Vanesha and Varshini Hari © Courtesy of Joys of Giving
By Vanesha and Varshini Hari
“Do all girls attend school?” was a naive question we asked our parents when we were on an international trip to India, only eight and 10 years old. We didn’t know any better and assumed that every child normally attends school as a part of growing up.
We shockingly learned that we were wrong when we saw young girls doing chores at home to support their families financially and that they did not have a choice to attend school. Being the same age as these young girls and having opportunities and privileges they didn’t, we instantly felt something was unfair. At the time, we were so young that we didn’t understand the depth and significance of this question. However, we felt that we could do something about this, starting with small acts of kindness.
When we flew back home to Seattle, we pondered our experience and the question around educational equity—especially as we were helping our mother with donations to local homeless shelters and foster homes. We learned that in Washington state, homelessness numbers were high, and there was a significant number of youth in foster homes and others who did not have access to education and opportunities.
We then realized that this is a global issue where youth, especially girls, who have the biggest power to build and influence families and communities, do not have access to education. They simply didn’t have a voice that could be heard. We knew we had to start small, and thus began our initiative: Joys of Giving.
We started by bringing our joy of baking and STEM to spread our love for education. We raised funds to support nonprofits to bring educational equity and grew from raising our first few hundred dollars with baking to now more than $20,000 over the last seven years, impacting more than 1,000 youth across the nation.
We have inspired and helped bring on several youth volunteers in our community to help us with weekly projects of making sandwiches for homeless shelters, cooking meals for the homeless and offering STEM workshops to youth nationally. Recently, we had our first youth collaboration for our baking fundraiser to help the local school district free meals service, which was especially significant during the pandemic when schools were shut down.
Over the years, we have come a long way in connecting with the depth of our first naive question, which sparked our curiosity and the need to start a kindness movement in the community. Our biggest inspiration is Malala Yousafzai, who once said: “They cannot stop me. I will get my education if it is in the home, school, or any place.”
Our journey has just begun, and we have learned that alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much. When we started our initiative, we did not know that we could make a difference, but now we realize that regardless of age, anyone can make a difference—all it takes is kindness.
In the end, we imagine a world in which every individual has equal opportunities and can access the profound power of education. Thus far, we have fundraised $20,000, conducted more than 40 STEM workshops and baking fundraisers, volunteered over 1,000 hours and impacted thousands of lives.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.
Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, Nobel peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg © REUTERS/Philip O’Connor By Ilze Filks and Philip O’Connor