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DIL San Francisco's Caravan of Hope
Ras H. Siddiqui
(A Pakistani-American writer and journalist based in California) 

May 25 2002 -  Developments In Literacy or DIL for short is a group that continues to live up to its name (DIL in our language also means “Heart”) as it attempts to do something for the education of underprivileged children in Pakistan and strives to generate hope via literacy in several communities in our country of origin.  And on Friday May 17, 2002 the San Francisco Chapter of DIL held a fundraising dinner and entertainment evening at the Chandni Restaurant in Newark, California gathering together over 500 of the concerned, the high profile, and the affluent: People who want to make a difference in the lives of others, especially for a cause that we can all agree upon. That being; The children of the poor in Pakistan need an education and hope in their lives and that the problem of illiteracy which is widespread in that country is especially acute amongst girl children (needing even more attention).
  It was an absolute joy to walk into the Chandni (“Moonlight”) Restaurant and to see the décor that the ladies of the DIL Organization had so painstakingly put together leaving out very little in terms of detail, taste and color, right from the reception desk to the well arranged table settings and the fabric covered posts/pillars. The stage set in the Pakistani-Arabian Nights motif, blended well with just about everything else (one just knew from the onset that this was going to be quite a gathering).
  So right off the bat, Sara Abbasi, Asma Sheikh, Lubna Sheikh, Saira Siddiqi and Ghazala Khan that currently represent the DIL San Francisco Board deserve kudos for their vigorous attention to the finer points of putting together this event. And everyone that helped them and not named has to be included here.
 The evening started off with a two hour buffet dinner session during which the  “Who’s Who” of the Bay Area Pakistani community slowly made their way in till the “Sold Out” sign was finally placed outside to indicate that the maximum number of tickets had been sold. During this time much socializing went on as we all finally settled down after a good meal to witness the beginning of the formal the program, starting with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an by Tehreem Fatani.
 Emcee for the evening Malika Junaid wasted no time with the introductions to the entertainment (featuring Asif Ali Khan & Qawwals) plus “what this evening is all about” and called on DIL’s San Francisco Chapter President Sara Abbasi on to the stage. Sara said, “ It is my privilege to welcome you to the second fundraiser for DIL San Francisco. I would like to thank each and every one of you for your generosity and support to the worthy cause pursued by DIL.”  Sara articulated well the aims and objectives of DIL, which she said was started by Pakistani-Americans in 1997 in Los Angeles and that today, DIL’s vision and ambition (to make a difference) is shared by additional Chapters in San Francisco, New York, Washington, Chicago, Houston and Singapore. “Pakistan’s literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world”, she said. Giving the abysmal percentages of literacy applicable, especially in rural areas of Pakistan she said, “in less than five years DIL has already changed the lives of over 8000 children”.  Giving more details she added, “this is only the beginning”.  She went on to say that “simply put, DIL is opening up new possibilities in the least developed areas of Pakistan.” 
  To let us see how DIL is operating in Pakistan a very moving video/film presentation was shown. And what really hit the viewer most was the determination in the kids, especially girls from very poor areas to want an education, to be able to read and write. DIL is currently operating in Orangi (outside Karachi), Khairpur (Sindh), Dir (NWFP) and Mianwali (Punjab). There is also the hope that a new project in Baluchistan will be in full operation soon. Currently 200 schools are being operated by DIL with over 8000 children enrolled. What DIL is trying to do is change despair to hope and to bring a confident smile to the faces of young children and wipe away their tears that the embarrassment of illiteracy brings to their lives.         
  After the visual presentation, Sara Abbasi continued, “for every $200 you pledge you will pay for the education of five children for a year. For a thousand dollars you can sponsor a school for an entire year”, she said.  Sara also went on to introduce mementos that each woman in attendance at this fundraiser received. Handmade fans made by rural artisans from the province of Baluchistan (locally known as Pakhis, Pankhis or Pankhas depending on the language you choose to use) these beautiful souvenirs prepared by the Baluchistan Rural Support Program (BRSP) in collaboration with the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) added a very nice touch to this fundraiser (my wife already has one is beautiful fan already adorning our living room). Sara also took the opportunity to introduce and thank each member of the DIL San Francisco Board and also extended her thanks to Mr. Jalil Khan of United Airlines for making the difficult journey of the musical performers possible (will elaborate later).  DIL also wishes to thank Rana Nadeem Ahmed for his continued support, the Chandni Restaurant for taking such good care of their guests and Ms. Raana Faiz who dedicated one full Radio Program to promote this DIL event and its entertainers.
  Now to the entertainment segment and the fundraising activity. Qawwali (a South Asian form of Gospel) has its roots in Sufi Islam. It is a musical-vocal vehicle often used to praise God and the Prophet (peace be upon him) via the repetition of words of poetry sung in their praise known as “Humd” or “Naat”.  The most famous singer of Qawwali to date at least in the western world and in Pakistan was the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. At this event we were lucky to have his protégé Asif Ali Khan and his Qawwals (supporting group). And this group was simply amazing. Starting off with “Allah Hu” they journeyed through our memories of the late Nusrat Sahib with many of the Qawwalis that he had made famous (and more). All I can say here is that if you like Qawwali, you must listen to Asif Ali Khan.
   Qawwali is all about spreading the love of God and his Prophet through music. One just has to sit down and listen to these wonderful singers and musicians to experience this joy. It is a shame that the hatred of a few responsible for the terror attacks in New York and Washington on 9/11 last year has impacted the travel plans of this group of musicians to the point that these 11 Pakistanis on their mission of love, traveling from Washington to Los Angeles were kicked off three separate flights in two days due to “security concerns”.  For this the perpetrators of 9/11 are to blame, not the people of the Middle East, Pakistan etc
   This DIL fundraiser ended up raising $84,000 to promote education for some of the poor in Pakistan. It was overall an amazing evening of positive work spearheaded by a group of determined women who were willing to put in an effort to try and make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate in our country of origin. For that, our thanks are in order to them and the Boards of all the DIL Organizations around this country that have recently held fundraising events. Please visit the DIL website http://www.4dil.org/ for information about this group and contact them if you wish to participate in this noble cause.
  In conclusion one has to say what a pleasure it is to cover such well organized and executed events. Let us hope that this caravan of hope called DIL finds much wider support amongst the Pakistani Community worldwide. It sure has made quite an impact in our area. And it is no coincidence that DIL has chosen the entertainment vehicle of Qawwali to attract people to its fundraisers. Is it because both this unique art form and the pursuit of education by DIL require a similar mindset? Both require much affection and are a labor of love. And above all they require a lot of heart. Like the continuing story of this group called DIL.

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