Teenagers, it has to be said, don’t always get a good rep. The youngster of popular stereotype is generally lazy, moody and argumentative. They’re occasionally rebellious and always fiddling with their phones. This generation, born in the late Nineties and early Noughties, have never had it so good. And yet they still complain that they don’t have more.
But is this tired cliché really the truth? Friday thinks not. Here, we’re constantly hearing reports of Generation Z-ers not only achieving excellence but helping others, working in the community, doing their bit for charity and making a difference.
And so to celebrate this, today we tell the tales of three teens who are all a credit to their age...
Saima Khan, 17, lives in Karama, from India
Four years ago, when Saima was just 13, her mother Shaherban confiscated her mobile, hid the laptop, banned TV and told the youngster she couldn’t have any of them back until she did something productive with her summer holidays.
Initially annoyed, Saima started helping out at Sharjah Cats and Dogs Shelter in a bid to regain her privileges. ‘And I loved it,’ she says.
‘Working there and helping out made me happier than I’d ever been. I wasn’t bothered about watching TV anymore because I didn’t have time anyway.’
Indeed, it started something of an obsession. Because since then, the youngster – a student at Gems Our Own English High School in Al Warqa – hasn’t just continued working at the shelter. In the past four years she has volunteered with more than 45 charities, philanthropic organisations and non-profit bodies across the UAE. She estimates she’s put in some 3,000 hours with groups as diverse as Dubai Autism Centre, Feline Friends, Dubai Cares, the Safe and Sound breast cancer charity and refugee-helping PennyAppeal.
She’s done everything from planting trees to painting schools, picking up litter, to monitoring walkathons, providing drinks for labourers, to visiting sick children, and raising money too – thousands of dirhams. She spends so much time helping others, her parents have had to remind her not to forget her schoolwork.
And in recognition of that, she has just been shortlisted for the Volunteer of the Year gong at the prestigious Muslim Awards, held annually in Canada.
She is up against a handful of individuals and institutions from across the Islamic world for the cash prize. The winner will be decided by an online public poll but voters are being urged to favour those who have ‘demonstrated volunteerism and initiatives focused on serving Muslims and non-Muslims, demonstrated leadership, very active to promote peace, intercultural understanding, community and serves as a role model for the larger community’.
‘Do I think I’ll win?’ she ponders. ‘Yes, I do. I have dedicated my life to charity and I just hope that is recognised.’
She will travel to Toronto with dad Feroz and mum Shaherban for the ceremony in October.
‘But I don’t do this for the recognition,’ she insists. ‘I do it because being selfless is so fulfilling. Recently, I was visiting sick children at Latifa Hospital and I met a six-year-old girl – an orphan with kidney problems – and we spent some time together. As I was leaving, she said to me “You’ve brought a ray of sunshine to me today, Saima.” I almost cried. It’s only a couple of hours out of my afternoon but for this little girl, it meant so much.’
Along similar lines, Saima finds it particularly moving handing out water to labourers. ‘I was thirsty just giving the water away in the heat of summer so you can’t imagine how they must be feeling working all day in it,’ she says.
And it seems now that volunteering for charities isn’t quite enough. She and four friends have started their own group called Step Up to help good causes with projects like Bake For A Cure. In this, they worked with youngsters from Al Noor Training Centre for Children With Special Needs to cook sweets and treats to sell in schools. The money made was donated to health causes at the Latifa Hospital.
Saima wants this to be her future too.Next year, she’s hoping to study social entrepreneurship at Yale University in the US. After that, she’d like to run her own enterprise.
‘I can’t think of anything more rewarding than helping people,’ she says.
Find out more about Saima’s award at muslimawards.org/nomineeprofile.php?id=287
Priyanjali Guha, 18, lives in Bur Dubai, from India
Like teenage girls everywhere, Priyanjali Guha is obsessed with fashion. She loves her heels, likes to buy the latest trends, and is always checking her phone apps for what’s hot. Unlike most teenage girls, however, this particular youngster is putting her passion to philanthropic use.
See, Priyanjali also loves fashion design, and she’s using that skill to help others. She has raised more than Dh1,500 for two charities by auctioning off the creations she has tailored with her own hands.
