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 that tells stories for change. Fez's short films and documentaries have been recognized or screened 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, 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 has empowered youth in various ways, from funding the construction of a library in rural Pakistan to organizing Q&A forums between students and elected officials in Iowa. 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.
In May 2018, Fez was appointed to the State Board of Education by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds as the sole Student Member, where he helped form and influence public policy impacting more than 700,000 students across Iowa until May 2020.
At Theodore Roosevelt High School, Fez served as the Student Body President, and as elected class president during his sophomore and junior years. Fez was 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. Inspired by projects started by students in his age as part of the Davidson Institute's Ambassador Program, Fez felt motivated 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 Pakistan.
After initially partnering with a non-profit school based in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, Fez began raising donations in creative ways: from door-knocking to recycling over a thousand 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 previously 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 occasionally partners with the Boys and Girls Club through 'Feeding the Future', a club program that serves to provide backpacks filled with food for malnourished students in Iowa.
Site for Smiles and Smarts has previously expanded its healthcare initiatives by sending funds to provide corneal transplants and cleft-palate surgeries in Pakistan, medical appointments for rural Guatemalans, 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.