Entrepreneur, philanthropist or filmmaker are words that can describe Fez Zafar, Des Moines 15 year-old.
He’s weeks away from starting his sophomore year at Des Moines Roosevelt High School and along with worrying about classes, homework, swim practice, band and Taekwondo, he’s the founder of Site for Smiles and Smarts, non-profit organization that’s raised over $70,000 since starting in 2014.
He would host film premieres featuring his own films and do fundraising events at his school like sell tickets to a talent show to raise funds.
“There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you are helping people,” Zafar says. “If you are providing a child with an education, you are not only making that child’s life better, they get so many more opportunities. It makes me think, why stop here?”
And yet he can’t drive.
Zafar was entering sixth grade in 2014 when he started an Ambassador Project for the Davidson Institute for Gifted Students in Nevada that aimed at educating the children in Pakistan, his parents native country.
“These terrorist groups, that’s where the arise from,” Zafar explains. “These areas have no education so the Taliban leaders take advantage of that.
“Education is the best way to combat that and if we can build schools, build libraries in these rural areas that provides these kids with an education, we really are saving them from falling into the hands of terrorism.”
So Zafar partnered with a school in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad and has educated over 1,500 children in three and a half years.
Acting globally and locally
Site for Smiles and Smarts also uses funds for medical causes in Pakistan and two other Middle Eastern countries.
Ten children in Pakistan received cornea transplants along five Cleft Lip/Palate infant surgeries; and one library was built.
In 2016 Zafar would partner with Pader Girls’ Academy in Pader, Uganda to assist in educating young women and mothers in Uganda.
As of Tuesday 20 mothers had received vocational training.
And through partnering with doctors who regularly visit the region of Coban, Guatemala, 131 children have received wellness exams.
More from 2016
As those partnerships formed Zafar heard about the “Feeding the Future” program at the Boys and Girls Club of Central Iowa.
He said one in five kids in Central Iowa go without food.
“I was interested in what we could do internationally, but wondering what we could do here at home,” Zafar said.
So he helped raise funds that went to filling backpacks that children receive before each weekend during the school year.
He said there have been 1,320 backpacks filled so far.
Putting it on film
Zafar combines his experiences with filmmaking to expose what is going on in the world to other people who might not know.
“It’s upsetting to see a lot of people who aren’t grateful for the things that they have in such a great country like the United States,” Zafar says. “I want people to be exposed to what’s going on so they can be inspired and continue the cycle of giving.”
Zafar started Zef Rafaz Productions and created several short films along with music videos that showcase diversity around Des Moines. He holds film premieres as fundraisers with ticket sales going toward Site for Smiles and Smarts.
His short film, “Road to Unity” was accepted into the 2016 White House Student Film Festival where he met then-President Barack Obama.
In July Zafar participated in the Des Moines 48 Hour Film Project and his film previewed Tuesday at the Fleur Cinema in Des Moines.