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A Heart of Gold: DIL San Francisco Gala 2008

The San Francisco chapter of DIL — Developments In Literacy — held its annual fundraising gala Nov. 8 to support educational projects focusing on female literacy in poor and remote areas of Pakistan. Our correspondent Ras H. Siddiqui was there.

(Above): Fashion show at DIL Fundraiser

The San Francisco chapter of DIL — Developments In Literacy — held its annual fundraising gala Nov. 8 to support educational projects focusing on female literacy in the very poor or remote areas of Pakistan. The venue this year was the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto where once again both style and substance converged, continuing a tradition that makes this the premiere annual event of its kind to attend in the area.

So right off the bat (maybe even the cricket one which was auctioned), the emcees for the evening Zakia Rahman and Zia Yusuf deserve kudos for the fine job that they did. The presentation or techno-keynote by Sun Microsystems chairman and co-founder Scott McNealy certainly added substance and a very high profile to the evening. And like most South-Asian desi programs, dinner and socializing laid the real foundations here.

The entire American-Pakistani-Indian community in attendance contributed to the style here, but the icing on the cake was fashion from Lahore, Pakistan via the now famous design house of Karma.

The formal evening started off on a somber note as a moment of silence was announced in memory of four girls, students of a DIL school in Balochistan who lost their lives during the recent earthquake there. DIL is currently working with Relief International in Los Angeles to get much needed aid to the affected areas.

Developments In Literacy president Sara Abbasi introduced keynote speaker Scott McNealy, a very busy man both in the world of business and at home. His talk focused on an attempt to fix education on a global basis online, to eliminate the digital divide through a Web site called Curriki, the very first comprehensive Internet site offering premium open source (free) curricula. The initial focus of Curriki is on K-12 curricula in math, science, technology, reading, language arts and foreign languages. Scott talked about speeding up the learning process through common access and sharing. “I think that I could have done Harvard in 18 weeks,” (if he had used Curriki type tools of learning) he said in jest. He spoke of spreading the gift of education to remote villages via the wireless communication revolution (which has already hit Pakistan and South Asia). Scott also mentioned that he was looking for funding for this effort. The community deeply appreciated his presence and support for DIL.

(Above): (Left): Sun Microsystems cofounder Scott McNealy delivering keynote speech. (Right): DIL president Sara Abbasi.

Zakia Rahman mentioned 11 years of DIL efforts and how it has helped to empower many young women. Zia Yusuf presented some statistics highlighting the success of DIL schools and elaborated on its approach, especially in its efforts at training local teachers. As of last year DIL was running 147 schools with 618 teachers and 14,479 students in Pakistan. There were a total of 123 functional libraries and even 49 computer labs for the students. Ninety-four percent of all DIL donations go to directly benefit children and schools. Currently the goal is that all DIL schools should have a library by next year and computer labs by 2011 and that 20,000 students will attend DIL schools within two years.

Sara Abbasi came back on the stage and introduced the new DIL San Francisco Board.
Paru Desai Yusuf, Ambreen Jamal, Shuja Keen, Nayela Keen, Amena Patel, Zakia Rahman, Bonnie Sheikh and Zia Yusuf will accompany Sara as board members for the 2008 to 2009 period. Sara also revisited the recent Balochistan earthquake and the damage to a DIL school in Ziarat there. She said that that the news from Pakistan is often alarming, with political and fiscal problems along with shortages of flour and electricity. She mentioned that DIL schools had also come under threat from extremists, but some people are defying them to pursue their educational goals. “Despite threats, our schools are doing better than ever,” said Sara. “Despite the political turmoil in Pakistan, DIL’s work continues,” she added.

A short and moving video presentation of young girls at DIL schools, from the mountains to the flatlands of Pakistan next opened up the fundraising segment of the program. DIL usually keeps the fundraising low key. The silent auction and sponsors make a big impact long before the fundraiser is announced.

(Above): (Left): Maheen Kardar Ali (l), one of the co founders of Lahore-based fashion house “Karma,’ and DIL president Sara Abbasi. (Right): Board members of the San Francisco chapter of DIL.

The final segment of the program was a colorful fashion show by Karma. Maheen Kardar Ali, one of the two founders of Karma, was there to present clothes for women covering a wide spectrum of potential buyers. Maheen also happens to be the grand-niece of the captain of Pakistan’s first ever Test cricket team, Abdul Hafeez Kardar.

Karma’s shalwar-qameez suits, beautiful saris and elaborate outfits that would make any bride (along with her parents happy) were displayed by local models. Their fine effort was assisted by Zakia Rahman, this being the main reason why she could not make it to the group photograph of DIL’s new board (included in this report).

This fundraiser, although not large in size, focused on quality. To use the words of event chairperson Paru Yusuf: “I ask you all to think about the parents of those children and perhaps for a moment place yourself in their shoes.” A very special thanks to Paru, an Indian married to a Pakistani (Zia) for a job well done. And to DIL, for carrying the light of education and giving hope to so many children. All one can add is that, as long as their good work continues, nobody should ignore such a generous heart (dil).

Ras Hafiz Siddiqui is a South Asian American writer who lives in Sacramento, Calif.


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