Shirin and Wafiahmed Chunara
Shirin Chunara is a member of the SONAM classes of 1991 (Diploma) and 1996 (BScN). Shirin is a Family Nurse Practitioner with a busy and renowned healthcare institution affiliated with a teaching hospital in the heart of Houston, Texas. She holds a master's degree from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and has been certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Shirin is now earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
Wafiahmed Chunara is a Financial Services Professional. He earned his Chartered Accountant (Intermediate) certification from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan and an Associate in Cost and Management Accounting (ACMA, Part IV) from the Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of Pakistan.
Shirin and Wafi have been tireless volunteers with the Ismaili communities of Pakistan and the United States.
Where did you grow up?
Wafi: I was born into a low-income family in Karachi and struggled financially. I always saw my grandfather serving our community tirelessly; people used to call him “Bhagat,” a kind of saint. Despite great financial hardships, he was always helping others, always engaged in service. He believed that that was his most important responsibility, and that God would look after his family as he was looking after God’s creation. Growing up with that experience taught me the significance of service, integrity, and hard work. I knew from a very young age that only education would change our circumstances — and that I needed to continue my grandfather’s volunteer service. So, I continued my studies while working part time and staying involved in the community as a scout master. After doing a few local jobs and clearing my ACMA part IV, I had an opportunity to work with a prestigious multi-national pharmaceutical company: it was like a dream come true.
Shirin: I was born in Karachi into an extended and close-knit family. I grew up with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and 28 or so cousins. So, lots of play and fun time — and NO responsibilities or worries!
I am the youngest of six siblings. My older sister is also a SONAM alumna, from Class of 1986. It was not until my sister enrolled at AKU that I thought of becoming a nurse. We often used to visit my sister on campus; each time I went there was awe inspiring: the ambience of SONAM — the “Red Fort” as some students called it — was striking. The clean, wide-open corridors, the colossal auditorium, the cafeteria with delicious free food, and above all the hostel life were wonderful.
Also, I saw my sister transforming, saw her becoming a confident, empowered, and responsible young lady. I started to admire her, and soon she became my role model. It was not very common in those days for young girls to live in hostels and be that confident and independent. I also saw other girls from my area who were my sister’s classmates, and they were all so different now. I used to think, “Wow, such a huge transformation in these girls! But how?” And it was clear that the transformation was due not only to the exceptional education they were receiving, but also to how SONAM prepared nurses to be the future leaders in healthcare, how it empowered them and equipped them to surmount challenges. That was the moment when I thought I could be like them.
My sister was later privileged to receive her nursing diploma from His Highness: my parents were so proud of that! That inspired me even more. Initially, my father was opposed to my becoming a nurse: he wanted me to be a doctor. But after listening to His Highness’s speeches on the criticality of nursing, and after seeing the way in which AKU raised the status of nurses in the country, my father at last relented.
How did you like student life?
I loved it. It was all so magical at the hostel; I loved having my own room and bed, loved my new-found independence. Above all, I was so proud to be an AKU nursing student. But one had to study really hard and be competitive to stay in the programme.
I was a middling student initially: I did okay. But I soon learnt that mediocrity has no place at SONAM. I vividly remember many of my first- and second-year faculty members. One was Ms. Deborah Thomas, an American. She was a little different from the other faculty members: her teaching style was inspiring, but not overly strict; we adored her, as she was fair skinned and had an American accent. I still remember a few things from her clinical rotations.
Some of the faculty members had the reputation of being quite strict — for instance, Ms. Zeenat Khanu Kanji, our pediatric clinical rotation teacher, and Ms. Fatima Mawji, our cardiology clinical rotation teacher. They were tough taskmasters, but they taught us lessons of a lifetime — such as “be a hard worker,” “do not take no for an answer,” and “believe in yourself.” Today, I realize those experiences shaped me as a person, taught me to find opportunities in challenges.
What did you do on graduating?
On earning my diploma in 1991, I joined the surgical unit: you could enroll in the BScN programme only after working for two years. I saw many seasoned nurses getting the BScN degree to attain leadership positions at AKUH; I thought I should do so, too, and so applied — and was accepted — to the programme.
My BScN journey was quite interesting and challenging, but full of learning. Every day was a new day. By now we were learning about community health nursing and visiting Karachi’s Kachi Abadis, its poorer communities. This was a totally different experience: we were learning a new perspective on healthcare, learning about community nursing, where you adapt to the situation. That, for me, was an eye-opening experience.
During that time, five of my colleagues and I did a cardiovascular assessment on some family members and learnt how health disparities and Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) affect the health of individuals. Since that time, I have felt that fortunate people — people who are blessed with access to wealth and education — have a social and moral responsibility to share with the less fortunate, to make this world better than it was when we entered!
What did you do once you received your BScN?
I got engaged to Wafi! I also returned to the surgical unit as a Clinical Nurse Teacher (CNT). I was responsible for two enormous units — making unit policies on skills, training staff on new skills, and on-boarding new RNs and nursing assistants. I loved my teaching role. A few months into that role, Wafi and I married. Later, I decided to join SONAM; I taught year-one nursing students Advance Health Nursing. My favorite part was taking students to clinical areas, as I had had clinical exposure. I had many friends and mentors at SONAM who helped me in my initial journey, and I will never forget any of them. In fact, I want to return to academia once I receive my DNP degree.
I remained at SONAM for two-and-a-half years — and in the year 2000 received the Best Clinical Teacher Award!
Did anything about American culture surprise you?
I think not: SONAM’s culture was quite Western. There are many good things about Western culture, such as gender equality, punctuality, and others valuing your time. Also, in Western culture you are really valued for your hard work.
I have had many opportunities here to learn and grow. Had I not come here, I might not have earned my master’s degree — and might not now be earning my DNP.
You have created a legacy gift: why have you done so?
Wafi and I think it is crucial to give back! Donors made my life as a student, my education, possible; everything I had at AKU — the classes, clinics, books, hostel, food, transportation — was free. My AKU education improved my life dramatically and has enabled me to help others. As His Highness has said (I paraphrase), “You should think about not only what you have achieved, but also what you have helped others to achieve.”
I believe in improving the quality of life of others — and education is by far the best means I know to do that. I particularly value women’s education and empowerment. By contributing, I feel fortunate to be a tiny part of His Highness’s splendid initiative.
We fully trust AKU with our gift. We want future students to know that they can inspire others by supporting, sharing, and giving back! We believe our legacy gift will transform many lives — just as our lives were transformed.
Wafi: We feel strongly that people should share whatever resources they have, be it wealth, education, time, or talent. We want to enable others to enjoy the good fortune we have enjoyed. I believe that by sharing, our resources multiply — and our happiness will be beyond what words can ever express.
A note on endowed funds
An endowed fund is invested in AKU’s general endowment, which is the investment portfolio of the University. The endowment — and so each of the endowed funds within it — pays out approximately five percent of its value each year, supporting everything the University does — teaching, research, financial aid, and on and on. Quite simply, the payout from the endowment is the lifeblood of AKU: the University could not function without it. The endowment — and the endowed funds within it — will exist as long as AKU exists.
An endowed fund, then, is like a “miniature endowment:” it, too, exists forever, and it, too, pays out five percent or so of its value each year. A donor can name an endowed fund after himself or herself, a family member, or anyone else he or she might wish to honour and memorialise. What is more, an endowed fund grows over time, with the endowment as a whole, thus increasing the good it does.