Notes from the Field

The Legacy of Shirin & Pandju Merali: Reducing Poverty One Girl at a Time

December 12, 2012

When I first met Pandju Merali at his home in Seal Beach, California, in 2010, he told me a story about his life, which is recorded in his memoir, From Africa 2 America. Mr. Merali talked about what it was like growing up as a child of Indian descent in the Congo in the early 1900s. When he turned six, his father and mother tried to enroll him into one of the two schools in Kalemie. But because he was neither white nor black, he was not allowed to attend, and thus had no formal education. Later, when he started his business career he hired women in the Congo to cut wood.  The women had not had the chance to gain an education, and he recognized that they had few options to improve their own and their family’s lives. These two experiences – himself being denied access to education and observing how few opportunities women had due to lack of education – became a driving force behind his philanthropy, which he dedicated  to giving girls from low-income families in developing countries the chance to get an education and open up a path to a brighter future.

Mr. Merali became a very successful businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, and founded the Shirin Pandju Merali Foundation in honor of his late wife, Shirin, to provide scholarships to young women in the developing world. Since 2010, The Asia Foundation has partnered with the Shirin Pandju Merali Foundation to provide young women from low-income backgrounds with scholarships to pursue university degrees in hard and social sciences and technology – fields where women are severely underrepresented. Since the program began, it has grown to now support hundreds of young women in Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

With sincere gratitude, The Asia Foundation remembers Pandju Merali, whose legacy will live on in the young women whose lives are being transformed by his generosity, with positive repercussions for their children and families for generations to come.  In this slideshow, we share some of the stories of incredible young women who, thanks to scholarships from the Shirin Pandju Merali Foundation, are attending leading universities across Asia, and studying to become the next generation’s scientists, engineers, innovators, teachers, and more.

Carol Yost is the director of The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Programs in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cyost@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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