Fez Zafar is an 18-year-old senior at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. As a Pakistani-American Muslim, Fez is a filmmaker, philanthropist, speaker, and an advocate for unity and education.
As a film producer and director, Fez is the founder of Zef Rafaz Productions (bit.ly/zfproductions), a film and music studio with the mission of telling stories for change. Fez's short films and documentaries have been screened and/or recognized at venues across the world, from the Obama White House to the AMC Theatre at Times Square (known as the busiest theater in the United States). By sharing stories of oppressed and marginalized groups in America, Fez continues to advocate for unity and harmony through film. In addition to directing, Fez has written a 100-page screenplay entitled, 'Go Home', about the struggles a young refugee faces upon entering America.
Fez is also the founder and president of Site for Smiles and Smarts (www.smilesandsmarts.org), a public foundation with the mission of empowering youth through education, healthcare, and cultural and political engagement. Site for Smiles and Smarts empowers youth in various ways, from building libraries in rural Pakistan to providing Guatemalan children with monthly health check-ups, among other modes. Most notably, Site for Smiles and Smarts serves as the parent organization of the American Iftar Dinner Movement (www.iftardinner.org), an initiative that challenges Americans to connect with others from different faiths, ethnic groups, cultures, and political affiliations. By encouraging peaceful discourse, the American Iftar Dinner hopes to build unity in America.
Fez's efforts with Site for Smiles and Smarts have raised over $250,000 in donations, educated 600 children, provided 171 medical operations, and have fed over 40000 children. Additionally, his efforts in encouraging unity earned him an invitation to the White House in June 2018.
In May 2018, Fez was appointed to the State Board of Education by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds as the sole Student Member, where he helps form and influence public policy impacting more than 700,000 students across Iowa.
At Theodore Roosevelt High School, Fez is the Student Body President, and formerly served as elected class president during his sophomore and junior years. Fez is a member of the speech and debate team and the varsity swim team. He is also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
In his free time, Fez enjoys watching Bollywood films, listening to classical Qawwali music, playing video games with friends, spending time with his family, and brainstorming ideas for a new video!
Fez Zafar founded Site for Smiles and Smarts in January 2014, after entering the sixth grade. Shocked at low literacy rates in his family's native Pakistan, Fez felt inspired to make a difference halfway around the world, and thus Site for Smiles and Smarts was born, with the initial goal of educating poor and orphaned children living in Pakistani slums.
After partnering with a non-profit school based in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, Fez began raising donations in creative ways: from door-knocking to recycling thousands of cans at his local grocery (five cents each!), he quickly gained the support of his local community in Des Moines, culminating in over $4000 worth of donations by the end of 2014.
In March 2016, Site for Smiles and Smarts expanded its efforts to Uganda as well as Central Iowa. In the former region, the foundation partnered with Alice Achan's Pader Girls Academy, a school for young female victims of Joseph Kony's
Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). In doing so, the foundation began funding health check-ups for HIV-positive patients, while also raising donations to provide young mothers with vocational training. In Central Iowa, Site for Smiles and Smarts began a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club through 'Feeding the Future', a program that serves to provide backpacks filled with food for malnourished students in Iowa.
Site for Smiles and Smarts has since expanded its healthcare initiatives by funding corneal transplants and cleft-palate surgeries in Pakistan, monthly check-ups for rural Guatemalans and Ugandans, and snacks for youth living on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.
In 2017, Site for Smiles and Smarts branched into its third mission: to spread cultural and political awareness across America. The foundation currently serves as the parent organization to the American Iftar Dinner Movement, an initiative that encourages Americans to connect with fellow citizens of different cultures, religions, ethnicities, and political affiliations in the form of a gathering, in order to promote more peaceful discourse.
In 2019, Fez collaborated with the Des Moines Public Schools and Des Moines Register to organize 'Youth Voice: The Iowa Caucus', a presidential town hall that allowed high school and college students from across Iowa to ask youth-related questions to candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic nomination. The forum featured six presidential candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, with Fez serving as its moderator. Through the event, students had the opportunity to uniquely engage with America's leaders, in keeping with the mission of Site for Smiles and Smarts.
Read more about Site for Smiles and Smarts at www.smilesandsmarts.org.