Sahl-Ahmed Karim, a student at Monash South Africa (MSA), believes education is the greatest tool for empowerment.
“If you have an education, you can do anything”, he said, proudly. Karim developed a passion for literacy as a young child when his mother would take him to the local library every Friday. Each week, he would check out and read at least two books. His mother was a great inspiration, and through reading, Karim developed a range of skills that allowed him to create change in his life and in the lives of those around him.
From a young age, Karim observed that other students often did not have the same access to opportunity that he had, starting with literacy. Karim understood how a life was changed when you could read, write and effectively use language, and he was determined to bring this opportunity to other children.
When Karim started at Monash South Africa (MSA), he began to appreciate the power of volunteering. For the first time, he was part of a community in which volunteering was encouraged, celebrated and well-managed.
In 2013, he joined a small student-led organization called This Is Me, which works to assist in the development of creative thinking and storytelling skills for children, with a particular emphasis on promoting African culture. Within months, Karim had taken over leadership of the program, and he plans to continue in this role until he graduates.
“I am enormously proud of the partnerships we have been able to build, including with the Ducere Foundation and across different departments at Monash South Africa,” Karim said. “I am now approached regularly by departments that want to integrate our student volunteer placements into their courses.”
Since 2013, over 800 children have benefited from This is Me, and the initiative has grown to include more than 150 volunteers and a five-person leadership group.
The students served by the program are typically in third grade and aged 8 to 10, or in sixth grade and aged 11 to 13. They are from Zandspruit in Ruimsig, an informal settlement outside Johannesburg, and attend either Masakane Primary or the Zandspruit School. These are children living in underprivileged environments, without access to the literacy support they need and deserve.
“What inspires me the most is that despite the environment these children come from, there is never a day when you get the slightest sense of any personal problem,” Karim said. “All you see is the smile on their faces, and I feel so proud that in a small way, I am a part of that.” Not only are students excelling in literacy skills, they are improving in areas like critical thinking, which helps their academic performance across the board.
Karim will graduate with a degree in Psychology and Business Management and currently is working on a succession plan for This Is Me. He hopes to continue his studies in the area of educational psychology. No matter what path he pursues, supporting educational opportunities for children is certain to remain an area of great passion and dedication for Karim.