Torch - Fall 2016

A Flat Lay of Confidence

at Havergal. “For a while I kind of distanced myself from Havergal because it was a bubble. But then I started reflecting on where my confidence or my passions for education came from. Going back to Celebration Saturday, I felt how beneficial that bubble can be when you’re a young girl in this world. I felt really lucky to have it.” She also realized that the schools had similarities, despite being worlds apart. “I think something that Prerna and Havergal have in common is that they don’t really tell you what you can and can’t do as a girl. You can do anything you want, because they’re both supportive, validating communities.” Looking at the new Havergal campaign, Desai says she likes that it connects girls at their most basic level. She says she was drawn, for example, to the soil pot in the flat lay. “I clicked on the video and it was a girl who was really passionate about planting and getting dirty in the mud. And I thought Oh, there’s another girl who likes doing something that I like doing and it just makes my confidence stronger,” says Desai. It’s a message she sees as contagious. “I think confidence is like a flame that can continue lighting other flames of confidence. The way that self-confidence is built is through validating, supporting and exposing yourself to people who have passions. They’re confident in their own passions and their own truths, and they prioritize that over external input regarding what they should be doing,” says Desai.

After Havergal, she completed a chemical engineering degree at McGill University and began pursuing new interests in social justice initiatives. But it’s what she did next that really opened her eyes to the world. After graduating, Desai went travelling in India, Morocco, Turkey and northern Europe for eight months. While in India, she spent a month at the Prerna School for Mahadalit Girls in Bihar. Started by Sudha Varghese, the school serves girls aged six to 16, who are born into the highly marginalized Mahadalit caste community. They often face not only discrimination, but also oppression in the form of sexual abuse and violence due to their social status and gender. “These girls grow up thinking that they are the lowest that any human on this planet can get. I remember trying to teach them Indian classical dance, and I’d go and try to place one of their limbs and correct their foot position, and they would feel so ashamed that I was trying to touch a part of their body because they’re conditioned to think that they are untouchable,” says Desai. While she contributed as a volunteer by doing everything from grant writing to teaching to helping create an Indigogo campaign (they raised $7,000), Desai says she also learned a lot herself. She noted that involving the girls in activities like karate and yoga, teaching mindfulness and having travel opportunities all helped them build their confidence. Desai says her experience also made her think more deeply about her time

A cheerleading competition bow. A photo of a favourite brother. Eyeglasses. Headphones. A song sheet. A camera. A book. A clown nose. These items were curated to tell the story of Havergal’s students and an aerial photo was taken to document the activity. On Monday, April 18, Havergal students (Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12) showed us what inspires confidence in them by bringing in objects to add to a giant flat lay in the Double Gym. The result was an impressive collection of objects representing the diversity of ideas these girls have about confidence. But they’re even more impressive in the backstory revealed by the girls’ Instagram stories (which can also be found at ):

• The cheerleading competition bow that symbolizes a time when she switched from a sport she’d played for 10 years to a new pursuit that she wasn’t sure about. • The photo of a favourite brother who helped shape her into who she is today. • Eyeglasses that help her see in high definition. • The headphones that help her take a break from the world and return with confidence. • The song sheet that she used to sing in front of the school. • The Polaroid camera that helps capture all her great memories instantly. • The first English language book she ever read, that helped her navigate the world in two languages. • The clown nose from Grade 7 that reminds her she doesn’t have to take everything so seriously all the time.

Simrin Desai 2010, with the girls at Prerna School for Mahadalit Girls in Bihar, India.

FALL 2016 • TORCH 21

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