Our Team

Meet the creative team behind Explore Their Stories

Sadia Uquali


Sadia Uqaili is the Founder of Explore Their Stories, Inc. a program dedicated to discovering, documenting, preserving and sharing the extraordinary in our everyday lives. She believes that art is the best language to build bridges and to find the finest in our communities. Sadia is committed to archiving and sharing our global culture and heritage, forge connections, foster empathy, educate, inspire, empower and ensure understanding and awareness now and for our future generations.

She is an artist, educator and a curator, an arts administration executive who leads teams of filmmakers, creative writers, musicians, visual artists and actors to produce outstanding art programs. Sadia specializes in collections, curated multimedia large-scale art events including film screenings, poetry readings, theater and art. Her teams create engaging corporate and healthcare environments with museum quality art installations and creative arts workshops for high-performance teams. She is an accomplished curator of international exhibits, a visual artist, and a printmaker. Sadia was recently the Chief Program Officer at Snow City Arts, specializing in developing fine arts educational programs at four leading pediatric hospitals in Chicago.

Sadia Uqaili has served on several juries for film screenings and festivals. The most recent is the 2015 Chicago South Asian Film Festival. Her work has been exhibited internationally, in Chicago, Karachi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Phoenix, and Quebec. She is in numerous collections around the world and the recipient of prestigious awards.
Joseph Y. Ahmad

Board of Directors

Joseph Y. Ahmad, is a founding partner in the Houston law firm of Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., He was elected to the prestigious American Board of Trial Advocates, an elite group of the country’s leading judges and civil trial lawyers. He has been selected by his peers as one of the “Best Lawyers in America” since 2003 and he was named a “2015 Lawyer of the Year” in the Houston area. Mr. Ahmad has been recognized as a leading lawyer in “Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business.” He has been named to the Texas Super Lawyers list since 2003, been on the Texas Super Lawyers Top 100 in Houston since 2006, and been in the Texas Super Lawyers Top 100 in Texas every year but one since 2006. He was also named a Benchmark Litigation Star in 2016 and 2017.
Star Lanigan


Star Lanigan, is a Certified Public Accountant, in practice for over 20 years. She is a graduate of Aurora University and has attended University of Chicago’s Master of Liberal Arts program. A lifelong resident of Illinois, Star currently resides in Chicago. In addition to her professional practice, she has a long history of volunteering as an accountant for non profits, and serves on several Boards as Director.
Frances Tarlton Farenthold

Advisory Board

Frances Tarlton "Sissy" Farenthold is an American politician, attorney, activist, and educator. She is best known for her two campaigns for the office of Governor of Texas and for being placed in nomination for the office of Vice President of the United States during the 1972 Democratic National Convention.

Farenthold has extensively worked with women’s groups and anti-nuclear, peace, and human rights groups. She was an active member of Helsinki Watch, the predecessor to the organization Human Rights Watch and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She has held her private law practice in Houston since 1980 and taught law at the University of Houston. She also continued to devote significant time to the international women’s movement. Farenthold has worked with and is an emeritus trustee for the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive multi-issue think tank devoted to peace, justice, and the environment. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas. She also serves as Honorary Director of the Rothko Chapel in Houston.
Maheen Zia

Advisory Board

Maheen Zia graduated in Journalism & Mass Communication from Drake University, USA, in 1996. Her documentary work has aired both locally and internationally on Al Jazeera and Nat Geo. In 2008 she received the Berlin Today Award for her short fiction film ‘Match Factor’. In 2015, her first feature length documentary “Lyari Notes”, which she co-directed and co-produced with Miriam Chandy Menacherry had its World Premiere at IDFA in the Panorama section. The film was supported by the IDFA Bertha Fund, CBA WorldView, Alter-Cine Foundation and co-produced by Al Jazeera where it was aired on Witness in December 2015.

She is a founding member of the KaraFilm Society and has also served as an International Jury Member for the Dhaka International Film Festival, Bangladesh, Fajr International Film Festival, Iran, Kabul Documentary and Short Film Festival, Afghanistan, the Hyderabad International Film Festival, India, the Tehran International Short Film Festival, Iran and the Tampere Film Festival, Finland.

​She has taught filmmaking at the Department of Visual Studies, University of Karachi, for nine years and designed the department’s Bachelor of Media Arts programme. She has also conducted community video training workshops in rural Sindh, and been a teacher for SAARC media trainees at The South Asian Media School in Lahore.

She keenly pursues environmental activism and is a co-founder of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society and Karachi Farmers Market.
Suree Towfighnia

Film Specialist

Suree Towfighnia is a director, producer, DP, and documentary educator. With her company, Prairie Dust Films, she directed two features: Crying Earth Rise Up, a PBS documentary currently in distribution that reveals the impact of uranium mining on the water and people of the Great Plains; (currently running on Public Television) and Standing Silent Nation, a PBS documentary chronicling a Native American family's struggle to grow industrial hemp on their sovereign Reservation lands, which was broadcast on POV in 2007 and garnered many awards in competitions and festivals. Suree recently produced the Haskell Wexler documentary Four Days in Chicago, about the 2012 NATO protests.

