Holding a vision of a more educated world through cross-cultural tutoring, Zahra Rawji will officially launch her non-profit educational social network, iPals-Online, this month.
“It is so important for youth to be able to connect today,” Rawji said. “One of the biggest causes of global conflict, from my perspective, is cultural ignorance. I knew when I was 13 that I wanted to make a positive impact on the students I visited in an urban slum in Nairobi.”
After seeing the passion and curiosity of seventh-graders in Kangemi, Africa—and how their quality of life paled in comparison to life in developed countries—Rawji realized that “despite being in a world where there are more cellphones than people, we have never been more disconnected.”
Poorer communities all over the world are now benefitting from Rawji’s non-profit, which is already operating in nine schools in five different countries across three continents, with over 5,000 members. The network’s website—ipalsonline. com—transcends these physical and cultural boundaries by allowing for mutual tutoring and discussion between different “iPals clubs” from individual schools.
Rawji has also taken major steps in connecting schools in East Africa by establishing partnerships with other non-profit organizations specializing in providing computers and Internet connectivity.
As Rawji first began working with students in Kangemi, she immediately realized they would need help with fundamental computer skills. When teaching a student how to use a computer, Rawji told her to “grab the mouse,” whereupon she screamed. After that incident, the school curriculum was expanded to include computer training.
“Incidentally,” Rawji added, “Jennifer was the first graduate from this school to go to college, a year after iPals was launched—she is pursuing IT as a career.”
In addition, Rawji has been working with the Ministry of Education in Tanzania while reaching out to companies in Canada and Africa, such as TELUS, Google, Rogers, Airtel and Safaricom. She has raised over $15,000 in funds, $5,000 in awards and $100,000 in contributions.
With turmoil stirring in places such as Pakistan—where Taliban influence has prevented Muslims and non- Muslims from even speaking about educating women—Rawji has faced many challenges in implementing iPals-Online. It has been all-important to respect the cultures of the schools involved, and she has had to protect certain students (some of whom cannot actively participate) in the interest of safety.
“Deerfield has been instrumental in the development of iPals,” Rawji said, pointing to Global Studies Director David Miller and former Community Service Director Bernie Baker, who both played key roles in resolving the non-profit’s early problems.
Mr. Miller praised Rawji, saying, “Zahra has quickly realized that change in the world will only come through effective partnerships. She is extremely professional and mature well beyond her years.”
“What has kept me committed and passionate,” concluded Rawji, ”is the ultimate vision of youth connecting to one another around the world and across boundaries—political, cultural, social and [linguistic]. I want to bring social convergence to a divergent world.”