Kanwal Rashid and Manpreet Dhillon are asking people to write letters to oppressed youth in other countries.

Letters spell hope for youth

Surrey students launch letter-writing campaign to support Dalits and fundraise for Africa.

Two Simon Fraser University students from Surrey are challenging others to exercise their handwriting skills – for a good cause.

Kanwal Rashid, 22, and Manpreet Dhillon, 23, both members of SFU’s Be the Change club, are fundraising for food sustainability projects in Africa.

At the same time, they want to reach out to oppressed youth in another country: India.

The women are raising awareness of the plight of the Dalit peoples, a marginalized group often regarded as Untouchables, and empowering their youth through a letter writing campaign called Letters of Hope.

“We are hoping to inspire members in our community and increase volunteerism and a sense of social justice,” said Rashid.

According to the Dalit Freedom Network Canada, the Dalit people of India have been the most widely oppressed caste for more than 3,000 years and comprise nearly one quarter of the total population: 250,000,000 men, women and children.

People are asked to pay $2 to write a letter, which the network will forward to a Dalit in India in hopes a regular pen pal situation results.

Letters have no word limit and creativity is encouraged as long as an inspirational or positive message is retained. Rashid suggests starting by talking about something mundane, such as the weather. Then encourage the Dalit youth to write back by asking questions like what they like to do in their spare time?

But be prepared for the answers to be bleak, Rashid said. Some Dalit children get up at 4 a.m., go to school for three hours and then work one job after another, sometimes three.

There have been 120 letters received so far – 70 per cent from SFU students, and the rest from the organizers’ family members.

Proceeds from the $2 fee to write a letter will benefit food sustainability programs in Africa.

The fundraising portion ends on July 30, but the students will continue to collect letters. For more information for how to get involved, email kanwalr@sfu.ca

Surrey North Delta Leader

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