This week we catch up with Diya N., who recently received the Harvard Book Prize accolade during the Grade 9 – 11 Awards Ceremony last semester.
Diya is an active member of our community participating in MUN, Forensics & Debate, TED-Ed, Chinese Cultural Club, and also involved with various NGOs such as the Malaysian Karen Organization (MKO) and Kids 4 Kids (K4K).
Diya has been incredibly busy during the Movement Control Order. She created and founded the ‘ES Activities the HS Way’ initiative and collaborated with a classmate to start ‘Panther Smiles,’ an online platform to promote positivity and gratitude during the lockdown, and led the virtual TED-Ed Student Talks series.
Here is her story.
“I am currently actively involved in a variety of activities such as the Model United Nations (MUN), Original Oratory (Forensics & Debate), TED-Ed, Chinese Cultural Club, and community partnerships like the MKO and Kids 4 Kids (K4K). The tightly-knit community environment at ISKL has genuinely provided me with the best support system to help me grow and develop as a person.
‘The children of the Akanksha school foundation changed me. A few summers ago, I volunteered to teach English at one of their schools, catering to children from impoverished families in a predominantly minority community in Pune, India. This opportunity opened my eyes to an environment as opposed to mine. As I worked with the students, I learned about the hardships they faced. I noticed that they often worked on the cold, hard, and sometimes wet floors, so I organized a fundraiser to buy handmade rugs (supporting local artisans) for classrooms and held a book drive for their library. The generosity and love I received in return sparked my inspiration to continue positively impacting communities around me.
‘As an Executive Member of K4K and MKO community partnerships, I’ve gained invaluable insight into the lives of those facing immense struggle such as seeing listless toddlers on hospital beds undergoing chemotherapy, orphans making cards for the birth parents who abandoned them, and innocent Myanmar refugees as young as six years old. As a leader, I’m dedicated to inspiring fellow students to make an impact, however small, in the lives of those less privileged.
‘For instance, over the last four years, I raised money for a charity called Aasraa by purchasing a vendor table at our school’s International Festival. Through the sales of homemade candles, slime, other items, as well as organizing a raffle hamper sponsored by companies like Bath & Body Works and Digi Malaysia, I raised money to sponsor the yearly education fees of a street child in Dehradun, India. Every year, my friends and I work at this stall together, and we find it fulfilling to know that our time and effort is spent on changing someone’s life. I do what I do because I love working with people.
‘As a Secretariat member and “Chair” at this year’s IASAS MUN conference and as a participant for Original Oratory at the IASAS Forensics & Debate, I am most definitely passionate about public speaking, and I try to channel this passion for inspiring change.
‘A public speaking workshop I organized with three of my peers for High School (HS) refugee students gave them the skills to advocate for themselves, and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk to these refugee students, get to know their stories and understand their unique perspectives about the world. Although they were facing many hardships, they remained positive and passionate about their various interests, which was truly inspiring.
‘Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm. After the Malaysian Government imposed the Movement Control Order (MCO), ISKL transitioned to virtual schooling. As someone with a keen interest in psychology, I was interested in the impact of social isolation due to COVID-19 and improving the well-being of fellow students. I initiated a collaboration between HS and Elementary School, by creating a website to encourage talented High Schoolers to share their expertise through instructional videos to engage younger students!
‘I also lead a Harry Potter Book Club with my friends Derin K. and Olivia P. to provide fifth-graders with much-needed interaction and intellectual stimulation!
‘My friend Esther T. and I also started an interactive Instagram account called Panther Smiles to inspire positivity & gratitude, as it is easy to get caught up in all the negative news which can take a toll on one’s mental well-being.
‘As the president of TED-Ed, I have adapted our annual TED-Ed event to be hosted virtually, as I believe it is critical to empower our community during this pandemic lockdown. The event’s theme ‘Shakti,’ meaning ‘Power’ in Sanskrit, encourages students to use the ‘Power’ of their voices to inspire action. I hope to strengthen our community by inspiring them to stay resilient and optimistic in these uncertain times.
‘I am grateful that my parents support me by placing complete trust in my decisions. My father lives in Vietnam, and my mother often travels to India for work. This has allowed me to be independent.
‘My greatest inspiration is my grandmother, who lives with us. She defied cultural norms for a woman in India in the 1960’s. After my grandfather’s tragic death, my grandmother went from living in a beautiful bungalow with a driver, car and social status of an army general’s wife, to standing in long and exhausting queues waiting for small food rations with only 12 rupees to her name.
‘My grandmother is 94 years old now, and although she can’t talk to me anymore, when I hold her thin, frail hand, I try to imagine how hard it was for her to raise my father as a single working woman. When she finally got a job, working for the United States Information Service, it was considered an enormous feat for a woman at the time. If she hadn’t taken a social risk and continued working, she wouldn’t have been able to, as an independent mother and war widow, build a future for her and my dad. Her story instills confidence in me, and I believe hard work is eventually rewarding. She has inspired me to put my best effort into everything I do irrespective of the outcome.
‘If I were hypothetically in a position of great wealth or power, I would use all my money for COVID-19 relief. For instance, I learned that the children and healthcare workers at the KL General Hospital’s Children’s Cancer Ward, where I volunteer as a part of K4K, are exceptionally vulnerable to COVID-19. As a leader of the K4K partnership, I would support the purchase of personal protective equipment for the hard-working, selfless medical professionals at the hospital’s Cancer Ward. As a student, I don’t have that much money, but I still want to look for ways to support these vulnerable communities and hard-working medical professionals.
‘I was born in New York, but after a short two years there, my parents moved to Hong Kong and then on to Kuala Lumpur, where I have been living since I was two.
‘I have been attending ISKL since Prep Senior, so I guess that makes me a “lifer” here! I am very grateful to have grown up in this diverse school environment, as it has helped me build an appreciation for other cultures. In the last 12 years, ISKL has provided me with countless fantastic opportunities and extracurricular activities which have allowed me to foster my interests.
‘If I could send a message to my future self, I would tell her to continue to embrace who she is without worrying about other people’s judgments. I would say to her to always strive to achieve her goals, but make sure to have some downtime to sit back, watch some Netflix and live in the moment, because maintaining a work-life balance is so essential!
‘In the future, I’m determined to pursue my passion for Economics, Math, and Psychology, working to support ethical businesses that promote sustainable development globally.
‘As an Indian-American who speaks English, Hindi, and some Chinese (which I partially credit to my Chinese rap playlist on Spotify), my activities, community involvement, and appreciation of diversity will help me feel at home wherever I am.”
What does ‘Be All You Are’ mean to you?
“Every student is inspired to achieve their full potential, and I believe that is what I have been able to do in my (almost) 12 years at this school. The diverse opportunities, community-mindedness, supportive teachers, peers, and friends, have all helped me become the person I am today.”