2019 has been a year of embracing myself and working to empower others through my work with the United Nations.
Through ShePower, I was motivated to disseminate health and hygiene products and over five thousand sanitary pads to underserved communities and to women and girls in need in Dallas, Vancouver Ontario and many parts of India. Faced with homelessness and other challenges, women are unable to afford these products and often resort to using abrasive materials such as newspaper or paper bags which can cause abrasions or infections. Funded by United Nations foundations and the Jane Goodall Foundation and donations from outreach efforts I led, I connected with and was able to empower or uplift women and girls in their time of need. By allowing them to focus on their education, careers and maximizing their potential, they can in turn contribute to their families, communities and achieve their personal goals. By empowering women, we are empowering communities, whether mine in Dallas or globally as I continue to do in Canada and India.
My mom and I carefully assembled care packages for distribution of sanitary products, also adding makeup and cosmetics so that women could to take pride in themselves and present themselves how they chose and be confident. And as we disseminated these, along with health information and opportunities for community engagement, the words we exchanged left an indelible impact on me and continue to fuel me.
A woman told me she has a daughter my age and shared how she had come from India to build a better life for herself and give her daughter opportunities she did not have. “I’m not giving up, I’m making the most out of this,” the woman said as we embraced. “I want my daughter to know that, too.”
I thought of my grandma then, who smells like the almond oils from her braids and sweet incense that seeps through her shawls and into her milky skin, speckled with sunspots and light discoloration and whose diaspora will be recounted for generations. As a girl, she fled Pakistan in a crammed bus full of bodies, her heart pounding violently against its cage, during the Partition. Just like the women I spoke with, she had to overcome immense hardships to become the strong woman she is today and raise my dad.
A girl there, just ten years old, who introduced herself to me, was already dreaming of the future and working hard towards an education and had goals to earn a degree to uplift her family. She had moved from Los Angeles, loved chocolate ice cream and I saw parts of myself reflected in her. I’ll never forget how she reminded me of so many of so many of my friends and shared so many of the same dreams. Our dreams, our minds and our bodies should be ours – unencumbered by fear or shame.