For Valentine’s Day we share the story of Shehzaan and Zainab Chunara, long-time supporters of the Aga Khan Foundation in the Atlanta area who got married in December 2015. Here’s their story of how they met and how they made their wedding a generous gift and a shared commitment to the Foundation and building a better future:

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Q: How did you two meet?

Shehzaan: We both belonged to the same Jamatkhana for Ismaili Muslims outside Atlanta and one day we happened to meet. Soon I was asking friends about her, we started talking on Facebook, and got together. We had been going to the same Jamatkhana for over eight years and had never met! That day it was fate. Months later we were engaged, and we set a wedding date for December 26, 2015.

Q: How did you decide to celebrate your wedding with a gift to Aga Khan Foundation?

Shehzaan: As we started planning our wedding, we visited hotels in the Atlanta area and talked to a lot of caterers. It was going to be grand and very expensive. At some point my father mentioned that we could consider having a simpler wedding and donating what we had budgeted to a respected organization like Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). We both grew up knowing about the Foundation and hearing stories about its good work with communities in Asia and Africa, especially the underprivileged. We took that idea and ran with it. What we loved most about selecting AKF was that 100 percent of the proceeds go to the cause of breaking the cycle of poverty by investing in schools, infrastructure, hospitals, and self-sustaining communities around the world. Programs such as microfinance and healthcare cover a broad range of initiatives. It is unusual to find a Foundation that reaches so many people in so many meaningful ways. I don’t think there was any point after making the decision that we reconsidered it for even one second.

Q: How did you tell your friends and family?

Chunara 2Shehzaan: I ran the idea by my friends and they thought it was good, and Zainab discussed it with hers.

Zainab: I told my cousins first. Some had been looking forward to a big shebang, and they asked me, “Are you sure you won’t regret not having a big wedding?” They were thinking of me, wanting to make sure it was what I wanted. Other friends said, “Knowing you, this makes sense.” Shehzaan and I thought it over and I realized: Even without the memories of a super big wedding, I’ll always have that the knowledge that I gave up something big to help other people. Plus, I think we showed that you can have a wedding full of memories without going all out.

Shehzaan: Like I said on the website that AKF’s volunteer team in Atlanta created for us, guys often don’t get into the wedding extravaganza thing. Turning away from that expectation is more challenging for women. I was really inspired by Zainab’s courage making that decision to forego the big deal.

Q: How did you arrange for the gift to Aga Khan Foundation?Chunara 3

Shehzaan: We set an amount around what we and our families had prepared to spend and set that aside as a donation for Aga Khan Foundation. Then we were frugal with what we actually spent on the wedding at the civil ceremony, which would serve as our moment of celebration.
Then what happened next was awesome: Someone from AKF’s volunteer team suggested that other people would want to know about our wedding gift. So the AKF team put up a website where we shared what we were doing and why. Our guests had already planned on giving certain gifts. However, after the website went up and we asked our guests to join us in this effort instead of presenting us with material gifts, donations kept coming. In the end, between the donations from our family and everyone joining in, the overwhelming amount of contributions will help the Aga Khan Foundation break the cycle of poverty.


Q: What does the gift mean for you?

Shehzaan: It feels really good. We have had an impact, in different ways. We spoke with another couple and they went that route too: they donated their wedding’s amount to Focus Humanitarian Assistance and the relief effort for Syrian refugees. We look forward to going to some of the countries where Aga Khan Foundation funds programs in Central Asia, and see what quality of life means there. Zainab said it well: If you make the decision to do this kind of wedding donation, there’s no need to feel like you’re missing out. You can enjoy your wedding and help other people too. People planning their wedding shouldn’t feel scared that this is their only chance for a dream event. You can share your wedding and joy with others, and make it even better.

If you’re interested in doing something similar, please email [email protected].