DIL San Francisco Gala 2011: “A Night in Pakistan”
Report and photos by Ras H. Siddiqui
The San Francisco Chapter of Developments in Literacy (DIL) held its Annual Gala Fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza Cabana Hotel in Palo Alto, California on Saturday, November 12, 2011. The theme for the evening was “A Night in Pakistan” and it certainly turned out to be quite a colorful one with the attendance of the “Who’s who” of the Pakistani-American community and their friends from throughout the San Francisco Bay area and outlying cities including Sacramento.
All the work that this Chapter and its friends do every year is for a great cause. The DIL Organization educates over 17000 underprivileged children in Pakistan (67% of them are girls), some in slums and remote regions of the country, where kids are now finally benefiting from the computer age thanks to the generosity of DIL’s donors.
After a social hour of sorts inclusive of an indoor bazaar, the 300 plus guests entered the main ballroom where they were greeted by fine pieces of Pakistani handicrafts at each table which were later silently auctioned as a part of the fundraising. Master of Ceremonies, Munis Faruqui, Assistant Professor at the University of California in Berkele, welcomed everyone on behalf of the DIL Board and all the volunteers who made this 10th Annual Gala event possible. He said that he was both moved and honored to stand before the audience. He added that he could relate to kindness of strangers as he himself struggled to attend college in the United States and he would not be have been there that night without the support of “people just like you”.
A short “DIL’s Making a Difference” awards ceremony started off with Shuja Keen recognizing the organization’s current board members and volunteers along with the original founders of DIL San Francisco three of whom were present and appeared on stage. As a founder and current board member Mrs. Sara Abbasi gave a short presentation of the fine work that this organization has been doing in Pakistan since its inception. What could be described as a journey from “Takhti’s to Computers” an update of the current work DIL has been doing was highlighted by Sara who had just recently returned from Pakistan. Sharing grim statistics about the state of overall education in Pakistan, she described education in the country as being in a state of emergency. High rates of illiteracy still plague the country. One out of ten children not attending primary school lives in Pakistan. She said that the question is not whether we can afford to educate every child but it is whether we can afford not to! She added that education reduces crime, poverty and extremism. This is where DIL comes in, to do its small part where the need is enormous. “DIL has come a long way, thanks to your support,” she said.
Presenting visuals she took the audience through DIL’s own journey over the years. From hand-held chalkboards to libraries, computer labs, remote DIL schools have indeed come a long way. Internet access is also now available in some of DIL schools. Additionally, teacher training and its importance were stressed, described by Sara as one of the keys to DIL’s success. She added that with the use of technology, DIL intends to take its schools to the next level in the next two years. A short and moving video was also shown during which young girls at DIL schools shared their dreams of future careers. “Your support is making it possible for these young children to realize their future and I thank you for that,” said Sara Abbasi.
Annie Field, Director of Curriculum for DIL, next shared her thoughts on common problems and challenges faced in Pakistan including outdated methods of teaching. She detailed some of the impact that DIL’s work is having both in the classrooms and in the local communities there. She added that keeping in mind local norms DIL has developed its own program. “I was in Pakistan last month and was absolutely blown away by the impact that the Internet is having on our staff and our students,” she said. The use of Google Talk and Skype was especially popular there. “We are truly leveling the playing field for our students,” she said.
Mrs. Aasiah Gilani and her two sons next appeared on stage. Representing both the teacher and student levels of a DIL school in Pakistan, their family’s quick adjustment to life and education in the United States provides proof of the quality education provided there. Speaking in Urdu, the language she once taught at a DIL’s Chak Kamdar School, Aasiah said that her three children were also educated there. She thanked DIL for the
i nvitation to address this event and added that she was grateful to the organization for helping to bring advancement to her village, especially since there was no school there before DIL set one up. She pointed out that besides the school itself the quality of education provided was of great benefit to her family due to which her children were currently doing very well at school here in America. The Gilanis were joined on stage by Umair Khan whose questions to them, especially the two boys and their answers generated quite a few chuckles. Umair, a diehard cricket fan, was almost speechless when one of the kids said that his favorite sport was soccer!
The fundraising segment of the evening also commenced at this point, followed by a fine dinner catered by Shezan Restaurant. A tour of the Pakistan vignettes in the adjacent room where tea and dessert were served can only be described as wonderful. Handicrafts and village life from each Pakistani province were depicted here and not only the setup and artwork but the children and young people manning the displays all deserve a very big hand for a job well done. The tour of the vignettes slowly closed but the Dil Bazaar in the reception area and the outdoor Hookah Lounge where author Ethan Casey was busy sharing his thoughts and his book “Overtaken by Events” continued on.
Few South-Asian events are complete without entertainment and in that segment did not disappoint either as headliner Jeffrey Iqbal presented a bouquet of songs for the audience to enjoy. From the now classic works of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to current Bollywood hits, American born Jeffrey (http://www.jeffreyiqbal.com/) was discovered at the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2008 USA which aired on Zee TV USA, and at the final challenge in India during the year 2009. Not only is he a good vocalist but Jeffrey is an intense stage performer who is slowly developing quite a following within the community in this country.
In closing it is useful to point out that DIL (www.dil.org) is doing some great work where the need is much bigger than one organization can take on. Thankfully there are more organizations like TCF and HDF (amongst many others) there too who are active in a country where education is one of the best tools that can be used in the fight against extremism. And in this fight Developments in Literacy is there to do its part, and its success has been due to the fact that its heart (Dil) remains in its mission. Congratulations to the Board of DIL San Francisco and their many volunteers for a beautiful “A Night in Pakistan” effort in Palo Alto.