Vulnerable and lacking educational opportunities, nearly half of school aged refugee children around the world are out of school. Serving as an advocate for underprivileged youth and forgotten populations like child refugees, 17-year-old Ishika Devgan is volunteering to offer educational opportunities for kids today and changing the future for generations tomorrow.
Launching Youth Education Initiative (YEI) in 2019, Ishika has connected with hundreds of children across chapters in the United States and internationally, including in Spain and India. The Bellevue, Washington rising high school senior is helping kids through engaging programming and is effecting change through advocacy with government leaders including the Biden-Harris administration.
What inspires you to volunteer?
The people that we are helping. In my community, there’s a divide between groups of opportunity and those who lack opportunity and resources. I’m inspired to meet those people and see our impact.
Describe your volunteerism with YEI.
As founder, I recruit chapters around the world to expand our volunteers, I handle fundraisers to support our programs and I advocate to raise awareness about education inequities. I also interact with the program participants in our Washington branch area. We have a bunch of programs including our Textbook Fund drive for international students and Tickets For Change initiative which provides money for students to travel internationally for education.
Your advocacy includes working with the Biden-Harris administration. Tell me more.
My service includes drafting and lobbying for bills in the states with the highest refugee youth populations, to meeting with legislators to improve budgets for refugee education. We’ve been working with the Biden-Harris team to help pass refugee education bills and create policy papers to reference. This volunteerism has shown me the importance of youth input and influence in government, especially in areas of education where youths are the main stakeholders.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
We held a book drive in the Bellevue area, and collected a few thousand dollars worth of books to donate to unaccompanied minors. Seeing the lack of resources they have and then visually witnessing the impact of this drive really contextualized the entire process for me. Instead of this being an abstract issue, we are personally helping groups like the youth refugee population, often a forgotten part of advocacy because of how detached refugees in America seem from the rest of the country.
Why do you think it’s important for others to give back?
There are different ways to help people even if you don’t have “power” in a systematic stance. You still have the ability to make change.
How have you continued to volunteer throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
Before the pandemic, we used to do a lot of in-person fundraisers and drives. As a result of the pandemic, we started doing more legislative service on the advocacy side, helping lawmakers to evaluate different bills that impact the groups we serve.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
When you’re not busy volunteering or in school, what do you do for fun?
I like to watch true crime documentaries.
How can readers help?
Please visit the Youth Education Initiative website for more information about how you can help.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Ishika Devgan? Find local volunteer opportunities.