Fundraising for change: Shreeya’s journey to changemaking
An Inside Look at a Changemaker: Shreeya
What is your favorite ice cream flavor?
If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
“When I was younger I wanted to be a doctor or teacher. I even wanted to be an astronaut for a bit so I could ‘land’ on Jupiter. I then wanted to be a cardiologist and a pastry chef before starting to think of becoming an obstetrician or forensic scientist or a foreign affairs officer so I can travel. Now I have absolutely no idea what to be.”
What is something that you are passionate about?
What are you grateful for?
“I am very grateful for my family and friends. They are my biggest supporters and have been a big help during the past few years”
What do you think is the most urgent problem threatening your generation?
“Climate Change and Racial Inequality. Especially during these times and regarding the events going on around the world”
What stereotype is inaccurate about young people?
“That we don’t know what we are doing. This isn’t accurate. We do know what we are doing and young people know how to make the world we live in a better place.”
What is unique in growing up today?
“We live in a unique time with the internet and online learning during the global pandemic”
What should others know about changemakers like you?
“We are not doing it for service hours. We are passionate about helping people around the world”
What advice would you give to other young people starting their changemaking journey?
“Based on my experience, don’t be afraid to ask for resources for a good cause”
What is advice you wish you had gotten when you started out on your changemaker journey?
“Don’t take things personally. There are bumps in the roads”
When she is not diligently preparing for a Geography Bee or analytically collaborating with her Robotics team, you can find Shreeya fundraising for children’s and women’s rights in rural India. Shreeya's story exemplifies the importance of finding adult allies to support your journey while inviting your peers to uplift and scale your idea for change.
From a young age, Shreeya and her mother have been deeply involved with the North South Foundation, a volunteer-driven nonprofit that enables young people and their families in both India and the United States to excel through scholarship. Shreeya describes “going to academic competitions and participating in everything the NorthSouth Foundation has to offer--whether it is geography, math, science, vocabulary or spelling, has helped to understand the outside world better”. In the third grade, Shreeya was invited to take part in the Vocabulary Nationals and placed 10th in the competition. This milestone sparked her passion for academic excellence and self-teaching, instilling a lifelong value of education.
Inspired by her family’s cultural and ethnic background, Shreeya took a personal interest in enacting change for young girls living in rural India. Her moment of commitment started in the summer of 2016 when she learned about acid attacks, a form of extreme violence against women, oftentimes fueled by anger or jealousy. Shreeya learned from her mother’s teaching that women, both across India and around the world, could possibly be violated for refusing a marriage proposal or living with an abusive spouse.
Appalled and confused, Shreeya and her mother began engaging in a series of transformative conversations about how these acts of violence exemplify larger cultural barriers that impede women’s rights in India. Through storytelling and research, Shreeya discovered that many girls living across rural communities in India are hindered from accessing quality education, health and hygiene, and jobs because of their gender while boys are expected to go to school to further their education and prepare for their future careers. Instead, many girls are expected to stay home and perform housework. Sometimes, once they hit puberty, young girls will even drop out of school. Learning about these gender inequalities paired with her own zeal for learning ignited Shreeya’s passion for changemaking.
Shreeya took her first step by talking to her teacher, Mr. Adam Egherman, to brainstorm how she could support young girls in India from her home in the United States. With the confidence and support of her teacher, Shreeya was ready to develop a solution. She then met with Mr. Jay Sehgal, the executive vice president of the Sehgal Foundation, an organization that aspires to enable every woman in rural India to achieve a secure, prosperous, and dignified life.
Shreeya first met Mr. Sehgal when she requested a book called Seeds for Change: The Lives and Work of Suri and Edda Sehgal. Mr. Sehgal was surprised at the request, thinking that Sheeya was too young at the time to read the book and thought it might be for her parents instead. A few days later, Mr. Sehgal received a message from Shreeya’s mom. “She let me know that her daughter is reading the book and can't put it down and she is asking a lot of questions,” Mr. Sehgal reflects, “I was very surprised and decided to meet with Shreeya... I was absolutely stunned to learn her inquisitive nature and brilliance at such a young age.”
A series of conversations with Mr. Sehgal led Shreeya to launch her own initiative, which she named Project Life Skills. Shreeya envisioned developing a five-month-long ‘Life Skills Education and Digital Literacy Program’ for adolescent girls to learn life skills such as and literacy, accompanied with goal setting, building self-confidence, normalizing a girl’s right to education and menstrual hygiene.
Mr. Egherman was enthusiastic about Shreeya’s idea, encouraging her to invite her classmates to kick start the initiative. “When she approached me with the fundraising for her project to help girls in India, I was more than glad to help,” Mr. Egherman shares. “We brainstormed ideas together and she found a way to make it work and engage other classmates to help her. They were more than willing to help. She prepared speeches to give to the class about her project and the importance of it. Learning is so much more than what happens in the 4 walls of a classroom and building. Shreeya demonstrates not only a desire for learning, but passion to help. She will find a way to make it happen.”
To raise money for her idea, her class held multiple fundraisers through creative means, such as building a garden bench for a silent auction, organizing multiple Read-a-Thons, catering homemade Indian dinners, and conducting coupon book sales. By inviting others to join in and lead their own visionary fundraisers, Shreeya is activating her peers to find their unique changemaking power.
While fundraising for skill development programs abroad, Shreeya and her classmates are also learning new skills in public speaking, advocacy, and community awareness. Their principal, Mr. Todd Johnson, is an enthusiastic supporter of the young changemakers, honoring the time off students need to learn and participate in activities outside of the classroom. Changing their school culture, the fundraisers not only raised money for young girls abroad but built a vibrant community around a shared purpose and celebrated Indian culture through shared meals and conversation.
Within a few years, Shreeya raised over $16,000, including the matching funds by the Sehgal Foundation. These donations fuel programming for four initiatives run by the Sehgal Foundation, benefiting more than 150 girls living in villages across Rajasthan, a state of India.
Despite her success at home, Shreeya has learned firsthand that social change is not straightforward. During a visit to these schools in the Summer of 2019, Shreeya was dismayed to hear that a couple of the girls who were her age were forced to marry young and dropped out of the program. However, the rest of the young participants not only did finish the program but found their own power to create change, including the ability to stand up against any further child marriages that they came across. They learned how to convince their friend’s parents against child marriage or raise complaints with local law enforcement. They organized locally to stand up against eve-teasing, a form of verbal harassment against women and complained to the Panchayat, or their village government.
Shreeya’s mother has been one of her strongest allies. Through sharing her own memories of struggle and triumph while growing up in India, Shreeya and her mom share a passion and commitment to women’s rights. Shreeya’s mother encourages her to take advantage of her skills, supportive network, and inner strength as a changemaker while offering guidance along the way.
As a teenager, Shreeya continues to discover new solutions to increase access to quality education across the world and in her own community. Eager to scale up her initiative, Shreeya would like to host geography, coding, and cooking workshops as new forms of fundraising for her Project Life Skills. With a sudden shift to distanced learning, Shreeya became determined to find local solutions for national education challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. She put her fundraising skills to the test with a team of 12 young changemakers through the North South Foundation across the United States to provide computers for hundreds of students who lack access to tools for digital learning.
When reflecting on her path to changemaking, Shreeya says, “coming together is a start, staying together makes progress, and working together marks success. This world needs strong women and men to live bravely while lifting and building our future generation. With more collaborative efforts, this world will only have those with an indomitable will.”
Written by Pierson Gammage and Asia Rinehart, LeadYoung Interns