Sonia Shah school in Pak educating girls

shcoolchildren-webCHICAGO: A capacity crowd of over175 members and guests attended a multicultural fundraising event held by Sonia Shah Organization – “Bringing the Worlds Together,” – on Saturday September 17 at the Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago.

Notable guests – including author and humanitarian Greg Mortenson and the Consul Generals of Pakistan and Macedonia – 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.

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 the school the Kangra village, she 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 to completion-

• Solar panels to be installed on the Sonia Shah Memorial School by the end of this year providing uninterrupted electricity and security all the time

• A vocational center teaching women skills that can give them economic independence last June and 40 women registered the first day. It has a wait list of 100 women.”

• SSO’s first two scholarship recipient students, Aimon Wadood and Zuleyma Codero, started college in Chicago this fall..

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 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.”

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. “It is a journey of hope and promise, she said. “Please join us.”

Asian Media USA