‘It’s flattering that people want to buy things I’ve made,’ she says. ‘And I figured I could use that to do some good.’
She dreams up dresses and outfits, sketches them in her notepad, then sits at her sewing machine and makes them. Her numbers have included velvet gowns, bejewelled tops and intricate skirts. She used to give them to grateful friends. ‘Or keep them myself,’ she admits shyly.
Last year, however, she was inspired to auction them to raise funds to help others. The first of these was carried out as part of Abu Dhabi Fashion Days festival where 40 designers – mostly professional – were asked to create mini mannequin outfits for a blind auction in aid of charities supporting Palestinians in Gaza. It took place at Wafi mall last October and Priyanjali’s contribution was a black and gold number – ‘inspired by Salvador Dali and Alice In Wonderland’. And it made more than Dh700.
‘I was thrilled,’ she says. ‘I realised this thing I love doing can be put to really good use. I could help people less fortunate than myself while doing something I enjoy.’
Shortly after that, she and a friend launched their own Facebook auction in aid of the ALS Association – a charity trying to combat motor neurone diseases – and made famous last year by the ice bucket challenge.
Priyanjali designed a dress, put it online, and said she would make the outfit for the highest bidder. ‘And we couldn’t believe the response,’ she says. ‘I’d never heard of an auction on Facebook so thought a few of our friends might bid for a bit of fun but that would be it.
‘But the night before, loads of people started talking about it online. Our school [Gems Modern Academy in Nad Al Sheba] posted links on its Facebook and Twitter account. So when it came to bidding, there were loads of people pushing the price up.’
In the end, Dh410 won the day, which is considerable considering it was teenagers bidding. Priyanjali also agreed to make a second dress for a bid of Dh360, bringing the total to Dh770.
Since then, her final year of school has eaten into her time and prevented her doing anymore. But once she’s at university in September – she’s hoping to study design at Pearl Academy in Mumbai – she says she’s going to be designing once again.
‘It gives me so much satisfaction to think I’m helping a good cause at the same time,’ she says. ‘Of course I’ll continue. Even if I become a world-famous fashion designer, this is something I’ll always continue to do.’
View Priyanjali’s designs on her Facebook page
Arushi Madan, 16, lives in Sharjah, from India
There are two types of people in this world, says Arushi Madan. ‘Givers and takers,’ she notes. ‘Those who take may eat better but those who give, I believe, sleep better.’
It is a philosophy this youngster already lives her life by. Her passion is the environment and she works tirelessly to do good by it.
‘I come from Delhi, which is the most polluted city in the world,’ she says. ‘Learning that when I was younger had a huge impact on me. The damage we do to the environment is shocking – I decided I wanted to be one of the people trying to change that.’
As such, in 2013 she joined the online UAE group Students For The Earth, and has since become its president.
The group organises large-scale projects such as the current A Dose Of Help scheme, in which members collect unused medication that has a year before its expiry date from homes, businesses and pharmacies across Dubai and Sharjah. Then they give it to the UAE Red Crescent to be distributed to the poor and needy.
‘If we didn’t do this, the medicine would go to landfill,’ says the Delhi Private School student. ‘By redistributing it, everybody wins.’
Along similar lines, after the devastating earthquake in Nepal, the group collected foodstuff to donate to the UAE Red Crescent to distribute in the mountain nation. Together, they gathered 1.25 tonnes of food – rice, sugar and biscuits.
Because of her co-ordination of such projects, Arushi has won an International Diana Award, which recognises young people doing great charity work, and a Sharjah Environment Awareness Award.
But the youngster – who hopes to go to Oxford University and become a cardiologist – isn’t resting on her laurels. She’s now organising a mass tree plant in Sharjah. The Environment Protection Agency has agreed to give 250 trees to be planted on land yet to be decided.
‘We’ll hopefully get 250 volunteers so we all plant one tree each,’ says Arushi. ‘It would be lovely to see the trees thriving and know that I helped do that.’
Find out more about Arushi’s work at studentsfortheearth.weebly.com