HDF Holds 7th Annual Silicon Valley Benefit Dinner-Fundraiser
By Ras H. Siddiqui
The Human Development Foundation (HDF) of Silicon Valley held its Annual Benefit Dinner-Fundraiser at the Wyndham Hotel in San Jose, CA on Saturday, May 22nd.
Close to 500 people from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, and from as far away as Sacramento, attended this event, once again proving that strong networking and a good cause get the right kind of attention and our people respond by showing their support even during these lean economic times.
Emcee Athar Siddiqee welcomed everyone with some good news. Dinner was served first. The official program started a bit later as food and socializing (the high points of almost every Pakistani gathering) kept everyone busy. Athar returned to invite Imam Tahir Anwar for a Qur’anic recitation to bless the event. Imam Tahir has been one of the most popular young Imams in the area, and is an effective communicator; he shares his spiritual wisdom in his own unique style while not holding back on Islamic substance.
Javed Khan, one of the pillars of the HDF in the Silicon Valley next addressed the gathering. In his short speech he welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending. He had a special word of thanks for his guest speakers Dr. Adil Najam, Todd Shea and Dr. Naveed Sherwani. Javed’s appreciation for the event steering committee, young volunteers and several Bay Area organizations was also noted. “Why do we do this event every year?” Javed asked. “In my opinion this event is about giving back to Pakistan. It is Pakistan that enabled us to come to this great country and become successful,” he said. He added that HDF was an organization with infrastructure both in the US and Pakistan.
He said that good education is the foundation of any great society and added that Pakistan’s founder, the Quaid-e-Azam placed great emphasis on it. While recognizing that the task in Pakistan was enormous, he added that tonight we could at least make a huge difference in the lives of a few people and asked people to donate generously. Javed Khan ended his speech with “Long live Pakistan, Inshallah.”
Imam Tahir Anwar and Dr. Rajabally were recognized and given plaques in appreciation of their long years of support for the HDF locally. Twins Azeem and Adeeb Khan who are tall young men now sang the Qaumi Tarana or Pakistan’s national anthem assisted by many in the audience. Next Athar introduced Todd Shea and with that introduction, the spirit of the event changed from looking into the past with a nostalgic eye to seeing a possible future of hope for Pakistan through the eyes of an American.
Todd Shea is a remarkable man whose fame has started to spread slowly but surely to the delight of Pakistanis (Please visit: http://www.shinehumanity.org/ for more information). He went to our country of origin just after the devastating Kashmir earthquake in the year 2005 for just a few weeks to help and has never really left since then. Todd’s humanitarian efforts started right after 9/11 and have since that time taken him towards helping victims of the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Pakistan earthquake, and most recently, the earthquake in Haiti. And after meeting him and hearing him speak, one can get some idea as to why he has been successful and his Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) has made an impact wherever it has been active.
Todd started by praising the efforts of the HDF and said that given an opportunity, Pakistan and Pakistanis can reach the top. He added that after going to Pakistan, he actually re-discovered America. He praised the efforts of Pakistani-Americans and their willingness to help when tragedy strikes anywhere, giving the example of the recent effort in Haiti. He pointed towards the Kerry-Lugar Bill and the positive impact that NGO’s like the HDF are making in Pakistan and that money should be spent where it makes sense, for making a change in the lives of ordinary people. He said that the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan had suffered a great deal due to their past strategic relationship with the United States. He said that if we (Americans) could rebuild our adversaries ( Japan, Germany) after WW2 then why couldn’t we help to rebuild our friends ( Afghanistan, Pakistan) today? He spoke of his visits to Swat as an American and praised the “zabardast” (tremendous) people of Pakistan. He spoke of the “khoobsoorat and behtareen” children of Pakistan and the world beyond Faisal Shahzad which the media here does not see, like the hundreds of Pakistani doctors who have aided relief efforts in Haiti. He added that 2% of Pakistan gets 100% of the media attention in this country. He said that he was willing to talk on Pakistan’s behalf if the media invites him and that Pakistanis themselves should put their best foot forward in this country through their food “Khana bahot accha hai” and their music (Todd should know because he is also a professional musician). We hope to hear about his efforts towards a future US-Pakistan cooperative music album soon.
