Two Surrey women are helping young girls believe they can be leaders, positive role models and effect change in their communities.
While in Grade 10 at Frank Hurt Secondary, Chadni Khondoker and Simran Purewal had an idea. They wanted to help empower girls to stand up to intimidation and bullying and give them the tools to build their self confidence and reach their goals.
In the spring of 2012, with the help of school principal Gloria Sarmento, the two young women launched Sisterhood, a free one-on-one mentorship program for Grade 7 girls.
Khondoker witnessed bullying and abusive behavior at school, especially directed toward girls, and she felt she needed to step up.
“I am very sure of myself and I have a very strong support system,” she said. “I wanted to help other girls be strong and be able to stand up for themselves. That’s why I started this program.
“I could have just turned and walked away (when intimidated), but if everyone does that, things are never going to change.”
Initially offered at M.B. Sanford Elementary, the program is currently available in six Surrey partner schools.
Purewal and Khondoker hire “presidents” at various local high schools who train “big sisters” who offer a special leadership day at elementary schools to encourage students to become involved.
Over the course of five weeks, the girls are paired with Grade 12 mentors and the “sisters” work through a curriculum that focusses on team building. Fun activities are used to tackle topics such as body image, health and fitness, bullying and high school transition and careers.
The girls are encouraged to share their goals and not keep their dreams to themselves for fear of not reaching them. Khondoker said often just by vocalizing your dreams, you are more likely to achieve them.
“I have always been driven towards very supportive people… willing to help me reach my goals,” she said. “That really helped me through high school because high school can be a really hard time.”
To date, 296 young girls have participated in the program.
Since Sisterhood began to gain traction, other students at the school started to implement complementary programs aimed at engaging youth in recreational activities and other healthy outlets for teens.
“For many kids, school is like an outlet from home and to come to school to an environment that is almost abusive isn’t right.”
Both Khondoker and Purewal are currently studying sciences at UBC.