An Impressive Fundraiser in Silicon Valley
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Glimpses of the HDF Fundraiser
The Human Development Foundation of North America held its 5th Annual Silicon Valley Benefit on Saturday, March 17, 2008 at the Wyndham Hotel in San Jose to raise funds for the development of poor and disadvantaged areas in Pakistan . Close to 500 people attended the gala event which featured a diverse group of speakers, including Lord Nazir Ahmad, the first Pakistani- British Member of The House of Lords, author Ethan Casey who wrote “Alive & Well in Pakistan” and Professor John Mock from the South Asia Studies Department at the University of California Santa Cruz. An addition to this list was Tariq Aziz of Pakistan Television’s “Neelam Ghar” fame. The entertainment lineup for this event included comedians Azhar Usman and Samson Koletkar and last but not least the singing talents of Hanif Noormohammad with Maneshwar Judge on tabla.
The proceedings of the evening started off with dinner. Master of Ceremonies Athar Siddiqee took credit for the addition of pakoras to the menu while greeting everyone and asked Imam Rafiq to start the formalities with the recitation from the Qur’an.
Imam Rafiq presented a vocally beautiful Surah before paving the way for our main host of the evening, Javed Khan to address the audience.
Javed Khan, who is one of the pillars of the HDF in Silicon Valley bid words of welcome to everyone. He also briefly introduced the specially invited guests who had come to lend their support to this worthy cause. “Why HDF?” asked Javed. He described this gathering as an opportunity to give back to Pakistan in a formal way. “This is the country that enabled us to come to the USA,” he added. He said that he strongly believed that it was our moral obligation to give something back to our country of origin. “This is really what this event is all about,” he said. He also explained that the day’s theme was “No Donor Left Behind.”
Javed took the opportunity to recognize two members of the community for their dedication to serve. Plaques of recognition were presented to Asim Sadiq who was there to accept, and the second one posthumously to the late Abdul Sattar Rydhan.
Twins Adeeb and Azeem Khan who are now an expected part of this annual gathering next presented a song “Hum Aik Hain” (We are one). They were followed by an interesting presentation by author Ethan Casey whose book “Alive and Well in Pakistan” attracted quite a bit of interest in the lobby outside. Ethan spoke of the quest to change the image of Pakistan in the US. “The best defense is a good offense,” he said. He described Pakistanis as talented people, but added that their own TV channels were not enough to get the message across to mainstream America . He said that he visited Pakistan and had a better impression of its people. He added that local Pakistanis (here in America) had a great deal of work to do and that they should both work/travel to Pakistan and contribute to America. “Please don’t make all your children become doctors,” he said, adding that more emphasis was needed on media (one can only concur, since the Pakistani-American media like its newspapers or its contributors could certainly use more encouragement).
Shahid Khan, another pillar of the HDF in Silicon Valley, next presented an “HDF Update” or status report to the gathering. He charted out the valuable work that the organization has done in various parts of Pakistan including Mardan, Shamsabad, Karachi ’s Katchi Abadis (slums), Lahore , Zhob (Baluchistan ) and the 2005 earthquake impacted areas near Azad Kashmir. He encouraged donors and others to visit these communities and see for themselves how HDF is making a positive difference in the life of many poor people.
With a fundraising target of $200,000 and the credit for the addition of “gulab jamans” as a second desert choice going to Athar Siddiqee’s mother (with a special thanks from this reporter who consumed his share) the program moved on to an interesting speech by Professor John Mock.
Professor John Mock from the University of California Santa Cruz proceeded to present his views in saqeel (chaste) Urdu to the surprise of many of us. He said that he visits Pakistan often and explained his association with Urdu (his pronunciation of Urdu words was exact). He also proceeded to comment on the “Maujoodah Soorat-e-Haal” (Current situation) in Pakistan. He said that it was sad that the exchange of scholars between the two countries was not taking place like in the past and requested that the program should restart. What one can add here is that the relationship between the two countries certainly needs more people like Professor Mock.
A moving DVD/Video presentation on the HDF effort in Pakistan officially kicked off the fundraising effort. “Donate to light a candle, to light many other candles,” was the message conveyed. With the singing of Allama Iqbal’s “Lab Pey Aati Hey Dua” (A prayer comes to my lips…) in the background, the efforts of children to get educated in HDF schools inspired many in the audience.
Javed Khan with Lord Nazir Ahmed
Famous Pakistan television personality Tariq Aziz next showed us once again how effective an orator he really is. He stressed the need to teach our Pakistani-American kids about Pakistan and especially the Urdu language or what he called “Zaban Ka Rishta.” He said that Pakistan did not come easily to us and he shared the scene of his family walking across the Wagah border (from India) at Partition. He said that the Pakistani people were hard working (and good looking!). He said that unfortunately no great leader except one (ZAB) had emerged since the founder but that hope remains to be fulfilled as we look towards the future.
Dr. Rajabally who is also now a permanent part of this annual fundraising activity continued to rally the cause of collecting donations as Lord Nazir Ahmed next took to the stage to add his words to advance the HDF cause (and a great deal more).
Lord Nazir Ahmed, the first Pakistani-British member of the House of Lords delivered an impressive keynote address in English, Urdu and Punjabi (and Mirpuri?) to the delight of many in the audience. It should come as no surprise that he won his seat via election because he is a strong communicator. He also possesses a good sense of humor as he shared with the audience how some in his family viewed his being elected to the British House of Lords as important as becoming a local “Tehsildar”. His address was “politically entertaining” as well, since he traversed many issues and touched on many personalities from Presidents Bush and President Musharraf to the mercurial Sheikh Rashid. He spoke of the current situation in Pakistan, about the shortage of flour, electricity and water. “We do have a moral responsibility. We do need to help,” he said. But he added that we also need to ask what is happening within the country during the process. He said that 55 million people in the country were struggling to provide one square meal a day for themselves and their families. He said that the elite of the country need to feel how these poor people live. He stressed the need to change the way people think in Pakistan, especially to create or strengthen a volunteer mentality. He also encouraged Pakistani-Americans to fully take part in American politics.
A little over $140,000 was collected during the evening, an impressive figure for a worthy cause. One interesting note was that Lord Nazir Ahmed’s tie and lunch with him at the House of Lords in London were auctioned repeatedly and raised close to $3000.
The entertainment segment of the evening started with comedian Samson Koletkar followed by Azhar Usman of the “Allah Made Me Funny” trio. And the night came to a close with beautiful songs and music by Hanif Noormohammed.
In conclusion, one has to commend the organizers of this HDF effort in Silicon Valley for carrying on with their annual quest to make a difference in the lives of poor people in Pakistan . As the late economist Dr. Mehboob ul Haq once defined Human Development, “… In the last analysis it is the child who did not die, a disaster that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced and a human spirit that was not crushed,” we must all continue to learn from such wisdom and help our fellow human beings. The bottom line is, let us try to make a difference.