Karishma Bhagani (Class of 2015): A visionary and inspirational innovator | Aga Khan Academies

Karishma Bhagani (Class of 2015): A visionary and inspirational innovator

Karishma received the award of excellence from the Academy
(Photo: Maia Freia Photography)
“I needed to do this for me because it is something that just gives me a completely different outlook on the world and it makes my soul happy,” reflected Karishma Bhagani as she spoke about her decision to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a double major in drama and history at New York University (NYU). Karishma started with Aga Khan Nursery at the age of three and moved to the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa beginning in year one. She continued at the Academy until her graduation in May 2015, where she received the Aga Khan Academy Award of Excellence, which is given to the most outstanding male and female students each year. She is currently enrolled at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts, located in New York City, and has just finished up her first year of university. The first year of Karishma’s programme was centred around learning about the technical aspects of performance, theatre structures of the past and present, learning about the dramaturgical elements of performance and essay writing. The rigorous drama programme also involves spending three days a week in studio sessions focusing on cultivating voice, movement, acting and improvisation skills.

Representing Kenya at the Summit for YouthKarishma also works at NYU as a student admissions ambassador, where she provides tours of the campus and assists incoming freshmen and prospective students from all over the world with their needs. “Having access to the wonderful resources at the Academy inspired me to do something like that for the students that are applying to university, and that is why I am an admissions ambassador here,” remarked Karishma. She also recently began an internship with the Global Citizens Initiative, an initiative that aims to inspire people and organisations through promoting the practice of global citizenship. Having attended a summit hosted by the Global Citizens Initiative at Harvard University two years ago, Karishma’s internship will allow her to continue building her skills in administration and education. As part of the internship, Karishma will assist with organising and developing marketing, research materials and databases for use during and after the summit. She will also take on a teaching assistant role, facilitating discussions and helping with administrative needs throughout the summit.

'Going global': Matone de Chiwit and community service

Donating water purification units that Karishma designedWhen Karishma is not busy studying or working, she is focusing on her non-profit organisation, Matone de Chiwit, which means ‘drops of life’ in three languages from the continents that suffer most from water scarcity and lack of access to clean drinking water: Africa (Kiswahili), Latin America (Spanish) and Asia (Thai) respectively. Matone de Chiwit is a project that Karishma began while in the Middle Years Programme at the Academy, as a personal project. Her goal was to develop a water purifier as a response to the flooding taking place in the coastal areas of East Africa that were responsible for the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera. Karishma was able to get donations to create 20 water purifier units and has since aspired to ‘go global’ with her vision to ensure people around the world have access to clean drinking water. Made of easily accessible materials such as sand, gravel and cotton, the water purifier won first prize at the Golden Climate science competition in 2014 and was also the recipient of a $1,000 seed grant from the Reynolds Changemaker Challenge at NYU in 2015. Since the launch of her non-profit organisation, Karishma has partnered with Calliope Global and has been inspiring youth from around the world to become involved with her mission.

Conducting a webinar through Calliope Global“We are currently collaborating with Calliope Global to host a series of webinars in what we call 'global classrooms'. These students are part of different learning opportunities and our plan is to involve them by informing them about water scarcity around the world and what Matone de Chiwit is doing to help solve this global crisis,” said Karishma. Educators from all over Canada and the United States are using her project as a learning tool and creating lesson plans around the project. “The students then have the opportunity to carry out marketing and fundraising activities in their community, to contribute and raise awareness about this cause.” Students created websites, videos and other resources to raise awareness as part of their projects, and will continue to develop them over the summer and hopefully over the course of their high school careers.

When asked about her inspiration, Karishma attributes the community engagement and service activities she engaged in at the Academy as having an enormous impact on her outlook to give back to the global community: “I engaged in continuous community engagement and service activities – something I have been so passionate about since a young age. I had a lot of access through the Academy as there were a lot of service-learning initiatives at the Academy...one of the greatest things that is emphasised is giving back to the community that you came from. The Aga Khan Academy embodies this in the best way possible.”

Social awareness and embracing diversity

In action during a performance of Silhouette
(Photo: Caitlin Thompson)
While Karishma’s non-profit keeps her quite busy, she enjoys going into Times Square and watching both Broadway and off-Broadway shows. Having written her own screenplay titled Silhouette, which centres on the relationship between two stereotypical characters and breaking down the stereotypes to create social awareness, Karishma gains inspiration from the cultural experiences and diversity that New York has to offer. She reflects: “Especially coming from the Academy, I was exposed to such a wide range of the student body and the teachers. It felt like a mini cultural hub. That…creates a huge sense of cultural awareness and understanding that we are a global village, understanding the importance of interaction, of cultural tolerance and cultural awareness – so social awareness. When I came to NYU, I realised that this campus is so in and of the city, that it embodies the values that were honed within us as students of the IB [International Baccalaureate] programme at the Academy. And I think that is the single thing that prepared me the most for coming to university here and for adapting to the environment.”

When thinking about what the future has in store, Karishma says that she hopes to pursue a master’s in fine arts and theatre upon completing her bachelor’s degree. She also one day hopes to build a centre for social innovation in Mombasa “where students who have dreams can sit down and can use [the centre] as a launching pad…to take off for themselves.”

You can follow Karishma’s project, Matone de Chiwit by liking the following social media handles:

Facebook: Matone de Chiwit
Twitter: @matonedechiwit
Instagram: @matonedechiwit
YouTube: Matone de Chiwit

 By Karina Hussein