A few years ago, I wrote a story about how my family immigrated to the United States, from Pakistan. I wanted to record this aspect of our personal history, so our kids would have some sense of their heritage.
I interviewed my parents, looked through old family photos, drafted our immigrant experience, read it to my children and to my parents, and tucked it away. Until a friend suggested that I send it to a widely read magazine, the Washingtonian. They published the piece. What happened afterwards changed my life.
I started receiving emails, dozens and dozens, from people of all faiths and backgrounds echoing the same sentiment, encapsulated in this note: “I was struck with how similar you and your faith and values are to my family. I am a Jewish woman who grew up in Ohio but my grandparents and their families were from all over Europe. Your struggles are identical to ours in terms of our wanting to pass on traditions, worrying about perceptions from the public, and the trials and tribulations of raising our children and grandchildren and passing on our core values. I realize that people from all over the world have more similarities than differences and your writing brings that to light.”
I realized then the power of a personal story. We each have a story. It may seem ordinary to us, but it is our ordinariness that connects us to one another, that helps us cultivate a relationship and develop a sense of familiarity. Our stories help us go beyond generalizations and stereotypes so we can simply get to know each other as people.
It underscores something I once read, “It’s impossible to hate someone, whose story you know.”
Over the past ten years, I’ve written personal essays, reflections, op-eds, profiles, and a blog called ‘30days30deeds.com’ — all with the intention of helping us understand each other better. You’ll find many of these articles on this website, including the original “Pakistan on the Potomac”, linked below along with two other pieces that reveal aspects of my story.
I’ve been asked to share these stories at schools, conferences, interfaith gatherings, and international events, including at the United Nations. Recently, I was invited by the State Department to speak on a special panel on ‘Muslim Women Storytellers’ and asked to be part of a ‘council of storytellers’ to help change the negative narrative about Islam and Muslims.
In addition to my writing, I am passionate about promoting volunteerism and service, and see this as another way to listen to and share stories that allow us to connect with our community. It’s been a privilege to help lead a group called KindWorks (formerly MoverMoms) since its inception about eight years ago. KindWorks is a nonprofit organization with the mission of making it easier for busy families to take part in community service. I serve as their CIO – Chief Inspiration Officer.
I attended Columbia College, and have a Master’s Degree from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. After a short stint at The Advisory Board Company in Washington D.C., I worked as Senior Press and Information Officer for the Commission on Global Governance in Geneva, Switzerland. The Commission was comprised of 28 world leaders tasked with coming up with ideas on how to tackle the world’s most pressing problems, published in a book called “Our Global Neighborhood”. It turned out to be an experience of a lifetime — from developing an information and marketing strategy to disseminate the Commission’s ideas, to organizing press events and public symposia around the world, to meeting and working with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, including President Nelson Mandela and Wangari Maathai, who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Later, I worked at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) in Stockholm, Sweden, as Head of Communications and Senior Editor, and formulated the organization’s communications strategy and publications guidelines and edited several books.
My deep passion is to connect people and ideas, to highlight what is positive and inspiring, and to foster respect and kindness. My life philosophy is simple, summed up in two words: LiveKind.