We are born to make a difference

Karim Farishta and his educational journey

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Interview with Karim Farishta

  1. Which university are you currently studying in and what is your major?

The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs; Major: International Affairs; Concentration: International Development

  1. Why did you decide to pursue this specific degree?

International Affairs is more than just a degree. It is a way of thinking globally and acting in a way that creates meaningful impact. By focusing on the international development track, this major offers me an opportunity to enhance critical thinking skills and become a more interconnected member of our dynamic community. As a high school student, all of my extracurricular activities were focused internationally and specifically on migrant populations. Because my family had endured many hardships when they immigrated across countries and across continents to seek better outcomes, I had an intense desire to explore human rights to positively impact the world. As a result, I spent the majority of my junior and senior years of high school on self-based and mentor-based research on refugee resettlement in Houston. I am continuously intrigued and challenged with this work and would like to explore progress in human rights issues and culture-based resettlement options. I plan to engage in field experiences to strengthen my ability to make policy decisions in the future. To this aim, I will be studying abroad in Nepal, Jordan and Chile next semester. I will conduct a comparative human rights study, record stories of resilient individuals around the world, and share them with other students. I hope to contribute to the synergy that makes this major so much more than just an academic experience. I hope my immersion in international affairs will refine my perspective and shape my career choice.

  1. What are some of the challenges that you faced when you moved out of home in Texas to go to Washington to pursue your dreams?

To be completely honest, it is not easy. There are rough days when you have to study for exams, write papers, do your laundry, find time to eat, call your parents, make friends, and sleep. It isn’t impossible, but it is definitely a transition that you somehow get the hang of soon enough.

Besides time management, freedom offers both pros and cons. With a million events in the city and on campus, it is difficult to stay focused on what you want to, and perhaps more importantly, who you want to become once you graduate. Freedom lets you make choices that can both positively and negatively impact you in the short-term and long-term. Keeping your academic goals at the forefront is vital to success. You must be determined and steadfast in how far you want to go. University is your opportunity to live your life to the fullest and pursue the impossible, so do not allow it to pass you by too quickly.

Lastly, you will be amazed by those who are equally and sometimes even more intelligent than you. This is not a moment to feel down but rather inspired. Connect with them. Learn how they got to where they are today and apply their advice to your personal paths. In other words, use competition as a constructive force to empower you rather than as a destructive force to hinder your progress.

  1. What role did being an Ismaili and being exposed to the work of AKDN play in your decision of becoming a human rights activist?

The values of integrity, compassion, and generosity are engrained in our faith’s ethics. Not only does the rhetoric of the Imam show our devotion to human improvement but also our actions and deeds. Particularly, my family benefited from the assistance of AKDN and the Ismaili Councils. When war broke out in Burma (now Myanmar) my grandfather was evicted from his house and forced to travel to Bangladesh and then India. The Imamat institutions were supportive of this transition, as it would ensure a better a quality of life. Nearly 20 years later, war broke out again, now my father was compelled to move from India to Pakistan. This transition, like that of my grandfather, was not easy. Although he lost his job, home, and safety, he never lost his resilience, hope, and spirit. This, in large part, was due to the support system of the AKDN. Soon after, my mother completed nursing school at the Aga Khan University (AKU), becoming a direct beneficiary of AKDN. Her experience at AKU inspired me to get involved in the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) USA.

As I grew older and went through the REC system, I learned about the work of AKDN during the Id-e-Amin period of East African history. When there was clear evidence of injustice and a lack of freedom and equality for all murids, the network stepped in to alleviate the conflict and help families rebuild. More recently, I realized the enormous impact of FOCUS humanitarian Agency when my brother participated in the FOCUS Bike 4 Life in India. When crises erupted in the Middle East, specifically in Syria, the network’s response to human rights atrocities inspired me to pursue a parallel track.

  1. How did you get the opportunity to become AKF youth ambassador?

On our way to AKF Partnership Walk 2003, my family and I suffered a terrible car accident. After the accident, I suffered a traumatic head injury that temporarily disabled my occupational and verbal capacities. Once I recovered and came to terms with what had happened, I chose to play an active role in the Walk as a way to remember that day but importantly to learn to value my life.

When I was in 8th grade, I devised a school-wide action plan to involve students in the Walk. I was too nervous to present this plan and it stayed in my desk drawer for nearly two years. Once I finished my sophomore year of high school, there was a preexisting AKF Club at my school, but it was low in membership and inactive. The personal touch from 2003 inspired me to activate the potential of my student body, specifically at the Global Studies Academy in Clements High School. I wanted to mainstream the message of ending global poverty and the mission of the AKF closely aligned with my goal. I revised the project proposal from 8th grade and presented it to my academy coordinator and principal in 10th grade. In 11th grade, 63 students came to the walk. By my senior year, 3 busloads of 186 students attended the walk and learned from the Village In Action. Now the legacy continues and over 100 students have pledged to participate in the Walk annually.

So to answer the question, I was not given the position. Rather, I saw an opportunity and sought to actualize my goal. I am humbled and proud to say that my intrinsic awareness has spread throughout the academy, enabling others to enter service and leadership roles.

Also check out another Blog Post: It’s worth learning from your peer 


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