Nineteen-year-old medical sciences student Kenisha Arora has always loved giving back to her community and advocating for education around the world.
Now, she is taking her love of education activism to the United Nations next month as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) youth representative for North America and Europe.
Arora had been invited to join the UN’s 77th General Assembly in New York and will meet the heads of state in September during the Transforming Education Summit.
Her work with UNESCO will see her working alongside the executive director of the World Bank, UNICEF and heads of states to work on the future of education.
“We have meetings around understanding how do we create commitment towards education, how can we make that a top political priority, and then how do we also govern the implementation of priorities around education and ensure that the countries in each region are meeting the SDG4 (Sustainable Development Goal number 4) targets for the 2030 agenda,” said Arora.
Originally from New Delhi, India, her family moved to Canada when she was a few weeks old. They first moved to Montreal and then to Mississauga, Ont., where she has lived since she was nine.
From a young age, her parents, Taruna and Neeru, would tell her to give to charity even though they did not have much. Growing up, she and her family would hold fundraisers for local hospitals, plant trees and volunteer to help the community that gave them so much as new immigrants.
Arora brought her passion for community service and advocacy to her school activities. As a student trustee in high school, she put forward a motion for the Peel District School Board to provide free menstrual hygiene products after her best friend dropped out due to a lack of access. This move would later inspire the Ministry of Education to invest in free menstrual products in all school boards across Ontario.
At Western, she was elected as chair of the Student Senate representing the Faculty of Science until June 2023, and sits on the University Research Board. Arora credits her passion for her activism and giving back to the community to her parents, believing that “great parents are the leading cause to having good hearts.”
“If we can all just be kinder to each other like my parents have been spreading love to me, I think that’s how we create a good world,” said Arora.
In April 2020, Arora and her sister Alisha started the not-for-profit charity The HopeSisters by writing small cards of encouragement for seniors. They also developed “Hopebags”, small care packages with books, toys, blankets and a variety of treats for kids in foster care in Canada and across the world. Their charity has grown to over 50 chapters worldwide and has garnered support from Tim Hortons, Crayola, Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-Canada).
It was through The HopeSisters’ association with UNA-Canada, that Arora was invited to join UNESCO’s Youth Network, eventually being elected as the youth representative for North America and Europe on the United Nation’s High Level Steering Committee, which oversees global governance of education.
At the end of June, Arora had the honour of giving the opening speech to the United Nations Transforming Education Pre-Summit. She was told three days earlier she would be the opening speaker and wrote her speech the night before. Speaking among UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the President of Ethiopia Sahle-Work Zewde, President Julius Maada Bioof of Sierra Leone, and the director general of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay, she called her experience “magical” and a “big win for youth advocacy.”
“It was not only for me, it was really the ability to spark conversation around the importance of education,” said Arora. “The opportunity to deliver a message about how education is the answer and solution to solving the world’s greatest problems, and really sparking that vision for change, and that we can’t build a healthy future without education was really beautiful.”
Chegg’s Global Student Prize
In mid-July, Arora was notified that she had been selected as a top 50 finalist in the Chegg.org Global Student Prize. The annual award, created by the Varkey Foundation, is a $100,000 cash prize given to a student who has made an impact on learning, the lives of their peers, and on society and beyond.
She was nominated by one of her mentors and was the only Canadian selected out of almost 7,000 nominations and applications from 150 countries.
If she wins, Arora plans to put some of the money toward her medical education as she continues her journey to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. The rest of the money would go toward The HopeSisters charity to expand it even more.
“We’ve been able to create a lot of chapters across the world and what’s been really beautiful for me is knowing just how much dignity one gets from giving,” said Arora. “It really goes to show that everyone can play a role in giving to the community and spreading hope and positivity.”
The top 10 finalists of the Chegg.org Global Student Prize will be announced in late August, and the winner later this year.
Joshua Goeree is a Western News intern from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program.