DIL San Francisco Gala Commemorates Ten-Year Anniversary
By Paru Desai Yusuf

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to fall in love all over again with DIL” and with that introduction, Master of Ceremonies, Umair Khan welcomed over 150 guests to the San Francisco Developments in Literacy’s Gala on September 3rd , an evening which included speeches, a silent auction, dinner and entertainment by world renowned Mohammad Zamman Zaki Taji Qawals.
When a group of expatriates gathered in Los Angeles in February 1997 to find a way to give something back to Pakistan, they followed the advice of the country’s foremost social thinkers: focus on education. Thus Developments in Literacy (DIL) was founded and its mission articulated: provide quality education to disadvantaged children, especially girls, by establishing and operating schools in the under-developed regions of Pakistan. DIL’s vision is that no child in Pakistan, no matter how poor or underprivileged, should be denied access to quality education.
DIL’s first school started with 40 students in the Pakistani village of Mianwali. Today, 10 years later, DIL has over 150 schools with 13,000 students throughout the country. Fittingly, DIL founder and CEO Fiza Shah was the evening’s keynote speaker.
She reminded guests why DIL’s work continues to carry special significance: literacy rates in Pakistan average 49% nationwide and in remote rural areas can be as low as 0.5% for women; Pakistan is ranked second in the world according to a UNESCO report for having the most out-of-school children (estimated at 6.5 million) and it is one of the few countries in the world where illiteracy is actually on the rise.
President of the San Francisco chapter, Sara Abbasi, recounted for guests how students in the first few DIL schools used makeshift classrooms. They sat on floor mats and used hand-held chalk boards called takhtees. “Today, with your generous support, DIL students have dedicated classrooms with desks and chairs… many of them use computers. Ten years ago, who would even have imagined that, in remote Pakistani villages, students would become skilled in using computers?”
Why the specific focus on girls? Simply because the education of girls is often neglected, particularly in rural and impoverished regions. Girls are often seen as a burden on their parents – another mouth to feed, clothe, house and raise only to be sent off to a husband’s house when they actually become old enough to be a
contributing family member. This self-perpetuating cycle is one that DIL aims to break.
Ms. Shah said that this is where DIL’s work has made a tremendous difference. Because the girls are educated “parents are no longer seeing their daughters as a burden … but as future women capable of standing on their own two feet and even supporting their families.” She has also observed that the marriage age for girls has gone up in the villages where DIL schools operate compared to the pre-DIL days when girls as young as ten years old were married off to equally illiterate boys.
More exciting, she said, is the fact that these young girls are daring to dream of a different life for themselves, a life that is not mired in a cycle of poverty and ignorance. Village girls now can see themselves as doctors, teachers, lawyers, and pilots and, with DIL behind them, they know that their dreams can materialize. Last year’s first batch of DIL school graduates -- 26 girls from a school in Khaipur, Sindh – placed extremely well in the recently announced Sindh matriculation Board Exam results. Of the 26 participants, 22 received first division and four received high second division. Ms. Shah said, “This is a major achievement, considering that not too long ago it was hard to find a teacher in the villages of Khairpur who had completed 10 years of education; often we had to lower the bar.” The girls, with support from DIL, are now applying to college.
Except in Baluchistan, current DIL schools only go up to the 8th grade and plans are underway to add high schools in some communities. Increasing enrollment, improving facilities in DIL by adding libraries and computer labs, teaching practical skills to 6-8 grade students to enable them to become contributing members of their communities, creating its own curriculum and focusing on teacher training are also among the strategic plan DIL has outlined for the next few years.
DIL is a 501C non-profit, volunteer staffed organization that has chapters in New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Houston, San Diego; Toronto and Ottawa, Canada, Singapore and the United Kingdom. These chapters focus on fundraising activities with the monies raised spent on teachers’ salaries, teachers’ training and education, field and supervisory staff, accountants, monitoring services, construction, repair and maintenance of schools, furniture, school supplies, computers, textbooks and other school supplies.
In urging guests to reach into their hearts and wallets to make a generous donation, Mr. Khan reminded them that, through DIL, educating a child for one year costs $50; supporting a classroom or school for one year is $1250; and sponsoring a computer lab is $1500 – dollar amounts that may mean giving up a nice lunch or a couple of spa treatments in the US but that go a long way in Pakistan. Guests responded to the heartfelt speeches of Mr. Khan, Ms. Shah and Ms. Abbasi by helping to raise nearly ninety thousand dollars.
More information on DIL, and how you can help, can be found at www.dil.org


 


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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