It started with a basement crafting session; two sisters pulling out the scissors to make uplifting cards and translating thoughtful messages from English to other languages online.
That simple beginning – an effort to spread hope to isolated seniors in their community during the COVID-19 pandemic – eventually led Kenisha Arora to create a non-profit organization, land a role with the United Nations, and secure an entrepreneurial scholarship at Western that she says supports students in “making our dreams come true.”
Arora’s goal to share hope and brighten spirits is a driving force for the third-year medical sciences student, a fundamental view that connects her educational pursuits to her charity work and her day-to-day attitude.
“My professors have really helped my peers and me understand what we’re learning today can change a life or make a difference. That’s what I love so much about learning at Western: it’s not just about curriculum delivery, but also about how you can take that knowledge and become a better citizen of the world.”
“I think everyone is hungry for hope,” Arora said.
It’s what prompted her to create The HopeSisters along with younger sister Alisha Arora, an organization that grew out of their early-pandemic efforts to put smiles on the faces of long-term care residents. Now with more than 50 chapters worldwide and more than 5,000 people involved as “HopeSpreaders,” the registered non-profit sends cards to seniors and HopeBags, which include toys, snacks, toiletries and other essential items, to children in foster care.
Some people talk about giving back. Arora lives that value every day.
A first-generation immigrant from New Delhi, India, Arora said she was exposed to giving throughout her childhood, thanks to parents that modelled sharing their time, money and talents to serve others. From distributing home-cooked curries at a nearby temple to volunteering at the neighbourhood nursing home, the family made community service a top priority.
“When you start from a position of giving, everyone is going to want to be a part of your community. Everyone’s going to want to join you, your mission and your effort,” she said.
Arora describes the community at Western as her “other family,” a network that has not only helped her find friends and support in her pre-med program, but also unleash her potential as an activist, philanthropist and force for good on the world stage.
“Western’s been great in helping me adjust to the London environment and the community, because it really is my second home.” – Kenisha Arora
She’s given back to that second home by serving on Western’s strategic planning steering committee, Board of Governors and Senate.
Arora has since taken her leadership global, representing young people across North America and Europe at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). She also represents youth on the UN’s SDG4 High-Level Steering Committee to track progress on education, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Appearing on stage before heads of state, dignitaries and other world leaders, she gave the opening remarks as a UNESCO youth representative at the UN Transforming Education Summit last year.
“A book can become a dream, a pen can become a policy, and a microscope can become the cure for cancer,” Arora said, one of the signature phrases she used at the summit, and again in interviews.
“It really is through education that we can transform societies,” Arora added. “We see that here at Western; education is what’s making these great breakthroughs in our society. It’s solving the world’s greatest problems.”
Arora and her fellow change-makers are well on their way to tackling those challenges, too. Along with nine others, Arora is a part of the Founders Program, a mentorship and education initiative for young entrepreneurs at Western that helps grow on- and off-campus networks.
She says the connections with other like-minded students and the $20,000 tuition bursary have been life changing. The Founders Program, offered through the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, Powered by Ivey, is open to second-year students. The 10 chosen applicants are matched with a Western alum mentor. Recipients receive $5,000 in each of their second and third years, plus $10,000 in their fourth year.
“These kinds of scholarships support us in making our dreams come true. They help us unlock our potential and they really empower us,” Arora said.
Western has developed her professional skills but also opened new doors in all areas of life, Arora said.
One day she’s growing her non-profit agency, the next she’s trying dragon boating for the first time.
“No matter what you’re interested in, Western has a place for you. It’s really important that young people and students feel as though they are heard and that their passions are beyond just the academics. We all go to school, we all have this passion for learning, but beyond that, we have a passion for being,” Arora said.
“Western not only cares about us as scholars, but as human beings.”
For Arora, it’s about cultivating all elements in a well-rounded human, from ventures that could change the world to sporting skills.
“Western professors, staff and everyone sets us up for far more than success. They help you redefine what success could even look like. You say, ‘I want to jump this high,’ and they say, ‘let me help you jump higher.’ I think that’s really what’s so beautiful about Western. Nothing is impossible here.”
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