When we got engaged, the question of what we wanted from our wedding opened up a new way to start a life together, says Sameera Gokal, former Communications Associate with Aga Khan Foundation in Washington D.C. Here is her story on how they turned their wedding into an opportunity for giving:
When my fiancé and I changed our wedding plans, we weren’t exactly sure how people would respond. However, celebrating the event with our shared gift rather than a big party turned out to be the best decision we could have made!
Kashif and I met last year in March 2015 through a mutual friend, whose cousin had invited me to a birthday dinner. I was taking a French class and had an exam that evening, and I wasn’t sure whether I could go to the dinner. At the last minute I decided to attend. The mutual friend introduced us and the rest is history! Within a few days of talking, we both knew this was it: we were made for each other.
We’re both Ismaili Muslims so we had a lot of shared background but a few differences as well. Kashif was born and raised in Houston; I was born in Pakistan and grew up in Atlanta.
In late July Kashif surprised me for my birthday by flying to Washington, DC where I was working for the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). He proposed while we were viewing the beautiful DC skyline. And of course, I said yes! We celebrated with our families the following month. By September we were making wedding plans.
At first we planned to have a destination wedding. We got pretty far along when we asked ourselves, “Is this truly our fairy-tale wedding?” Did we really want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an elaborate wedding? Or would we feel better contributing to the less fortunate?
Syrian refugees fleeing the violence in their country were very much in the news. We realized it would be much more meaningful for us to make a gift of our wedding. We decided to do it in two ways: Our own gift would come from simplifying our wedding plans: we would give the money we saved by holding a simpler wedding to a worthy cause that is dear to our hearts. We wanted one of our first acts as husband and wife to be an expression of our passion for helping others, and we decided to sponsor Syrian refugee children. Our hope is that the gift of education will enable them to sustain their own and their families’ livelihoods in the future. We’re talking with SOS Children’s Villages and AKF to see how that donation will work best.
For the second part, we will direct all monetary gifts given in our honor to the Aga Khan Foundation. I’ve been involved with AKF since I was a teenager, first as a volunteer and later as a staff member. I knew I could trust completely that the funds would be used effectively.
By the time we decided to change our plans, the wedding was right around the corner. But we managed to plan an entire wedding in just three weeks! We knew our families would be supportive of our decision. Still, in the back of my mind I wondered how to present our choice. We told our parents and my siblings first. Everyone was super happy and gave us their blessings. They only wanted to be sure that this type of wedding would make us happy. We appreciated their support and hoped that others would feel the same way.
So I immediately sent an e-vite to our family and close friends, explaining our plans to make the celebration of our wedding into a gift to those who are less fortunate. In our tradition, weddings typically last four days, but we condensed ours to two days. We combined the Mehndi and Pithi on January 9th, and we held the main ceremony, Nikah, on January 10th.
Everyone was very understanding and supportive! From then until now, many people have asked us, “How did you do this?” I think a lot of people see how the cultural trend, encouraged by TV shows, magazines and online wedding sites, has gone a little far in extravagance. They also want a way to give back as they share the joy of the occasion. It just takes one couple to do something different. It has meant a lot to Kashif and me to offer another way. Other couples have already told us that they want to do something similar, and we hope that, together, we are starting a new trend.
Even more than what it may mean for others, the gift means the world to us. Back when we made this decision, we had long talks about how our wedding would make us feel through the rest of our lives. What really is our fairy-tale wedding? Giving back in this way feels so much more meaningful for us now. And it will mean a lot to us in the future.
It means starting our life together with that shared passion.
If you’re interested in giving with your event in this way, please email [email protected].