While many high school girls spent their time talking about fashion and other cool stuff, Simran Joshi and her friend Pavitra Giri fantasized about starting a NGO helping India’s poor, a country their parents left decades ago.
While Pavitra was born and raised here, Simran came at age 7 with vivid memories of all things Indian. Today she’s doing her fourth year at the University of Toronto St. George Campus majoring in Bioethics (Medical Ethics) and double majoring in environmental science and South Asian studies.
Pavitra Giri is working for the federal government dealing with international trade.
Obviously their high school thoughts about starting an NGO was no idle talk. In between their busy schedules they started Love Pangea an NGO, and they’ve raised funds and donations of stationery, sanitary napkins and hygiene products which they’ve sent to 450 students at the school and are paying for the yearly tuition, uniform fees and extracurricular fees for these 11 girls.
What is truly remarkable about these two young, bright and industrious women is their drive, commitment and clarity of vision. In an interview with Can-India, they reveal who they really are and what makes them tick.
What was it like growing up brown?
Simran: It was always hard, just moving from one school to another, making new friends, getting bullied and adjusting to a different education system.
Pavitra: I was born in Toronto, it was very difficult at the ages of 7-15 to balance my ethnicity with being Canadian, especially in terms of staying in touch with my culture. I think that at that time, many brown children wanted to be ‘modernized.’ Even though I was born here, societal pressures and racial tensions in school didn’t always make me feel like I belonged.
Explain your deep attachment to India.
Simran: I am extremely nationalistic. I am very inspired by an Indian politician named Shashi Tharoor. He stated that “how can you know where you are going if you don’t know where you came from?”
Pavitra: It was only in university when I started to truly appreciate my background – I study both commerce (business) and religion, so many of the Buddhism and Hinduism courses gave me a profound understanding of Tamil culture in ancient India. So in contrast to Simran, I grew up here, I couldn’t always relate, I felt more loyal to the country that’s given my parents a better life. So just because I didn’t grow up in India, doesn’t mean I’m any less globally engaged.
What was the process of starting an NGO like?
Simran: We had to turn 18 before we could legally sign documents and it is not always easy sorting out the logistics.
Love Pangea has managed to fundraise nearly $2000 in 10 days! This will sponsor fees for the 11 poorest girls at SSRVM Dharavi, a charity school in Dharavi. This school was chosen because they do not enforce payment for those who cannot afford it which is 60% of the school. They provide safe drinking water, food, stationery, books and also teach yoga and meditation to the children. They also have councillors and rehabs for children who are subject to abuse in the slums. We spoke to the parents of the 11 girls and they couldn’t believe that we were willing to do this. Every single parent cried on the phone as we explained to them that we want to fund their child’s education. I don’t want girls to be pulled out of school and forced to do domestic work or labour work.
What does this whole idea mean to you?
Pavitra: This idea had started a few months ago, but I think it really started to pick up in the end of May/beginning of June when I came back from visiting Sikkim, India. We did an 8-day hike in the Himalayas to study indigenous belief systems there. What mainly inspired me to do this was speaking to villagers and Indian locals during my trek.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Simran: I would be a doctor and start a charity hospital in India some day and hope that I can somehow incorporate Love Pangea into my work.
Pavitra: Although my education and work experience has paved the way for me to become a marketing professional, after experiencing India my career focus has shifted. I used to aspire to work in corporate like my parents, but I now want to do something more globally engaged. I see myself possibly completing a master’s degree and working either in international relations or in a business position at a meaningful not-for-profit, such as Canadian Blood Services.