I was struggling to find my place.
Since elementary school, I have loved to try new things. Despite this, I had trouble finding a niche group that I fell into. I was tired of waiting for the perfect “box” for me. I decided to create my own.
I remember feeling immense anxiety when I learned that I would have to move schools in seventh grade. Looking back, the timing of this life transition couldn’t have come at a better time. I finally had the opportunity that I was dreaming of to discover my place and write my own destiny.
At this newly constructed school, I was surrounded by educators and students who I had never met before. Talking to new people, learning who they were and where they came from and what they were passionate about was a constant source of inspiration for me. Being among the oldest students at the school, the task of leading the younger grades typically fell on our shoulders. I loved every aspect of it. I was able to put my discomfort and hesitations aside to make others feel welcome. I was learning so much along the way – about the similar lives of those hailing from dissimilar circumstances and the importance of showing empathy especially when it is hard.
Teachers took notice of my love for helping others. They said it radiated and was inspiring others to wholeheartedly do the same. They encouraged me to take on a leadership role in the school’s first social justice club. We recruited dozens of students from every grade to meet at lunch once a week to discuss issues in our community and brainstorm solutions. With the help of teacher supervisors, other executive team members and our dedicated volunteers, we turned our ideas into action each month: organizing food drives, bake sales, movie nights, school building fundraisers and more to uplift and empower youth in need both locally and globally. This was my first taste (albeit on a small scale) of community mobilization and action.
When I had the idea to launch my first charity project, I don’t think anyone was overly surprised. That same school year, I secured funds to bring joy to low-income children in the form of toys, games and crafts.
It was also around this time that I became fascinated by the news. I would watch attentively as the reporters relayed their findings and engaged in political discussions. I cannot say that I fully understood their conversations, but I would ask my parents countless questions to fill in the gaps. My family assumed that I was just a very curious kid. But when I heard about a flood in Pakistan and started writing ways to help the victims in my journal, my mom said she realized that this was something more.
It was not until high school that I recognized this for myself. In grade 10, my civics class was assigned the task to take action on any initiative of our choice. I decided to work solo and embark on a journey of self-discovery. I founded Aiza’s Teddybear Foundation with a goal to provide physical and emotional support to children in need. Throughout my life, I had witnessed children in dire circumstances, on the brink of society, who were made to feel vulnerable or less than. I had worked with elementary school students, many of whom were struggling with their self-confidence. I had been a child that was ignored and overlooked because I lacked the interest of being placed in a box that others easily existed in.
It felt like every day I was learning about children who had been forced to face the brutal nature of the circumstances they were born into. It hurt knowing that I could sit idly by as thousands of innocent children struggled to find their peace, their passions and their place. I wanted to do so much. But I was a kid without capital or many resources. It did not take me long to realize that I didn’t need any of that. My voice became my greatest tool in helping me ensure that no child is dealt with unjustly.
This October is our eight-year anniversary since founding my non-profit organization. At least 2920 days of service or thinking about service or helping others engage in similar acts of creating meaningful change. Nearly 8 trips around the sun devoted to alleviating pain and spreading joy. And with each passing day, I fall more in love with this work to make life easier for children in need.
It has been an honour and privilege to carry out my passion and my purpose simultaneously in this space that I created for me. A long story that serves as a simple reminder that life is too short and each moment is too valuable to settle for a box that was not made for you.