Empowering Girls Globally through Education and Support

Contributed By Varshini Odayar

I was around six years old when I traveled to my father’s ancestral village in Tamil Nadu, India, and came across the Deva Kirubai Social Help Association (DKSHA), home to nearly eighty orphans. Here, I learned that the children would wait hours for their only pair of clothes to be washed and dried for use the same day. Many of these children were my age or younger. In visiting DKSHA every year following, I realized that it was no longer a question of poverty. Many young women at DKSHA were married at age fifteen or often forced to work in the fields to help generate income for their single parents. I discovered that many of these young women felt that they didn’t have a say in their own life. Since then, it has been my personal goal to empower young girls.

Sparkling Lives Logo When I was around thirteen years old, I started Sparking Lives, a nonprofit organization with the mission of empowering young girls and children globally through education and career counseling, medical support, and mental health resources. In spending time with many of the young women at DKSHA and listening to their lived experiences, I have realized the importance of building a strong and supportive community. During COVID-19, the importance of sustaining such a community has become very important.

In the fall of my sophomore year, I had the incredible opportunity of being a member of the U.N. Millennium Social Impact Fellowship and campus director for the Harvard cohort. Through this experience, I was able to meet students from all across the world with diverse backgrounds, interests, and stories. Through biweekly leadership training sessions and community conversations, I met a group of students interested in bridging educational equities and focusing on Sustainable Development Goals 4, 5, and 10 which are quality education, gender equality, and reduced inequalities respectively. Together with students from Stanford, Harvard, and St. Paul University, we started Empowernet, a platform, and app aimed at bridging inequities in accessing education in rural areas of the globe through mentoring and building supportive communities of mentors and mentees. We are currently working to finalize and deploy the app in rural areas of India. This experience has allowed me to grow so much from communicating and collaborating with a team to outreaching to NGOs working on the ground in areas such as India.

Education is a human right, and yet it is particularly ignored during the pandemic, and I hope that we can work together to change this with a community of others who are also committed to the cause. If you are interested in working to make an impact, I would love to connect with you and collaborate. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to me at varshodayar@college.harvard.edu. I look forward to making change together.

Varshini Odayar Varshini Odayar is a rising junior at Harvard University studying Neuroscience and Anthropology with a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. She is very passionate about the intersections of medicine, social justice, and education and strongly believes that healthcare and education are human rights, which are largely neglected in today’s society, particularly during the pandemic. In her free time, she loves art and social justice photography. To learn more about Sparking Lives, her passion project, please visit https://sparkinglives.org/website/index.php.