Disha & Haneen - We Need to Start Working Towards What We Believe in

We have a social initiative called Project Arambha, which is educating underprivileged college girls in Bangalore and helping them get a good job by fundraising for their education and teaching them the basics of resume writing and job interviews. 

1. Tell us more about yourself, your life, and your Project.

Haneen: I am Haneen Farid, a 17- year-old student, an advocate for gender equality, and a political enthusiast, who leaves no opportunity to debate upon current affairs. Additionally, I pen down explanatory and emotive articles on World politics every now and then. I aspire to study Politics and eventually pursue a career in it.

Disha: I am Disha Panda, a 17-year-old student, and an aspiring economist. Throughout my life, I have always been encouraged to dream big and make education my priority. Furthermore, I love travelling because I think every place has its own identity and so much to learn from. Meeting different people and learning about their life and culture is what I love to do.

We have a social initiative called Project Arambha, which is educating underprivileged college girls in Bangalore and helping them get a good job by fundraising for their education and teaching them the basics of resume writing and job interviews. 

2. What led you to the creation of Project Arambha? 

Haneen: In February this year, a UN-accredited non-profit organization called 1M1B, i.e., 1 Million for 1 Billion came to my school, DPS Bangalore North, and held a session to introduce us to their 1M1B Future Leaders program. This programme discovers and nurtures the world’s most promising leaders by providing more clarity over their purpose using a framework before turning them into an actionable project aligned with the UN SDGs. I realised that this is the one opportunity I have to actually add meaning to my life and many other lives. I signed up for the programme in a heartbeat and started creating Project Arambha alongside my partner-Disha Panda.

Disha: I was told to make my education my priority, and to find out that it was a privilege for many girls was just unfair. I want girls to stand up for themselves. I do not want gender inequality to exist. Hence, Arambha is my small step to hope for a change. 

3. What is that one cause you care deeply about and why?

Haneen: Gender equality because I am a girl who is heavily involved in debates and public speaking. In fact, I aspire to study Political Science before eventually joining politics. But, most of the people I have come across have advised against whatever I wanted to study and do. 

I have also been told that because I am a girl, it isn’t a good idea for me to enter so and so field. What I wanted to do through this project is to invest hope in girls by providing emotional and financial support for their education and career aspirations.

Disha: I believe that education is vital to one’s success. It doesn’t just get you a job, but also enables you to understand your capabilities. I feel many girls miss out on this opportunity because they aren’t aware of how to stand up for themselves or aren’t in a position to. I want to be the voice for these girls.

4. If one wants to contribute and make a difference in social causes, how can one do it?

Haneen: There are many ways. One is advocacy on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. People underestimate the power of online advocacy, but I assure you that it is very effective. Another way is by contributing to fundraisers that are supporting the cause that you care about. 

In today's time, I assure you that there is a fundraiser for everything. Although, these must be on credible crowd-funding platforms. Third, if you have the purpose and resources, start an initiative of your own to solve a problem you most deeply care about.

Disha: We need to stop complaining and start working. Complaining is just a starting point to improvement. But, if we complain about something and the remedial efforts just aren’t enough to solve the problem, we need to take matters into our own hands. 

We need to start working towards what we believe in. And, we needn’t do something big. We can do some things that are as simple as not supporting child labour by not employing domestic help that is a child, respecting women in our work place, etc. We just need to start and we will discover the path.

5. Who is your role model and why?

Haneen: Malala Yousafzai. Malala is an inspiration in every sense of the word. She started out by giving speeches in favour of girl child education and against the Taliban, which was feared by the whole population of her homeland. The three bullets didn't stop her from advocating for change. 

After all those years, her courage and determination got her an education fund established in her name and the means to influence millions of minds. Moreover, she just graduated from the University of Oxford, which is my dream university!

Disha: Our beneficiaries. They are such talented and hard-working girls. They have so many struggles, yet they are always smiling. They inspire me to be a better version of myself every day. In fact, when I look at them, I realise that our hard work is paying off.

6. What are some of the challenges and roadblocks you have faced along your journey?

Haneen: The biggest challenge has been meeting our fundraising requirements. Even after raising about Rs. 15 lakh/ $20,000 over the past 9 months, we still need to raise another Rs. 5 lakh/ $7,000 to support our girls for the current academic year. 

We tried crowdfunding and corporate sponsorships, from which we raised quite a lot of money, but we still need to acquire another corporate sponsorship to meet the required amount. Hence, we have been seemingly chasing corporates for the past few months in an effort to convince them to contribute. Although, we have only improved our proposals, pitches, and professionalism. That has helped us learn a lot.

Disha: Many months ago, we engaged with an unreliable NGO, which ended up to be a waste of time. Our project slowed down and people there were not cooperative. However, we cut ties with that NGO and moved on to a much more reliable NGO in Bangalore. 

Another time when we were trying to establish a scholarship fund. Our heart was not in what we were doing. We were doing what was being told and never moved forward. Then, we pivoted and created our career program. This proved to be a lot more successful and logical to everyone.

7. Your opinion about the current situation of girl child education.

Haneen: During the course of this initiative, I have seen that girls were on the verge of dropping out mainly because they couldn’t afford to pay for their education. In my opinion, girl child education is evidently a cause that needs more funding than awareness.

Disha: There has definitely been improvement over the past few years-which I will not deny. If a term as specific as ‘Girl Child Education’ exists, it means that there is a lot of work that needs to be done in the field. This inequality and discriminations needs to be eliminated and all of need to get educated, irrespective of our gender.

8. What impact do you want to make with your Project?

By 2023, we want to educate 300 girls and conduct Career sessions for all of them to help them secure their future and move up the ladder in their career. We want our girls to break the glass ceiling in their interest fields, and have nothing stop them!

- Interviewed by - Nishad Kinhikar 

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