This is the South East of England regional winner by Pavan Kumar Sriram, who comes from India and studies at Southampton University.
My dearest Aunt,
I do hope you are keeping well. Recently I have been revisiting childhood and remembering those crucial elements of growing up under such hardships. Without your support and encouragement I could not have grown into SUCH a responsible individual. But now I am very excited to share with you MY wonderful experiences during the last two years of stay in UK: A truly insightful and an eye opening experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It has opened my mind to possibilities of what can actually be achieved, if we change our way of thinking. I graduated MSc with first class distinction and received Dorothy Hodgkin’s award to pursue a PhD at University of Southampton. Besides excelling in my academic endeavors, I have always nurtured a deep desire to contribute towards the much needed social change.
Being in the UK has made me believe that the most important contribution I can make to the world is to become a changemaker myself and influence other youths. Working towards my motto, I have created Youth Venture at the University to combat trafficking and violence against women, which is the third largest crime in the world. In this initiative, we are engaged in educational campaign, creating awareness on how youths can play an active role in stopping human trafficking. We sensitized the community against stigmatization of trafficked victims/survivors by conducting workshops and sessions. We have been creating employment opportunities and conducting training for the victims on developing life-skills necessary to experience freedom. Our youth venture supports NGO’s Prajwala India and Freeset Trust, located in Soton UK and Sonagacchi, the largest sex district in Kolkata, India where within a few square miles more than 10,000 women ‘stand in line’ selling their bodies daily to thousands of men because of poverty, lack of education, abduction, taking care of families and being trafficked by their own family members. It is nothing but modern day slavery.
Our Youth team has started a reusable bag campaign wherein we sell the bags produced by women from Freeset. In this way, we try to provide them with financial assistance and help them start new lives, regain dignity in their communities and begin a journey towards healing and economic independence. Our strategy was to involve the whole community, encourage giant supermarkets like ASDA, TESCO and Sainsbury’s to promote these eco-friendly bags, which not only advocates for reduction in the use of plastic bags but makes a difference to lives of these women and children. The local MP’s and University have given us full support and we have applied for grants from the UN trust fund, Unltd and European commission’s youth for action programme. If the applications get accepted then we can contribute towards transformation of more inclusive community that respects the dignity of women and offers new opportunities to their children through a 400,000 $ funding. My aim is to inspire as many people to become Social Entrepreneurs, who want to provide innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems.
I have also involved myself in several other volunteering projects like City life education and action for refugees (CLEAR) which aim to improve the quality of life for refugees and asylum seekers in Southampton and the Community Cafe where we cook up a variety of creative, tasty Sunday dinners to serve more than 100 vulnerable/homeless people. It is extremely humbling to be part of such initiatives. I have been selected as Sustainable Energy Mentor for year 10 students at a local School, which I visit and also do e-mentoring to help them prepare projects on sustainability theme. I have been chosen as Student Ambassador at University to work with young people to help raise their aspirations and give them knowledge they need to make informed choices about Higher Education. I have been elected as VP for Erasmus Mundus Indian Chapter by EMA (EC), to work along with European delegation promoting and encouraging Europe as the centre of excellence for higher education in India. I have created a website www.emaindia.eu which provides more information.
I had the best Christmas of my life spending entire day with a local family celebrating Christmas in a truly British way. I could not ask for more!! I just love everything about UK, the pace and feel of the city, its social life, its people, its inclusiveness to accommodate people from all walks of life and regions.
Aunt, I hope and confident that our collective-sustained efforts would unite the global communities to combat social issues. I already see this heading in the positive path with the wonderful support and encouragement from the local community and MP’s. They are always willing to take this to next step, which is essential for a better planet. I hope your words of advice will continue to guide me in these initiatives.
Love you and miss you.