Meet Kiran: 17 years old and out to change the world
“I never dreamed I would be on this stage,” said Kiran Waqar as she officially kicked off the 2017 RESULTS International Conference in Washington, DC, before an audience of hundreds last July. A few days later, she would meet face-to-face with her senators and confidently explain why they should support education initiatives in low-income countries around the world.
Kiran knows a lot about policy and how to talk to lawmakers now, but not long ago, she “had no idea what advocacy was.” Which isn’t surprising, since she’s only 17 and can’t yet vote. She admits that before getting involved with RESULTS, civic engagement wasn’t on her mind at all.
“You don’t learn this stuff in high school,” she quipped, adding that she had to google her members of Congress before her initial conversation with RESULTS staff.
Kiran – who speaks with preternatural speed and buoyancy — might not have known much about advocacy, but she’s always been active in her Vermont community. She’s the kind of person who will spend entire days organizing donation drives and collecting items for people in need. But she knew she wanted to have a bigger impact, especially after working with underprivileged kids while visiting family in Pakistan last summer.
Before that, “I didn’t really understand the systems of poverty. I didn’t understand the enormity of it.”
She describes the group of kids she taught as razor-smart and brimming with potential. During bad weather, students would bike miles through the rain just to show up for her class.
“I remember they were writing speeches to perform for the principal. One kid said, ‘Education isn’t about a diploma or a grade, it’s about being an informed person who is able to make their own decisions.’ That stuck with me,” Kiran said.
She started to think about all the kids in Pakistan – and around the world – who wouldn’t get a chance to go to school or pursue their dreams.
Kiran discovered that advocacy – whether helping change policy or raising billions of dollars for anti-poverty initiatives – has the potential to transform millions of lives. So far, she’s met with both of her Senators to discuss global education and health issues, and she also leads the small-but-growing RESULTS Vermont group. It’s hard to believe now, but Kiran said she used to be extremely shy and took pains to avoid the limelight.
“I was the kind of person who would see the pencil sharpener in class and be scared to get up and use it,” she recalled.
Then, in tenth grade, she decided to start wearing a hijab to cover her hair and neck, as many Muslim women do. Suddenly, she had to contend with being visible in a way she wasn’t before.
“I got a lot of really ignorant questions,” she said.
But she also felt like she could do something about it. Together with three friends, Kiran started a slam poetry group called Muslim Girls Making Change, where they bluntly tackle topics like xenophobia, racism, and the microaggressions they routinely experience. They’ve performed all over Vermont and were invited to participate in an international slam poetry competition in Washington, DC.
Being part of the poetry group has given Kiran a newfound confidence to speak out about issues she cares about, and she brings that boldness and poise to her work as an advocate. In July, still giddy after a surprise face-to-face meeting with her senator, she reflected on the “amazing energy” of the International Conference.
“RESULTS advocates aren’t just talking about the issues. They understand the issues and they want to do something about them right now. As an advocate, I feel like I’m being heard by people making big decisions. My actions make a difference. It’s empowering.”
To learn more about RESULTS and how you can get involved, please visit www.results.org/volunteer.