As a documentary educator, Suree teaches at universities, (including online with ASU), for non-profits, and internationally at EICTV film school in Cuba. She began the Lakota Media Project (LMP) with Owe Aku in 2003 to train and mentor Lakota girls and women seeking to tell their own documentary stories.

Suree teaches youth, elders and everyone in between documentation skills and media strategy in organizations, communities, universities and schools. Suree is from Chicago and currently resides in Arizona with her husband and two children. Suree recently moved to Arizona with her family.
Mahenou Ilahi


Mahenou Ilahi is a graduate in Applied Arts from College of Home Economics, University of Punjab, Lahore. She has also attended Glassell School of Art for Advanced Painting and exhibits her work regularly.

She is a philanthropist and committed to the arts and currently serves on boards of DiverseWorks and Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University. She lives in Houston with her husband and three beautiful children.
Rob Wilton


I'm originally from Holland and I've been working as a DoP in London for the past 9 years. Most of my work consists of commercials, music videos and corporate videos. I enjoy working with like minded filmmakers, and I'm not too fussed with what I work on as long as I can get a bit creative. Documentaries though is another matter. It is a real passion of mine and it is the only genre in my line of work that I think can make a difference in peoples lives.
Dr. Ariba Khan MD MPH


Dr. Khan graduated from Allama Iqbal Medical College in 1996. She completed internal medicine residency and geriatrics fellowship from St Louis University. She completed Masters in Public Health in 2008 from the Medical College of Wisconsin. For past 15 years she has been working at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, WI. In the past, she has worked as an academician, researcher, administrator, educator and clinician. She has administrative experience managing Acute Care for Elders (ACE) teams as Medical Director. She has served as Associate Program Director for Geriatrics Fellowship. She has presented her research at the American Geriatrics Society and American Delirium Society national meetings. She has mentored fellows, nurses and residents in their research projects. Most recently she served as editor of a book “Encyclopedia of Elder Care”.

She is vice-chair of American Geriatrics Society “Health system Innovations- Economics and Technology Committee”. At the international level she is co-chair of American Geriatrics Society “International Affairs Special Interest Group”. She is chair of EPIC Geriatrics Steering Committee. (EPIC systems corporation, Verona, WI).

She joined APPNA family as lifetime member on September 13th 2012. She is one of the founding members and past president of Pakistani Society of Wisconsin – which is a chapter of APPNA. She initiated APPNA’s “end polio now” project in 2012. She has served as a member of APPNA’s public health women’s and child affairs committee and Medical Corps. She is on AIMCANA research committee.
David Cawley


David is a UK based cinematographer, shooting drama, commercials, promos and documentaries around the world. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual Communication, taught by fine artist, designers and filmmakers he has gone on to shoot many award winning projects. David's passion is in storytelling and he tries to use the camera to communicate powerful emotions through his images.
Hamid Hashmy


Hamed Hashmy is a Senior Vice President on the Metropolitan Chicago Business Banking team of the Global Commercial Bank with responsibility for over 60 clients across Chicago and the suburbs. He delivers customized treasury and lending solutions to Not-for-Profit organizations in the $5MM to $50MM+ revenue space. Prior to joining Bank of America in March 2017, Hamed spent 24-years in various business development and finance roles at JPMorgan Chase Bank and legacy institutions. He spent time in in Small Business Banking, Corporate Banking, Commercial Finance, Community Development Real Estate, and most recently in Government & Not-For- Profit Banking.

Outside of the office, Hamed is a Board of Director at the Chicago South Asian Arts Council, Inc., a 501(c)(3) that promotes the Chicago South Asian Film Festival now in its 10th year. He is also a Board of Director at The Hyderabad Foundation of Chicago, a 34 year-old 501(c)(3) that promotes Hyderabadi, Indian culture. In September 2017, Hamed joined the Association Forum Foundation Advisory Committee, a 30 year-old 501(c)(3), a not-for-profit think tank that drives next generation solutions for associations and industry partners. In March 2018, Hamed founded and chairs the Not-For-Profit Council, an internal group that gathers and disseminates not-for-profit knowledge to ensure the bank is an industry expert. Hamed also regularly volunteers at Special Olympics, Feed My Starving Children, Cradles to Crayons, and The Greater Chicago Food Depository.

A native of Chicago, Hamed is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Questrom School of Business at Boston University. He grew up in Andersonville and lives with his wife in North Center on Chicago’s North Side.
Michael J. Polachek


Michael J. Polachek is a Lawyer in Illinois, Wheaton. Mr. Polachek has developed skills and a network of other professionals to represent entrepreneurs and their businesses from concept to implementation to continuing operations. Mr. Polachek focuses his practice on closely-held businesses and their owners; the sale and purchase of businesses; industrial and commercial real estate; zoning; administration of decedents', disabled persons' and minors' estates and estate planning.

Through the recommendation of attorney colleagues, Mr. Polachek has been named as a Leading Lawyer in the Closely & Privately Held Business Law and the Mergers and Acquisitions Law categories and an Illinois Super Lawyer in the Mergers & Acquisitions category. He has received an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell which is a “Testament to the fact that a lawyer's peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence."

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Explore Their Stories is a 501(C)3 not-for-profit organization
based in Chicago. Tax ID 81-1740466