Hi! It’s me, Spiffy the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with the latest scoop on entrepreneurs making a difference in the workplace! Today’s rockstar is Amaan Iqbal Ibrahim, from Kerala, India, and a recipient of The Diana Award.
Spiffy: Congrats on being a Legacy Award Holder for The Diana Award! Can you talk about the challenges you’ve been addressing?
Amaan: Thank you Spiffy! In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there are almost seven million migrant workers from places like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and more. Most of these workers have to leave their families back home, and end up only meeting their families once every few years. It causes a whole lot of loneliness, depression, and unease. The first goal we had was to eradicate this sense of loneliness, and we began by going to the labor accommodations and distributing food during the month of Ramadan. But then we thought, why stop there? Why just focus on a Muslim Holiday? My group and I believed in the power of social harmony and the rising need for it in today's world, so we expanded the drives to include Christmas, Onam, New Years, and many more cultural events!
Spiffy: What a gift, Amaan! Clearly, there is a great need for moral support within the migrant communities. What motivated you to do reach out and connect with them in particular?
Amaan: Well, Spiffy, my family has been dedicated to serving the community for generations. My great-grandfather was a freedom fighter. My grandmother was a gynecologist and a captain in the Indian Navy. My grandfather was a professor of great repute. And both of my parents are trainers and avid social workers. From a young age, they taught me about the importance of gratefulness and using what we have in our hands. As the story of Moses goes, God told him to drop his staff and then have faith. My grandfather would always tell me to be like a compass — stay rooted in your values and convictions with one hand, and with the other hand, go around, meet others, learn, help, and live and let live. Only then can you draw the perfect circle.
Spiffy: You’ve had such wise teachers, Amaan! How do you use all of this to help create a more equitable world?
Amaan: I would have to say that no matter what we do, in the end, it all goes back to what Princess Diana said, “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” We believe that no matter how bad things get, how messed up the world becomes, the story of Pandora's box will hold true. When Pandora opened the box, she released all that was wrong with the world. But in the end, one spirit stayed — Elpis, the spirit of hope. As long as she stayed with humanity, we could always return from the darkest of times. By believing in the virtue of paying it forward and random acts of kindness, we wish to improve the world one step at a time!
Spiffy: You make it sound simple, and attainable, Amaan. What kind of impact are you hoping to make in life?
Amaan: Well, if I may be frank, what I truly wanted to do was to leave a legacy. I graduated from high school two years ago, and I feared that what my friends and I had started would become a stagnant, thing of the past. But as luck would have it, a while ago, a junior of mine messaged me, telling me that they had restarted the whole initiative! We're trying to reach even more people this time around! I believe that there was never an organization that was MINE, rather it was a couple of crazy kids with crazy goals. And as for impact? I guess the fact that the movement hasn't and doesn't show signs of wearing off anytime soon is impactful enough for me!
Spiffy: That leads perfectly into my next question about failure. Can you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Amaan: When all of this began, I was about 13, and in the UAE, you’re not exactly allowed to get monetary sponsorships if you're a minor. No money, no food for the laborers. After days of deliberation, a few of us came up with a cheeky idea — instead of asking for monetary sponsorships, let's just ask for resources! We went to restaurants and asked them to donate meals. We approached hospitals and asked if they could conduct health checkups. I guess this taught us that things were seldom easy and for real change to happen, you need to sweat! So any time our team was faced with a hurdle, we knew better than to drop things and cry. We would calmly find loopholes. I know it's cheeky, but hey, we were a couple of kids on a mission!
Amaan and friends ready to leave for the labor camp after receiving food parcels from a reputable restaurant in the UAE. (Photo courtesy of Amaan Iqbal Ibrahim)
Spiffy: Sometimes there is no harm in being a bit cheeky! Do you mind me asking, what’s an important life lesson that you’ve learned?
Amaan: I don’t mind at all, Spiffy. I want to share about a mistake I made quite early on. Whenever I volunteered or served food, initially I thought of the migrant workers as people in need of our help. But it was only after hearing the story of a laborer who wrote a letter to his son, likening him to the train that went by their home, and the laborer himself as the fuel, burning himself in the heat so the son could go places, I realized that I should have been looking at the laborers as real people, with individual identities and loving families. After that, I would make it a point to strike up conversations with the brothers and sisters I had the honor of serving. As they say in one of my favorite movies, Usthad Hotel, "Anyone can fill a stomach, but to fill the heart is the true test of a cook!"
Spiffy: There is so much we can learn when we just listen, right, Amaan? Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience before we sign off?
Amaan: Well, Spiffy, a laborer has a lot of expenses. Apart from personal finances, they also need to send money home, and after all that there's not much left for their own sustenance. We thought that by volunteering to serve them, we could help them cut back on costs. People have come to us and commended us on what we do. But the harsh truth is that what we do is nothing to be in awe of. At the risk of angering the senior readers, I'm afraid I have to say that we haven't inherited the best world. It's up to us to mold it into a version that befits our generation and the generations to come. If anyone reading this feels the same way, congrats! You're well on your way to making the ripple effect that will eventually, yet collectively, change the world.
Spiffy: Well Amaan, it’s been an absolute pleasure to speak with you today. I think you are going to inspire many more people — both young and old — to make good use of the skills and energy they hold in their very own hands.
Amaan Iqbal Ibrahim is a 19-year-old Indian citizen who spent 17 years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He is now a sophomore-year medical student in India. An avid public speaker, Amaan has used his skills to spread the message of social harmony and the need for youth to take charge, on four TEDx platforms. (Nominated by The Diana Award)