When Yasmeen Kumar was given the school assignment to design a social impact project, she knew she wanted to do more than create an awesome presentation or propose hypotheticals about how to solve problems; she wanted to roll up her sleeves and wrap her hands and heart around an issue she feels passionate about: people who are homeless on the streets of her native Vancouver. “I really wanted to gain an understanding of how this impacts peoples lives,” says Yasmeen, and Helping Homeless Vancouver was born. Yasmeen works to identify, collect, and distribute basic resources such as clothing and toiletries to aid the homeless population. The more she educates herself and gets involved in the anti-poverty movement, the more inspired she is to transform Helping Homeless into a 100% non-profit some day. Yasmeen says, “I want to be a really positive role model for young girls, especially girls of color. I want to represent Indian girls with ambition and passion.” When this teen is taking a break from inspiring others and dreaming huge, Yasmeen loves kicking around with friends and treating herself to one of her most favorite guilty pleasures: Twizzlers!
If you could describe yourself in one hashtag, what would it be?
#littlethings, because that's what I'm all about. The things in life that make me happy aren't shiny and expensive, it's the small things that let me know people are thinking about me, like when my friends bring extra food to share at lunch, or when my dad brings home knick knacks, and tiny pencils home from work. That's why I focus on little things with my social justice initiative Helping Homeless Vancouver, giving people the small stuff like socks and toiletries that really brighten up their lives. Little things make a big difference.
Tell us about a girl in your life who rocks.
My mom rocks. She's super modern, fun and accepting of all my choices. She does her best to steer my sister and I in the right direction, but gives us the freedom we need to figure things out for ourselves. She's pretty cool.
What are your dreams/goals/ambitions?
A goal I've set for myself is to expand my anti-poverty work into a formal non-profit. Hopefully one day my dream of having the resources and funding to make some long term change will come true, and we can start getting people off the streets and into permanent housing. My life ambition is to become a powerful and influential Indian, female leader and role model. I want girls to know that they don't have to fall victim to harmful gender roles, and beauty standards and they too can influence change.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to stay true to myself in a world full of ridiculous standards for women. I don't listen to gender roles or beauty standards, I just do what makes me happy, independent, and self-reliant.
What piece of advice changed your life?
There's a quote in my school library that say "live in such a way that if anyone were to speak badly of you nobody would believe it" and that's how I've chosen to live. I don't do anything to intentionally hurt anyone, and if I do, I right my wrong. I inspire and encourage others, and live my life to be the best version of me that I can possibly be!
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In ten years I will be 27, which seems crazy. I'd be lying if I said I had it all figured out, but I'm still young, I have some time. In ten years I see myself being well educated and well traveled. I see myself having built strong relationships with my friends and family. I see myself being a positive role model to women of all ages. I also see my anti-poverty work being taken to the next level and making some really big changes.
What is the number one item on your bucket list?
I want to travel. I want to understand how the world works outside the the privileged life I live in Canada. I want to have a new understanding of different cultures and people. I want to eat yummy food, make new friends and lasting memories.
Who has been the biggest female influence in your life and why?
It's not fair to call one person the biggest female influence in my life when there are so many women that have helped shape who I am. My Nani and Aji toughed me how to be independent. My Fua showed me how to be polite, yet assertive. My best friend Corinna showed me how to be driven. My sister Aaliyah showed me how not to fear being unique. And my mom showed me how to always take the high road, no matter how tough.
What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken and what did you learn from it?
The biggest risk I've taken in my life is being an assertive girl in a world where women are often discouraged from speaking up. I have no shame in standing up for myself or others which isn't always easy. Especially in high school, assertive girls are not usually "fan favorite", but that's okay because it's not worth being liked by everyone when you disrespect yourself.
Why are you THAT GIRL?
I AM THAT GIRL because I have chosen to be her. I have chosen to not let gender roles or beauty standards define me. I have chosen that to be driven, compassionate, and accepting. And most importantly I have chosen to love myself regardless of flaws.
*Interview conducted and compiled by Sheila Moeschen, IATG Senior Editor