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Diminishing misogyny, ableism, and racism are just some of the topics that interest Ayleen Velani, a grade 12 student at the Universal American School in Dubai. Currently taking the IB Diploma, she enjoys conducting presentations for schools where she addresses these subjects among other current issues.

She has held many roles such as being the Mental Health Leader in the National Honor Society, the lead of an American Sign Language workshop, anchor for the school’s morning announcements, and a speaker in the New York NHSMUN conference.

Excerpts from an interview:

What got you interested in subjects like higher level History and English?

I have a passion for learning about and vocalizing global issues and their origins. These subjects will allow me to be successful in pursuing a major in International Relations at university.

What triggered your passion for discussing topics such as diminishing misogyny, ableism, and racism?

I realised that these topics aren’t taught within the school curriculum. Because of this, many students lack sensitivity towards these subjects and they remain undiscussed. My friends and I wanted to develop a platform that allowed an open discussion for all students to participate in and truly understand the severity of these cases.

I believe that discussions on these topics are necessary for students around the world. Although cultural differences are prevalent, equality is vital in every nation; especially a cultural hub like the UAE.

When these topics are introduced at younger ages, students are able to approach them with more sensitivity and understanding, which will help limit the discrimination that occurs in our world.

You have conducted presentations for schools addressing these issues. What has been the response of students?

Responses varied based on their age groups and experiences. While the older grades were more aware of such issues, many were able to dive deeper into discussions on their impact on the Middle East and beyond.

On the other hand, some students found it more difficult to alter their beliefs and weren’t able to take as much from the presentations.

Our Grade 6 audience was definitely our biggest win. They were extremely interactive and continued the conversations with their teachers even after the presentations were over.

Can you share some moments when you felt a sense of fulfillment after a presentation?

Once, while I was presenting, I saw a shift in the audience from students joking around to speaking on examples of their own life scenarios on discussed topics. With the changes in their focus and their level of participation, I really felt like I made a change within the youth.

How else do you think you can raise awareness and bring about a positive change in the way people address such issues?

I believe that another important way to raise awareness is through using social media accounts to advocate for relevant issues. Posting updates on any current events that happen around the world can allow more people to be more knowledgeable about how various forms of discrimination and inequality harm different populations on a daily basis.

Who are your mentors and what are the five best pieces of advice they have given you?

My mentors include many of the teachers that I have had over the last few years who have continued to support my friends and I with their constant recognition and advice. Some of their best pieces of advice include reminding us to always advocate for what we believe in; not allowing negative reactions to impact our goals; continuing to go above and beyond our normal duties; understanding that perseverance is the key to success; and focusing on the positive reactions over the negative ones. All of these pieces of advice have allowed me to want to continue educating the people in my community about these issues.

What subjects do you plan to pursue for your higher studies?

I plan to major in International Relations and minor in Women and Gender Studies. With this as my focus, I plan to take subjects that will allow me to engage in political conversations and understand how to contribute towards helping diminish humanitarian issues.

What is your dream career and how are you working towards it?

My dream career is working in the United Nations. I am currently working towards that by taking the appropriate IB classes, which help me to build the content and communication skills needed to achieve my dream. Majoring in International Relations will allow me to gain a deeper understanding of global issues and foreign affairs.

To learn more, visit haleeducation.com.

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