Fifteen-year-old British Pakistani vocalist Sarah Francis was chosen from among 765 people, many of them already rich and famous
in their fields, to receive the prestigious Beacon Fellowship "Young Philanthropist" award.
She was awarded alongside millionaire entrepreneur Zac Goldsmith, son of the late Sir James Goldsmith. Winners from other
sections include giants such as 88-year-old John Profumo, former war minister in Winston Churchill's cabinet chief advisers. The
only other Asian winner was 70-year-old Lord Amir Bhatia of Hampton, who was rewarded for his work on behalf of ethnic minority
charities and causes in the United Kingdom.
Sarah was recognised for her philanthropic work to raise the profile of Afghan refugees in Pakistan using her unusual song
"Voice of Freedom" as the focal point for a number of fund-raising concerts, as well as CD and calendar sales.
She raised over £12,000 in a year, which she presented in June 2003 to President Pervez Musharraf for the President's Relief
Fund for Afghan Refugees. The song also promotes the central values of Pakistan, faith, unity and discipline, by using a sampled
recording of the voice of Jinnah himself speaking those very words in 1948 in Peshawar.
Through this song, Sarah has therefore been able to simultaneously educate her army of listeners (primarily in the
English-speaking world), introduce many of them to Jinnah and his message, present Pakistani values in a positive light, and
highlight the plight of a largely forgotten two to three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Her pioneering approach to charitable work so impressed the Beacon Fellowship judges, Sarah earned a trip to Downing Street in
January 2004, where she will receive her award from the Chancellor of the Exchequer Honourable Gordon Brown. Chancellor Gordon
Brown is no ordinary man.
Widely recognised as one of the most successful and astute politicians in British history and as the brains behind the "New
Labour" movement which has dominated British politics since the demise of John Major's Conservative government, he is now tipped
by many political commentators to become the next British prime minister.
He was, in fact, recently rated the most powerful man in the UK by the influential GQ Magazine, ahead of Tony Blair, who they
rated number two. The fact that a man of his status and position will personally deliver the Beacon Prizes, in Downing Street
itself, indicates the honour and importance given to these awards by the British government, and by the nation at large.
When he presents the "Young Philanthropist" prize to Sarah, the only Pakistani among the 14 winners, Gordon Brown will be doing
more than handing over a medal. Sarah will be admitted to lifetime membership of the Beacon Fellowship, alongside lords, ladies,
knights, professors and millionaire businessmen, to form an advisory group on the best practices in philanthropy. In other words,
Pakistan will have a little ambassador on a prestigious and influential committee that advises high-level government bodies,
non-government organisations, and even world leaders.
Sarah is coming to be recognized as a modern-day Pakistani hero, a living legend even, with the ability to single-handedly
raise the aspirations of an entire generation of youth, if not all generations of Pakistanis.
She even makes a point of not referring to herself as a "British Asian" (the most common descriptive phrase in the UK for those
whose ancestry is from the sub-continent). Instead, she calls herself a "British Pakistani", proudly displaying her roots for all
to see. Her love for Pakistan is one of Sarah's most outstanding qualities. Recently, she was approached by the Pakistani High
Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for the use of her song "Voice of Freedom" in their January 2004 Jinnah Day celebrations.
Even though they offered to pay for the various materials she sent, she refused to accept a single penny, as she has
consistently done in all her dealings with Pakistan, demonstrating her genuine commitment to serving her nation and its interests,
as well as the poor and needy around the world.
January 26, 2004
by Rehan Aslam