San Jose High School Teens Support Refugee Students


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My name is Anita Taft and I am 15 years old. I am the daughter of two Iranian immigrants and currently live in sunny California. I attend Basis Independent Silicon Valley School in San Jose. I love to listen to music, attend festivals, and learn about different cultures and languages. As long as I can remember, I have always been a strong community advocate since I believe that change can only be made through persistence and hard work.

In 2013, I remember hearing Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai give a poised speech at the ‘Youth Takeover of the United Nations.’ My eyes were glued to the television screen. She spoke with such ferocity and made me realize that no matter who or where you were, anyone can make an impactful difference. Malala Yousafzai is my role model. She spoke when people wanted to silence her and demonstrated courage when people wanted to oppress her.

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Helping the community is something I take very seriously and believe that we all have a moral responsibility and obligation to aid those who are less fortunate. As a result, when my friend Lakshmi Balram asked our school to start a GirlUp club, I agreed right away. We became co-presidents and began reaching out to students and other organizations. We both realized that girls are underestimated in many countries and not given adequate resources to achieve their full potential.

Throughout the school year, we educated the club members on a spectrum of issues from lack of healthcare to early marriage in different nations. GirlUp is aimed at surpassing society’s restrictions and leaving a lasting legacy on girls’ empowerment through advocacy. After Mrs. Reena Arya reached out to us, we soon began to collaborate with the amazing PRERNA organization and attended events to make gift baskets for refugee families and help with fundraising. Reena Arya is a volunteer at PRERNA who has hosted many fundraising events and is currently the Events Lead.

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After researching about refugees and their lack of school supplies, GirlUp members, Lakshmi Balram, Ashna Arya, Tanisha Mehta, Pooja Bansiya and I decided to start a school supplies drive to support PRERNA. We found staggering statistics about how refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than their non-refugee peers. When we read how more than half of the 6.4 million refugees of school age around the world did not go to school in 2016*, it motivated us to work harder and start the drive.

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The school supplies drive was held in the month of April and we collected a wide variety of items including binders, paper, pencils, pens, expo markers, erasers and backpacks. We made posters and put them up around the school and sent out emails to all the students and teachers. It was a long process, but everything turned out accordingly and the drive was extremely successful! At the end of the drive, it was amazing to come to school and see boxes and bags filled with school supplies. We were all fascinated by how the school was able to come together as one community to help refugees and we truly appreciate everyone who donated!

“One child, one teacher, one book,
one pen can change the world.”
~ Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Prize Laureate and Education Activist
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The words of Malala truly represent the power of education and how increasing access to it can change the lives of many. Many teenagers in the United States take for granted the wonderful opportunities that education can provide. It was not only rewarding to know that the refugee students we helped could have paper and pens to write with, but we also knew that education could transform their future.

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PRERNA is an organization that embodies the spirit of helping one another and we are extremely lucky to have gotten to work with such a commendable organization. One thing that makes PRERNA unique is that they believe in establishing a strong relationship as a trusted advisor with the refugee families they support in the U.S. Rather than accepting hundreds of refugees and then helping them on a surface level, PRERNA establishes lifelong bonds with refugees and treats them like family. They are provided with continued support to find housing, food, jobs and education. More importantly, they are empowered to become independent and productive in their new country.

I would encourage anyone who is interested in making a difference in their community to become volunteers at PRERNA. It’s an all volunteer non-profit led by amazing women and an inspiration for girls who want to be a part of changing the future. I hope many girls at different high schools take the time and opportunity to experience what I have in the short period of time that I have volunteered at PRERNA.

After high school, I hope to attend a university in California or stay in the Bay Area close to my family! My subject of interest is psychology or biomedical sciences and I am really interested in genome research. When I grow older, I hope to become a pediatrician so I can help children and be surrounded by their curiosity and joy. Being a pediatrician will allow me to help the people who will become our future leaders and make up the foundation of our society.

*Source: UNHCR Statistics