education to girls in the world who are denied this fundamental human right,” Zahir said. Although Sonia died suddenly in a car accident in 2012, her dream lives on through her mom, Iram Shah, extended family, and a dedicated team of volunteers who run the Chicago-based nonprofit organization.
“Sonia was a gift who keeps giving and tonight I want to share what we have achieved with your generosity and support,” Iram said. “We have come a long way. We have now 75 children in the school. Our filtration plant continues to provide clean drinking water to the village. “Schools are being bombed and destroyed” across Pakistan and Islamic militants have twice attacked school the Kangra village, he said. “But at the Sonia Shah School in the same village is fully functional, due to excellent security, with round-the-clock guards and new closed-circuit TV cameras.
Additionally, all three major initiatives announced in 2015 are complete or well under way: Solar panels will be installed on the Sonia Shah Memorial School by the end of this year, “which will provide uninterrupted electricity and security at night.” A vocational center for women, “where we are teaching women skills that can give them economic independence,” opened in June and “to our surprise 40 women registered the first day. Today we have a wait list of 100 women.” SSO’s first two scholarship recipient students, Aimon Wadood and Zuleyma Codero, started college in Chicago this fall. “These girls are not giving up on their dreams. They are strong and we are all going to help them have a new life,” Iram said.
Zuleyma said the scholarship has made what she thought were impossible dreams a reality. “It is just a whole new experience for me. It gives me hope that I can ensure financial status for my family.” Mortenson in his speech remarked how “I first met Sonia at the Northshore Country Day School, where she was a student” and he was talking about his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sonia “came up to me and told me how she wanted to help change the world.” This remarkable young woman spoke five languages, was the youngest intern on President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and took a gap year between high school and college to spend time in Kangra in Pakistan, her mother’s ancestral village. “This is a remote area, plagued by poverty and violence,” said Mortenson, an SSO board member and author of Three Cups of Tea. Sonia Shah’s determined works on behalf of girls’ education make her a part of what humanitarian Greg Mortenson Saturday called “the greatest revolution of our time.”
When Sonia’s life was cut short, her family and friends decided the Sonia Shah Memorial School and other programs would be her legacy. “Schools are being abandoned” across Pakistan, “but at the Sonia Shah School, the lights are on.” SSO’s continued success is due to people like 13-year-old Ruby Writer, who along with her friends brought the film “Girls Rising” to her Chicago school. “We invited parents and friends and explained how hard it is” to promote girls’ education in these remote areas. “We raised $600.”
When she heard Iram interviewed on WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, Ruby knew SSO would be the perfect beneficiary of the funds, she said. All money raised at the event helps SSO to continue its life-changing work on behalf of “young girls in Pakistan who otherwise would never have gone to school, young adult women who had given up on higher education, and mature women learning skills to be economically independent,” Iram said.
“But the journey is not done, we have many mountains to climb together,” she said. “Many [students] come to school without a proper breakfast and appear chronically malnourished. Some of these kids don’t have shoes. We want to provide school lunches, uniforms and medical check-ups and expand the Sonia Shah Scholarship program.” It is a journey of hope and promise, she said. “Please join us.”