Prince Zahra graced with her presence the recent AKF (UK) Ball at London's Grosvenor House. Water for Life was the theme of the charity function, which attracted more than 900. Guests included representatives of government organizations and numerous donors who contributed to AKF projects in the developing world, most notably to major water management schemes in western India.

In her address, Princess Zahra, whose work and areas of special interest relate to the improvement of conditions for rural women, noted that in many parts of the world, the lack of clean water is a life-threatening problem; the search for water places great strain upon communities and families and, in particular, on women. She went on to describe how the partnerships forged between AKF and its beneficiaries, and between professionals and volunteers, enables local communities to build competence and confidence, resulting in rapid improvements in health.

Discussing AKF's role within the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), Princess Zahra explained the Network's approach. AKDN's wide experience in developing world had, she observed, recently been applied to the new countries of Central Asia, where the Network is implementing a broad range of programs.

"The Network has a long history of working with women to face the challenges of economic and cultural domination," Princess Zahra noted, recalling Hazrat Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah's pioneering institutional role: "Early this century, my great-grandfather, Aga Khan III, established maternity centres and schools for girls in many areas of India." She mentioned various examples of more contemporary Network achievements in the same direction: the predominance of female students in AKU's Faculty of Health Sciences, women's management of water resources in western Kenya, and savings of 10 million rupees by 800 women's organisations in northern Pakistan. "Investing in women," Princess Zahra concluded, "yields high returns, both for themselves and for the generations to come."

After graduating from Harvard University with an Honours Degree in Development Studies in 1994, Princess Zahra assumed her present assignment at Mawlana Hazar Imam's Secretariat. Since then, she has visited a wide range of Network projects in some of the neediest areas in which it operates. She has learned first-hand about the diverse conditions in which rural populations live, from the island of Zanzibar to the arid deserts of Gujarat and the remotest villages high in Karakorum mountains.

Applauding AKF's endeavors to improve the condition of less fortunate populations, Sir Rhodes Boyson, MP and the chief guest at the function, expressed the hope that those attending would continue to support the Foundation's efforts to diminish poverty in Asia and Africa. Prime Minister John Major as well as the leaders of the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat parties sent messages of support to AKF (UK) on the occasion. AKF (UK) was, in 1994, the recipient of a Sterling Pounds 10.5 million grant, the largest ever made by the European Commission to a single non-governmental organization.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, in a message conveyed by Princess Zahra, said: "Through the voice of my daughter, and at the end of her speech, I want to associate myself with the gratitude and respect she expressed for all those who have contributed to the mission of the Aga Khan Foundation." Hazar Imam commended individuals and institutions, including the Overseas Development Administration, for the generosity and commitment they had shown towards disadvantaged populations in the developing world.

The evening's event permitted AKF (UK) to recognize many of its donors and volunteers. A colorful and lively cultural entertainment programme featuring music and dance highlighted the importance of water for rural populations. As with Partnership Walks held last July throughout Europe, the proceeds raised will go directly to AKF projects; none of these funds raised is used for administrative purposes.

AKF has, through its support for rural development programs in India, facilitated, among other projects, the building of lift irrigation schemes and check dams benefiting some 7,000 families and the planting of more than 21 million trees. In northern Pakistan, East Africa, and Tajikistan, to offer but three more examples, rural populations are benefiting widely from AKF-funded projects in primary health care, school improvement, and agrarian reform.

Established in 1967, and having some branches and affiliates in 13 countries, AKF, part of AKDN, is a non-denominational development agency that seeks imaginative and sustainable solutions to specific problems of the developing world. The Network's institutions have mandates ranging from architecture, education and health, to rural development and the promotion of private sector enterprise.

Source: Canadian Ismaili (December 1995)

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