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Varnikaa, 18, Ontario

I was always fortunate to be among the two per cent of Indians living a middle-class life, while most others lived below the poverty line. At eight months old, I moved from India to Canada and immediately became immersed in the culture of a picture-perfect neighbourhood, leaving this statistic floating somewhere outside the protective bubble my parents had carefully crafted for me. 

Despite my innocence, poverty was almost impossible to ignore when my family and I would return to our home country. The trip would always fill my head with memories. Most were built by the experiences I made with my family, full of fun and happiness. Unfortunately, some were less than pleasant. These were the memories of young mothers bouncing a baby with one hand, and reaching to strangers for money with the other. Or the ones of young girls and boys knocking on the windows of cars stuck in traffic for food. 

Being a “good girl”, I always listened to people who told me not to make eye contact with beggars as they passed by. Finally, at around age nine, something inside of me made me ask the question: “Why? Why don’t we give money to hagglers that approach us when we have more at home?” 

Years passed and I continued my privileged life in Canada. I entered high school a good student: I always went to class, got good grades and I participated in school life. It was a cycle that I continued to follow for a year until I decided I wanted to do more. Back in India, education was this powerful tool that could lift people out of poverty, but here in Canada, it was often taken for granted. For me, school had always been something to look forward to. Most of my favourite moments in school included art, so I knew I had to share those experiences with other youth. 

With endless encouragement from my parents, I spoke to my teachers, peers and principal about what I wanted to do. In April of 2015, Learning through Art was born. Learning through Art is now an afterschool program designed to teach kids in Grade one and two art projects that reinforce their curriculum with classes held at a public school in Toronto, ON. The kids loved it, pleaded for us to return in the coming year and even requested that we make classes for all ages so they could continue past Grade two. 

Somewhere around this time, I became acquainted with Mr. Subhash Chandra, the secretary of an organization known as Ekal. Ekal is a movement dedicated to all-round development in rural and tribal villages of India primarily through education. Seeing the smiles on children’s faces in the photos, Mr. Chandra showed me as they were given the gift of education, was the greatest reward I could ask for. I told him my story. I was working with children in Canada to get them interested in education, but that wouldn’t be possible without the opportunity for them to attend a school. Ekal was giving underprivileged children that opportunity. I had to be a part of this movement. Learning through Art became a vehicle for local and global change with funds raised from the program going to support education abroad.

This is just one of the millions of stories related to poverty. There can never be too much awareness. There can never be too much aid. Find what fuels you, and use it to spark a fire of change.