Our love is bricks and mortar! THANK YOU again to all our donors and book purchases. Together we sent $25,000 to Pakistan for the construction of this shelter for women and children escaping abusive situations.

GOOD NEWS!  Our shelter is OPEN

The first clients are arriving:  

Amna (not her real name) and her 6 year old son:  her husband sold the dowry her family had given and beat her and son asking them to give dowry again. He broke many bones, the son not go to school.  They came to life in the shelter last week. She will learn to make clothes now.  The child is still afraid.
Beeza (not her real name)A young woman whose father "treated her like a wife."  Her mother died long ago. She does not want photo from us so no photo of her. 
One another family case is still in the court. Maybe soon we will come here also with us.


(Faces are covered for safety reasons.)


NEW REVIEW August 2, 2015

Summit Daily News

Book review: 

Special to the Daily "My Sisters Made of Light," 

Documenting the plight of women in war-torn regions of the world is not a new subject for literature, by any means. Authors have written on the topic from many, predominately sympathetic, perspectives. But some writers, such as Jacqueline St. Joan, approach their storytelling with the intention of promoting activism and involvement in women’s issues. Her recent novel, “My Sister Made of Light,” does just that — in a very literal sense, in fact — with half the proceeds of all book sales going directly to funding an organization in Pakistan working to provide a safe haven for abused women. 

The inspiration for St. Joan’s book clearly comes from experiences within her own professional life, with the author having worked as a lawyer and an activist for the prevention of violence against women. The novel is very much a treatise on women’s issues, in particular the precarious nature of the lives of women in Pakistan, as they try to cope with the outdated absurdities of Sharia law. 

The novel is a woven tapestry of one woman’s life in Pakistan, a young advocate languishing in prison for fighting the country’s many abuses toward women at the hands of their conservative and controlling fathers, uncles, brothers and sons. The narrative moves between those details that landed Ujala in her cell in the first place and the friendship that blossoms slowly between the prisoner, Ujala, and the prison matron, who becomes very attached to the story Ujala has to share. 

Raised in a forward-thinking family, by a Sikh father and a progressive mother, Ujala is a teacher with the Women’s Aid Society, helping to train other female teachers across Pakistan. It is through these connections that Ujala begins to witness the abuses that many of the country’s women and girls face on a daily basis. 

St. Joan utilizes the story-within-a-story framework to highlight the vulnerable nature of women in Pakistan, where the female guarding her prisoners feels more of an affinity with her incarcerated “sisters” than with her fellow, predominately male, prison administrators. As Ujala narrates the tale of what led her to the prison, the reader is given beautifully vivid snapshots of a panorama of everyday life in Pakistan, encompassing several generations, which helps illustrate the challenges women have faced in that region of the world since the Islamic Revolution. 

Ujala serves as a brave national symbol of progressive thought in an otherwise antiquated system of patriarchy. St. Joan integrates stories that could come from today’s headlines about women suffering from acid and machete attacks, with so many of the anecdotes involving male family members inflicting unspeakable violence on women within their own families. 

A thread runs through the book, binding the lives of these women together, these “sisters made of light,” who share the common and unfortunate experience of discrimination and violence at the hands of the men in their lives. In a society where tradition governs conduct and behavior, “tribal customs and feudal law ruled, and a woman’s transgression was taken up by her father, brother or son. Family honor was paramount, encased in the bodies of the women, treasures protected in cloth and hidden away.” 

Also interlaced into the book are tales of love and romance, serving as a poignant reminder of the basic human condition for which the women are fighting, that being the right to love who they wish and to marry for that love. 

One gets the sense that St. Joan tells about these fictional women because she has met many real world ones who have shared a similar fate. When talking of a journal Ujala kept, the author writes, “For every page of victims, I wrote a page of victors. I wrote about every woman I had known who had run away, faced down, healed, spoken out or outsmarted those who would have made her less able, every woman who not only survived, but lived a life, her own life.” 

“My Sisters Made Of Light” is an homage to those women who have fought and who continue to fight for their rights around the world, and to those — both men and women — who risk their lives to aid them. 


