This past summer, I had the opportunity to meet Upasna at the Yale Young Global Scholars program! She is an amazing friend and changemaker who blogs at https://upasnaabarathh.wordpress.com/ and is also a writer for Rookie magazine and Young Global Initiative. A few months ago, I interviewed her over email, and her life is truly an inspiration!
Tell me a little about yourself!
I was born in Naperville Illinois, and shortly after my parents got divorced. Because my mother was a single parent, we were financially unstable, so we moved around a lot to find some sort of stability. I moved to Albany, New York when I turned four, then to Plainsboro, New Jersey, when I turned seven. Two years later, I found myself on a plane to Chennai, India, where my mother and I stayed with my grandparents. Adjusting to a new lifestyle in India was extremely hard and I found myself struggling to be accepted by my peers at school and to keep up with the new education system. However, I did learn plenty from my grandparents while living in India, and I developed an interest in politics, economics, and international affairs. About four years later, my mother decided to get remarried, and a year later I moved to Cordova, Tennessee!
How do you want to change the world?
I think changing the world has a lot to do with recognizing the individuals that are a part of this world. There are so many issues that go unaccounted for, and new ones that arise constantly. In order to change the world, even by taking baby steps, it is important to become informed about the different things happening in today’s world. Ignorance is not bliss! When I learn about a new issue, I want to be able to be a part of finding a solution. Playing a small role is significant in the grand scheme of things.
What global issues do you care about?
India is an extremely fast-paced country, and it is growing and developing every single day. A country with over 1 billion inhabitants is sure to have an innumerable amount of issues. These issues include domestic and sexual violence, corruption, and poverty. After living in India for five years and experiencing these issues first-hand, I am extremely aware about these issues and passionate about resolving them.
Who is your role model?
My role model is my grandmother, Subhashini Rao. She is 65 years old and she is not yet retired and runs her own non-profit organization with her two partners, Sulatha Ajit and Lakshmi Krishnakumar, who are also extremely dedicated and passionate just like her.
Do you have any advice for teens on how they can make a difference?
Teens should become more aware of global issues! Start reading the newspaper more often (online or print), or even watching the news! Find out what’s happening today, and then discover what you’re passionate about. Once you have found what fuels your fire, you can do anything!
Tell me more about SANKALP and your grandmother! ☺
SANKALP is a non-for-profit trust started by its three founders Lakshmi Krishnakumar, Sulatha Ajit, and Subhashini Rao, in 1999. Under Sankalp, there is the Learning Centre, the Open School, and the Sankalp Vocational Sahayika (SVS). The Learning Centre assists children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, the Open School assists children with learning disabilities, and SVS targets young adults with Specific Learning Difficulties (SLD) who wish to pursue a job-oriented vocational training. My grandmother is the Director of Administration of all three of these organizations. Before SANKALP, my grandmother worked at a school that also catered to the needs of children with disabilities. This was where she met her two other partners, and the three decided that they didn’t agree with the way the school functioned. They understood children with special needs and found the passion and determination through these children to start their own organization.
Summer of 2012 I volunteered at the Learning Centre and the Open School. It was a humbling and eye-opening experience for me. I was a TA at the school, so I had to work with the students as hard as possible in order to make sure they understood the material. This included helping them with their homework, their class assignments, and projects. Even conversing with the students was important, as I had to get to know each one of them individually in order to understand their own unique needs. After that summer, I felt empowered. I was extremely proud to have created such close relationships with the students at SANKALP. It was extremely hard at first-some wouldn’t talk to me, some wouldn’t listen to me, some wouldn’t even look at me. But at the end of it all, I felt as if I had touched their hearts-and they definitely touched mine. I didn’t give up on the children at SANKALP, and they didn’t give up on me either.