Tanisha is involved with a girls’ orphanage in Sri Lanka, teaching both literacy and numeracy there. Talking with her really gave us some insight into the incredible social justice work she does and how she advocates for change. Not only does she find time to contribute to different charities and organisations in the community, she also manages to stay on top of her education at North Sydney Girls’ High School. Find out how!

Hi Tanisha, thanks for taking the time out to do this interview! To start off, please tell a funny or interesting story.

I was staying at an orphanage in Sri Lanka and these girls managed to find my phone in my bag! The three of them started taking many selfies on my phone, editing the filters and everything. They came to me asking “Akki, be in our selfie?” They then started taking videos of each other singing nursery rhymes in English. It was one of the cutest memories I have from that orphanage!

Could you tell me a bit more about yourself?

When I was little, I really wanted to grow up to be exactly like my dad and be an engineer! Now, I strive to live in a way that values relationships with people. I really want to be able to work for and care for people in whatever way that may be.

That's an admirable goal. What about any of your other passions?

My high school, North Sydney Girls, is what I believe pushed me onto the path of social justice work and advocacy. I started out in the early stages of high school being pushed in the deep end. I led a small student group at my school and this was definitely a challenge. This exposed me to new ways of thinking and I expanded my passion to a communal scale. Currently, I do work with a 5-18-year-old girls' orphanage in Sri Lanka. I visit them annually and this involves teaching basic literacy and numeracy but most importantly building sisterhood relationships between myself and between the girls. These values build the bridge between the work I do and why I do it.

Your work sounds really inspirational. Could you explain more about what you do at the orphanage?

I value this work [at the orphanage] because I’m able to build relationships with the people I am helping and see their growth. Alongside fundraising initiatives, my family donated the girls a computer and internet access, and so I call the girls on Skype on a fortnightly basis. I treasure the time I am able to speak and connect with the girls. I hope to spend around three months at the orphanage once I graduate high school!

What motivated me to work with them is that I felt my social justice work in advocacy was disconnected from the meaning behind it. I wanted to work directly with people and connect with them. It’s important for them too, to be able to build strong relationships when they are in need.

What's another issue that you'd like to focus on trying to change?

Poverty is an issue that deeply disturbs me. It angers me that we are able to wake up in the morning, eat breakfast and pack lunch without being reminded of the 800 million who wake up in hunger each morning. I believe the core of the issue is at understanding privilege and that to others, success is less accessible. It is important to let something deeply disturb you so often you are spurred into action.

Even with all this social justice work, how do you still find time for school and for yourself?

At school, I do Extension 2 Maths, Advanced English, Physics and Chemistry. I like to go for runs or play basketball in between study sessions in the evening and sometimes I like to sing too! This is a time I look forward to, just to have some time where I can take my mind off everything. When it comes to balancing academics, social life, sleep etc. the key is consistency. Consistency means constant work which seems tough, but it makes everything feel less stressful and helps you to be more flexible.

What’s something you wish you’d known 5 years ago, that now you want to give to young girls working towards youth parliament and other leadership forums?

Get to know people and hold onto these friendships. Also, I regretted not throwing myself out there and letting myself voice ideas whenever I could right from the start.

Great advice. Where do you see yourself in 15 years?

In terms of university and career paths, I’d love to work in a field that allows me to serve people and so health is something that appeals to me. Organisations such as Doctors without Borders provide emergency medical aid and mental health support in over 60 countries. I’d love to be able to pursue something like this. I am keeping options open, but whether health related or not, I want to be able to serve people in whatever career path I choose.

Finally, please nominate someone who you believe young people around the world can learn from. They can be a sportsperson, entrepreneur, writer, musician, challenge-overcomer or even just a friend or someone you admire.

Natalie Chen, she’s a strong sportswoman and extremely hardworking and has a good vision in life.

Thanks so much for your time, Tanisha! It really means a lot to me and everyone else reading your story and advice.

Thank you!

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