Chairman of Ranch Energy Systems, Dr. Naveed Sherwani spoke next. His talk can best be described as expressed idealism with a strong dose of reality. Readers are urged to visit the Ranch Energy Systems website at: http://ranch-energy.com/index.html for the wonderful work that is being done to bring renewable energy to South Asia by companies such as this one which wishes to make an impact on the lives of ordinary people which incidentally is also a shared goal with organizations like HDF. Dr. Sherwani highlighted the HDF annual budget of around $2.0 million and then delved into the reasons why such an organization should be supported. He said that we owe something to our country of origin. He gave the example of how much it cost to educate an engineer from his alma mater, NED Engineering College in Karachi (now university) back when he was attending. The amount was approximately 100,000 rupees. Then he revealed that he only paid 135 rupees a month (his late mother God bless her soul kept all the receipts) in fees to attend that college, quite a bargain for an education that enabled him to be the success story he is today. He widened the example to other colleges that have produced doctors and engineers from Pakistan sitting in the audience, and their revenue generation potential today. He also asked why we should care. He said because NED had changed his life and that one small act of someone who helped him in the past had made a huge difference in his life. That is exactly what HDF is trying to do too, to make a huge difference in the lives of a few people.
Shahid Khan, one of the other pillars of the local HDF next presented an annual update of the organization, including information on logistics and program execution. He said that the organization was involved in targeting millennium goals set by the UN. “There are no free handouts,” he said. He added that the HDF approach is a holistic one which included people empowerment and infrastructure improvement. He said that Pakistanis are not living in the dark ages as some may think. He invited everyone to visit any HDF project in Pakistan and see for themselves the kind of work that this organization has been doing. Shahid Khan’s talk was followed by a short video on HDF in Pakistan and the fundraising segment led by Dr. Rajabally. But the high point of the evening had to be the singing of “Dil Dil Pakistan” by Todd Shea himself (in Urdu) to really lift up our spirits.
The evening keynote was delivered by Dr. Adil Najam, an alumnus of the UET, Lahore and MIT who has been awarded one of Pakistan’s highest civilian awards and been a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which shared the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2007 with Al Gore. Dr. Najam’s task recently has not been an easy one. He has been busy reminding Pakistanis not to sell themselves short because they are a generous and industrious people (especially Pakistani-Americans) who need to understand their shortcomings. Pakistanis, according to Dr. Najam are individually strong and collectively weak people. “Why can’t we turn our individual excellence into collective success?” he asked. He said that the community was better at finding faults around it but needs to look within. He reminded everyone of three individuals from Pakistan, Dr. Mahbub ul Haq, Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan and Abdul Sattar Edhi, icons whose work needs to be emulated. He mentioned the high regard that Indian Economist Amartya Sen and Bangladeshi Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus, both Nobel Prize recipients had for the first two Pakistanis on this list. (Writer’s note: two of the three have been accused of blasphemy by religious extremists in Pakistan, and Edhi Sahib should have already received his Nobel).
“Development is really about dignity,” said Dr. Najam. He added that one has to take pride in the work one does. He added that 47 million people live on less than one dollar a day in Pakistan, one in ten Pakistanis have no access to safe water (that you can see through), and so the task is enormous. He said that people in Pakistan do not follow the Human Development indicators but the true barometer of their lives can come from the answer to the simple question, “Kiya Haal Hai Tumhara?” (How are you doing?). Dr. Najam added that Human Development was about health, wealth and knowledge. People do not tell you the GDP but we do know that Pakistan has a long way to go in its international rankings and HDI scores where Pakistan does better in health and wealth but has really poor ratings in the knowledge (education) area. Dr. Najam also stressed the need to recognize the achievements of Pakistan’s women in all fields (including putting up with Pakistani men who work several hours less per day than the women there). He closed his speech by highlighting the contributions of Pakistani-Americans, both in this country and in Pakistan.
The event ended with a Q and A session and a Geet and Ghazal performance by Qader Espahari. To conclude here, one has to commend the HDF for continuing its noble work, helping people in Pakistan in desperate poverty to improve their lives by giving them the education and necessary skills. This event was also attended by American writer Ethan Casey (please see another report next week). And in spite of this fine collective effort, one has to highlight the communication skills of Todd Shea here once again.
Pakistan’s image has to improve in America and America’s image has to improve in Pakistan. It is time for people like Todd, Ethan Casey and now famous writer Greg Mortenson (a previous HDF guest) and our community to step forward.