Born in India, Sheza Saiyed moved to the United States with her family as a 5th grader. The now 17-year-old says she grew up with access to quality education, but witnessed great need in her surrounding community.
“Workers used to come to my grandmother’s house, and they’d bring their young children, daughters my age, to help them sweep, mop and wash dishes,” says Sheza. “I used to wonder why they weren’t at school, because it’d be a weekday. My mom explained that not everyone is as fortunate and they needed money, so they had to prioritize working over school. I felt privileged but also sad, because not every child was getting the life I was.”
That experience, coupled with Sheza’s strong desire to help children in her own community who lacked access to educational resources and mentors to guide their education, has served as a catalyst for her service with Youth Promise. The organization, which provides free, virtual tutoring to underserved kids around the world, is educating students at a time of great instability and need during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Sheza, a Fremont, California high school senior.
“I highly value education and think every child should receive access to the right type of facilities to obtain an education. Amidst the pandemic, the technology divide was exposed, and that also affected underprivileged children who couldn’t access online courses as easily as we did.”
Through individual tutoring in subjects like English grammar and engineering, group classes and college and test prep workshops taught by volunteers, many students themselves, Youth Promise is helping children to reach their full potential. According to Sheza, who tutored students in her own community prior to her volunteerism with Youth Promise, by forming partnerships with community organizations and connecting with students and teachers in underserved areas, Youth Promise is changing life for students now, and for others in the future.
“It’s interesting. (My team) tutors teachers in Bangladesh so they can teach English grammar classes to their younger students. Some of these teachers are recent college graduates, but are still weak in science and English. The extra assistance we provide impacts them and indirectly impacts the children they are teaching. As a student in the Bay Area, I was exposed to engineering, but a lot of kids are intimidated by the field, especially girls. (Through volunteerism,) we’re reaching out to high school children who wouldn’t be learning diverse subjects like engineering until they reach college. We incorporate projects and fun lectures to make it more engaging, and (through our education,) they know it’s another option they can pursue in college.”
In addition to connecting with teachers and students, Sheza builds curriculum and training for Youth Promise. Bianca Jortner, Youth Promise founder and president, calls Sheza a “leader and passionate individual,” her devotion to democratizing virtual education positively changing reality for many.
“(Sheza has) contributed largely to where Youth Promise is today. She’s not only the head of social media, but she also created a partnership with an organization in Bangladesh where she led English grammar sessions. She’s empowered (teachers and students) in that she’s allowed them to gain access to educational opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. She’s the one volunteer I can always count on to garner volunteers towards a common cause.”
That drive towards a common cause will continue, says Sheza, as the organization reaches out to more children in more underserved areas to boost access to education. As need increased during the pandemic, Youth Promise thrived, opening the door for volunteers to virtually reach more children internationally than ever before, Sheza says.
“Sometimes people don’t think about volunteering to help internationally. They often think about helping their local communities. But the introduction of how easy it is to access people through Zoom, instead of being present to volunteer, will hopefully encourage people to reach out internationally and help areas where there’s more need. The need for enhancing education and improving the lives of underprivileged children will always persist. By volunteering with organizations like Youth Promise, (our service) won’t eradicate the issue, but it will help improve the issue.”
Sheza’s dedication to volunteerism is complemented by her empathy for others, a feeling she hopes to inspire others with.
“The takeaway from my service is to empathize with the situation of others. As much as you can empathize, it makes volunteering a lot easier and it becomes natural. Instead of a duty, think of volunteering as a way of sharing your own abilities for the betterment of others.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sheza Saiyed? Find local volunteer opportunities.