Mahika (20) has an impressive resume when it comes to being of service to those in need. A nomination-worthy initiative of hers is the ‘Enlightening Minds and Illuminating Lives’ program in Myanmar, through which she provided fifty students of underprivileged families with sustainable solar lamps. She is also an active ambassador of the United World Schools (UWS), a charity which aims to provide quality education to remote areas worldwide. Described as ‘a beacon of altruism for others to emulate’, her commitment to service for others is further exemplified by her UN award-winning video on promoting quality education for all.

How did you manage to initiate the ‘Enlightening Minds and Illuminating Lives’ program?

“In tenth grade, we had a trip to a village called Wan Kaung in Myanmar with my school, and this was my first interaction with children who lived below the poverty line. The entire village were children of opium farmers, and so a difficulty they faced is that their parents wanted them to work in the farms during the day and at night, they didn’t have any electricity, so they couldn’t study at night. So I thought of the provision of solar lamps, which is easier than installing a solar home system and healthier than kerosene lamps. I was in the process of contacting organisations for help, and one company eventually helped me procure those lamps from India to Myanmar.

“When I eventually had the lamps with me, there was a military coup in Myanmar, which made it difficult to go to remote areas because of violence. I ended up going to a different village in Myanmar, where electricity was not available, and then I distributed one solar lamp to each family that had a student in it. So even though the project started off for Wan Kaung village, it ended up in a different village. But I was happy it ended in a way that was helpful to someone.”

What motivates you?

“I feel like that trip hit a nerve. A lot of countries including India, where I come from, live in this continuous poverty cycle. If you want to do anything in your life, I feel like education is the first step, and it’s the only thing that can take you out of the poverty cycle. If we really want to become citizens of tomorrow, then every child needs to get education; it’s a fundamental right! It’s in the constitution of almost every country that you need to get an education.”

What isn’t always easy?

“In Asian countries there is a huge mindset barrier. Education is a process where the outcome is only seen after a couple of years. So you don’t see the immediate outcome and because many times parents do not see the immediate outcome, they don’t want to invest in it. So people have a mindset that they don’t earn, so they don’t bring to the family, and they lose money if they invest in their child.

“On a personal level, helplessness is a challenge. How much can a tenth grade student actually do to make an impact? Even now, getting in touch with organisations, creating pitches, showing that I’m actually interested in my causes, you have to be really persistent.”

Read more

The five finalists for the 2024 Student of the Year election

In no particular order, these are the finalists for Student of the Year: Mahika Bisht…

What have you learned from all this?

“I know it sounds cliche to say never give up, but everything I’ve done took more than a year to accomplish. Oftentimes I felt like everything was taking too long, but I had the motivation that once it will be over, it’s going to create a really good impact.

Everyone who nominated you described your positive qualities. Where have you obtained those qualities from?

“My dad is a diplomat and is in the navy, so growing up, I changed nine schools in India. Most of them were military schools, and they instilled the values of confidence, courage, and honesty growing up. I got all these qualities because of my schooling.”

How would you describe yourself then?

“I’m persistent. Once I decide I will do something, even if it takes me one year, I will do it. I always do my own thing, and I don’t feel the need to follow the crowd.”

How do you feel about the nomination?

“I feel very grateful. I was reading about last year’s nominees, for example about the one where they helped in Turkey and Syria. It gives me happiness as I am not the only one who is thinking about tomorrow.”

Where do you want to work in the future?

“I want to work for an NGO, or UN, or UNICEF, because I feel like what I do best is for the education of children. It is my interest and my resume aligns with that. Maybe I will be less helpless because I will have more power to do something!”

Read 2 comments