‘No gifts please’ SOAS couple raise 4k for refugee scholarships on their wedding day

Refugees fundraising - Life at SOAS

In January 2015, Ali, a SOAS grad met Nadia.

Ali Ghezelbash has Iranian roots and Nadia has part-Saudi heritage. At first glance, they were an unusual match.

“What quickly developed was a realisation of our shared values, our common outlook on life and a desire to not only make each other happy, but try in whatever way we can to positively impact those around us.”

These shared values continued to strengthen their relationship and, after a year and a half, Ali proposed to Nadia while they were in their favourite hotel in the Cotswolds.

The following months were filled with frenzied organisation – a venue had to be booked, catering arranged and invitations to be sent. But in the midst of all of this planning, Ali and Nadia made time to consider how their wedding could be used to help others.

“We both knew that it would be lovely to have gifts from our guests, which we could cherish and remember them by, but we also both felt it could be more impactful if we instead used this opportunity to try and make a greater difference.”

When reflecting on the ways that they could do this, they began to think of the opportunities that they had been given in their lives.

“The two of us felt very fortunate to have had the chance to get excellent educations – including, of course, Ali’s wonderful year at SOAS – and we wanted to see whether we could do something to create the same opportunity for someone else.”

In February 2017, Ali and Nadia reached out to SOAS. The fundraising campaign for Sanctuary Scholarships had just begun and they were inspired by its message.

“We weren’t under the illusion that we could help everyone, but we felt very strongly that those who have fled to this country as displaced people should be given support, however small that may be.”

Ali and Nadia created a dedicated web page on which their guests could donate to Sanctuary Scholarships and leave congratulatory messages. Their guests rushed to pledge to the campaign, with one writing “a wonderful idea and such a pleasure to support – so much better than buying you a tablecloth!”

As the big day approached, Ali and Nadia came in to SOAS to see what had been achieved. “In total, we managed to raise over £4,300 directly to the SOAS Sanctuary Fund! Even some of our friends who were unable make it on the day still kindly donated, which was incredibly heart-warming.”

In addition, Ali and Nadia noticed guests speaking about the initiative.

“We are very optimistic that the conversations started among our friends and family will create more engagement around the critical issues we hoped to highlight.”

And the day itself?

“The day we got married was absolutely wonderful – we were surrounded by our family and closest friends, in what was also a very international setting, including fellow SOAS alumni from various corners of the world.”

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Words by Robert Smith.

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