Human Development Foundation Silicon Valley Benefit Dinner
ByRas H. Siddiqui
The Human Development Foundation (HDF) held its 11 th Annual Silicon Valley Gala or benefit dinner at the Double Tree Hilton Hotel in San Jose, California on Sunday, May 18, 2014. It was a packed house as usual because HDF successfully draws a wide spectrum of people who believe in its cause which is social uplift in Pakistan. What drew added attention this time around was the interesting choice of the main guest, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Mr Iftikhar Chaudhry and the entertainment headlined by the very talented Bushra Ansari. But one has to believe that when the cause is genuine and the organizers make an effort, Pakistani-Americans and their friends, especially from the area’s Muslim community as a whole, respond positively!
The evening started off with a social hour and dinner. The formalities began with words of welcome by event emcee Athar Siddiqee who invited young Azeem Khan for the recitation from the Holy Qur'an. Twins Azeem and Adeeb Khan have been at HDF events from a very young age but it now appears that education has caused them to be separated here this year.
Emcee Athar who has been conducting this event since 2004 upon request thought that it was going to be a temporary arrangement. “I am running out of jokes,” he said. “I need new material.” But he went back to one of his old retread’s which had to do with the importance of having achar (pickles) as a part of the dinner menu. He then proceeded to invite Javed Khan to the stage for his welcoming speech.
Javed Khan, as one of the long-time pillars of the HDF in Silicon Valley, has proved his dedication to the cause of social uplift in Pakistan. He thanked everyone for their presence. He said that the HDF has raised approximately 1.3 million dollars locally in the past decade to help the poor in Pakistan. He had several words of praise for former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and thanked him for being here and for upholding the law in Pakistan during his tenure. Also thanked were former Attorney General of Pakistan Munir Malik who was very much present, Bushra Ansari, and last but not least the husband and wife team of Moazzam Chaudry and Aifra Ahmed for their efforts. “This event is about giving back to Pakistan,” he said. “It is Pakistan that enabled us to come here.” He went on to say that what we can do is to make a difference in the lives of a small number of people there, but we know that the need is far greater. He added that the motto today was “No Donor Left Behind!” Khan also recognized Moazzam Chaudry for his efforts on behalf of HDF. A moving video of HDF activity in Pakistan was shown as a handful of community kids appeared on stage to aid in sending out the HDF message.
Moazzam Chaudry next explained in detail what the HDF has been doing in Pakistan with an update. Aided with a slide show he said that the HDF has been able to touch the lives of over 800,000 people in Pakistan and over 300 villages have been adopted there for special attention. He explained the HDF Holistic Model with Social Mobilization, Economic Development, Education & Literacy, Primary Healthcare and Sustainable Environment being the main focus areas. He spoke of micro loans which over 95% of the people return, water sanitization, the education of over 32,000 students and explained what our dollar donations can do for some very poor people. He also asked everyone to be a part of the HDF and join in the effort.
More encouragement for donations was provided by HDF Youth Ambassadors for change (all the kids were impressive) in presentations which included “Shiza’s World,” a moving and inspiring video of a girl going to school. And one included a video aided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Next up was possibly the most moving part of the evening - a presentation by Dr Aifra Ahmed. Hers was a post-personal visit narrative on HDF projects in Pakistan. But her observations went far beyond the realm of the projects themselves as her talent for writing Urdu poetry explained her sentiments best. In her poem “Woh us ki Aakh key Jugnu” (The Fireflies in his eyes) she encapsulated her feelings and gave everyone a flicker of hope for people in Pakistan who carry on and want to succeed. This was possibly the best original Urdu poetry that we have ever heard at an HDF gathering. And that set the stage for the fundraising segment of the evening, one which continued throughout the other segments and included an auction of a painting of Malala Yousafzai by an HDF volunteer. Other HDF stories were shared on stage by Ammara, Fihr, Reshma, Shamir and Zareena during the fundraising which took a break for Maghrib prayers.
In the last segment before entertainment, retired Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Munir Malik and Moazzam Chaudry engaged in a chat on stage. Many people had some reservations about the necessity of this segment in an HDF event but two things were worthy of note: 1) The former Chief Justice did play a positive role by refusing to resign under pressure from then President Musharraf (who remains popular with many overseas Pakistanis) which set a correct precedent that civil society has such rights under the law in Pakistan, and 2) The Chief Guest did not say or engage in any political activity here and restricted his brief talk on public education and how it can be promoted in Pakistan. He shared with us his humble origins in Quetta and how he went to a school where students sat on the floor, had no heating (Quetta has very cold winters) and he wanted to see an improvement in the facilities provided to kids there today. Any politics that was discussed was the domain of Munir Malik and not former C.J. Iftikhar Chaudhry who appeared to be a man of few words.
The entertainment segment first provided comic relief through young Faraz Ellahie who has taken his stand-up comedy to the stage regionally and is getting better and better with his performances. His humor is Muslim-South Asian and in English, and it was great to see all generations present in the audience laughing.
Headlining the entertainment was none other than Bushra Ansari, all the way from Pakistan and she is amazing at just about anything that she does. She is a great comedian, host, and singer, actress, writer, and producer and can recite Urdu poetry with ease. She has been in entertainment in Pakistan for over four decades (anyone remember her in a kids show on PTV?). She also happens to be the daughter of the late Ahmad Bashir, a writer, journalist, filmmaker and a columnist par excellence, one who inspired many others from Pakistan during his life including this scribe. She introduced local Pakistan Idol winner Ausaf Masood (who sang a Junaid Jamshed song) on stage here. Bushra presented numerous interesting sets from her bouquet of talents at this event to bring the HDF benefit to a memorable closing. Over $170,000 was raised during this fundraising effort.