Praise for My Sisters Made of Light

It's an important book, one that places a vital issue squarely on the table, makes it understandable and sympathetic, more than a sad fact of life in a far-away country. It's also a gripping read, hard to turn away from, hard to discount. Or to put on the shelf for later. The characters live and breathe; they are weak, brave, human; they can get under your skin and keep you awake at night. Susan O'Neill, author, Don't Mean Nothing

In My Sisters Made of Light, Jacqueline St. Joan uses her extensive travels and research in Pakistan—as well as her own experiences as a human rights activist, lawyer, and judge—to share with readers a compelling, heartbreaking, and sometimes terrifying look into the lives of women and men in the social, political, and religious maze that is Pakistan. The novel centers on activist sisters who dedicate themselves to helping the women of Pakistan.

My Sisters Made of Light is a novel about the extraordinary courage  of ordinary women living in the closed society that is contemporary  Pakistan.

It exposes Western readers to Pakistan’s myriad cultures—from the  mystical Sindhis in the South to the noble Pathans in the Northwest  Province, the Punjabis in the East and the Balochis of the West.

Ujala, a teacher-trainer, travels throughout her country trying to unravel the strands of violence that are braided into Pakistani life, most  notably “honor crimes” which engender pain and hopelessness in both their direct victims, as well as enabling social control of the  broader female population. Along the way she enlists her sisters,  her brother, her father, her students, and friends in the effort to  rescue those destined for honor crimes, and in the process she  rescues herself.

This raw but inspiring story of grass-roots resistance against oppression and injustice will spark the caring intelligence of  readers everywhere.

 "Jacqueline St. Joan writes with the passion of a life-long feminist and the insight of wide experience. She brings to her story what she brought to the law, a conviction that life is full of both struggle and purpose and that grace comes to us when we have no reason to expect it." —Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

"I started reading My Sisters Made of Light and could not put it down. It is a powerful story, well-presented, well-researched, and written with passion. The labor of duty became a labor of love. I read voraciously but have not come across a work which deals so effectively and skillfully with the cultural fault lines of Pakistani society." —S. Akhtar Ehtisham, author of A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents: A Pakistani View

"My Sisters Made of Light is an exquisitely-told story. By weaving her far-reaching knowledge, experience, and imagination, Jacqueline St. Joan’s characters and settings bloom. Its narrative movement is simultaneously dynamic and delicate, deftly floating the reader through scenes, internal points of view, and an overall intriguing story that resonates in both the physical and ethereal senses." —Tom Popp, managing editor of F Magazine

"My Sisters Made of Light is the riveting story of Ujala, a Pakistani schoolteacher imprisoned in Adiala Prison, a women's penitentiary that holds the lives of hundreds of Pakistani women in limbo. Abused and lost, these women all have heartbreaking stories of the violence that lead them to imprisonment. With caution and devotion, Ujala slowly reveals her story to Rahima Mai, the Women's Prison Supervisor, forming a bond with the woman who may hold the keys to her freedom.

Shifting back and forth in time, St. Joan unravels the unlikely history of Ujala's family— a clan of vibrant men and women who struggle to fight for women's rights and challenge the cultural constraints that hold them hostage. With shifting perspectives, the murky pasts of Ujala's parents are revealed and interspersed through Ujala's telling of her own journey through Pakistan aiding and abetting the escapes of women trapped in the grips of men who harm instead of heal.

Readers are transported into 1980s Pakistan, with Ujala's world in her beloved family compound on Clifton Road blooming to life through St. Joan's exquisitely detailed prose. The imagery pulses with life, every description creating a tactile world readers can almost touch and feel. This connection is integral to the telling of the story—the experiences of the women Ujala tries to save are gleaned from St. Joan's real life interviews with victims in Pakistan during her time as a human rights worker. And while this lends credibility to the text, the transformation into fiction necessitates a narrative that allows the reader to sink into a world where they are not met with dry facts and figures and instead are allowed to invest in Ujala's story through empathy.

While St. Joan's detailed rendering allows for this empathetic connection, the detail sometimes verges on excessive, clogging the narrative with too much information. An overall streamlining of the book would help tighten the story for maximum effectiveness.

This novel may at first appear to be another well-worn story of Western ideals trumping the backward ways of rustic Muslims. But St. Joan avoids sensationalizing her subject matter and succeeds where many authors exploring the same tension-wrought issues of women's rights in Muslim-ruled countries fail: she avoids a simplistic treatment of a complex issue and has created a text where female power is cultivated and wielded in ways that challenge instead of perpetuate popular perceptions and misconceptions of traditional Islam.

My Sisters Made of Light is a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in literary fiction. Half of the book's proceeds are donated to a Pakistani nonprofit organization constructing a shelter for women and children escaping abuse."

Shoilee KhanForeWord Reviews
July 14, 2011