Congratulations to my sister Azra!
From the event invitation:
We would like to extend to you a warm invitation to Developments in Literacy’s 2016 Gala. The event will be held on Friday, October 28th, 2016 at Cipriani on 42nd in New York, honoring our Chief Guest, Dr. Azra Raza. We are honored that Dr. Raza has chosen to support DIL’s mission in educating and empowering underprivileged
Developments in Literacy (DIL) is a section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was launched in 1998. DIL has educated more than 23,000 students at 124 schools situated in some of the most underserved regions of Pakistan. DIL provides high quality teacher training; innovative, low cost teaching resources and maintains strong relationships with school communities. DIL has been awarded a prestigious 4-star rating for 6 years in a row by Charity Navigator. DIL’s work was recently highlighted in USAID’s Frontline Magazine, calling the Mobile Learning Project a “game changer” in educating teachers in inaccessible, remote areas of the country through videos delivered on their mobile phones.
Previous honorees include Christiane Amanpour, Ted Turner, Nicholas Kristof, Mira Nair, Nandita Das, Maleeha Lodhi and Shahzia Sikander. Below is Azra's acceptance speech.
by Azra Raza
Thank you Shaila, thank you DIL. I am deeply, deeply honored.
When my daughter Sheherzad was 5, she came home after the first week of kindergarten and announced to us, “I am just wasting my time. I can't read. I can't write. And they won't let me talk.” Well, we told her, this pretty much summarizes the state of most girls all over the world. They can't read, they can't write and they are not allowed to speak.
I am a scientist, but we called my mother a Rocket Scientist. Her life epitomized the prevailing ethos and traditions of a sharifzadi being raised in the Aligarh of 1930s where high culture was defined by an attitude of extreme gentleness…particularly, in the men, overt hyper-masculinity was tantamount to hyper-vulgarity. Sadly, it was also a time when older women in the family had to smuggle a female tutor to enter the zanan-khana secretly to teach the young girls how to read and write. Basically, my very gentle and civilized grandfather's attitude was why should the girls be taught to read and write? So they can shake hands with the English men?
After the death of the family patriarch, as the British tightened their hold over the natives, my mother's family suddenly found themselves bereft of their possessions and with no practical skills to survive. For my mother, this traumatic experience underscored the importance of education as the only means of individual empowerment and thus ignited an intense desire in her to educate not only her own children, especially the girls, but to fight hard for the education of all the children in her community.
I remember one evening last year when I was telling some friends about my mother and how she taught everyone around her to read and write. So much so that our driver who was from the North West Frontier Provinces not only became literate, started reading the Urdu newspapers religiously but then became so obsessed with the written word that he ended up writing his autobiography. When I told this story, one of my unnamed and very famous writer friends responded, “Azra, what else would a driver write but an AUTO-biography? And now I have the name of his next book: BUS!!” [Editor's note: “bus” means “enough” in Urdu, and “dil” means “heart”.]