It can be tough to understand a problem until it lands at your doorstep. Nine years ago, during a family trip to India, Ishan Vijay and his brother Vishal’s eyes were opened to the immense poverty on the streets of India.
“It was organic, it’s the first time I came face to face with the reality of children dealing with poverty,” said Vishal, now a 20-year-old at Western University’s Ivey Business school.
The brothers, who live in Oakville, Ont., struggled to understand how kids their age could be living in such dire circumstances. When they came home, they mobilized their resources to help those in need.
Vishal and Ishan co-founded Every Child Now, a non-profit youth organization aimed at ensuring young people today have all the tools to succeed in the future. Their motivation stemmed from their experience in India, and since then they’ve focused development projects on child poverty alleviation, education and more.
While the task of running an international non-profit may seem Herculean, the brothers knew they had to step in to ensure everyone had a chance for a future regardless of financial status.
“Emotionally we both felt the sense of injustice. We wanted to deal with the complexities of poverty,” said Vishal.
Their initial focus was India, a country where nearly 84% of the country experienced poverty, living on less than $5.50 a day, and nearly 14% of the population struggles with food insecurity. But they realized extreme poverty is not limited to one country.
“This affects kids all around the world, we quickly realized this was not something that was isolated to the communities that we have visited,” said Vishal.
The Vijays have raised over $100,000, built a school in the state of Rajasthan and sponsored dozens of Indian children throughout the country through their non-profit. In addition, Every Child Now has deployed resources and raised funds for Ebola outbreaks in Sierra Leone and humanitarian crises in Nepal and Syria. In 2017, the Vijays returned to their ancestral homeland, a trip Vishal says was particularly special because they could see their work in action.
“To visit them a few years later, it was a great experience getting to see firsthand the impact that collective and organized actions are really able to have,” he said.
Every Child Now’s mandate is based on three pillars: to inspire, advocate and impact. These tenets are used to guide the non-profit’s decision-making process. Inspiration is particularly important to Vishal who has been a keynote speaker at different youth-based conferences across the world, and held a seminar this past summer to encourage more young people to get involved in their community.
“When it comes to sustainable development and activism, collaboration is incredibly important. There is a shared sense of passion and belief in the mission,” he said. “We want to catalyze youth leaders in getting involved in their community.”
He admits achieving impact has been challenging this year. Every Child Now’s entire operating model was destroyed by the pandemic.
“Kids are no longer in school, they can’t do a lot of our work and international aid shipments have been difficult,” said Vishal.
However the Vijays aren’t frightened off by a challenge. They have shifted their focus online and launched an e-learning site called socialeducating.com which is available to students in Bermuda and Canada. Through the site, students in grades five to eight will be matched with a tutor to assist with their everyday school subjects ranging from math and science to French and social studies.
“We were forced to make a change and we did, but we wanted to keep helping,” said Vishal.
While the Vijays are both in post-secondary school now and going down the business route, Vishal maintains that Every Child Now is still a priority, and will remain so in years to come.
“Our generation is really interested in joining purpose driven organizations, even if I work somewhere, I always want to be a part of something where there is a sense of community and activism.”
Ahmar Khan / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National Observer
Ahmar Khan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer