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Sohil Malik is a high school student at JP Stevens High School. He is the Co-Founder of School for a Village, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that brings technology and educational resources to students across the world. At school, Sohil is Co-President of Latin Club and Historian of the National English Honor Society. Outside the classroom, Sohil teaches photography at his local community center and has pursued independent research in the field of psychology. He is currently working with a professor at Montclair State University on a neurocognitive study. Sohil hopes to pursue biological psychology studies in college.
City where you’re from: Edison, NJ
Favorite quote: “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
Sohil Malik: While on vacation in India two years ago, my family and I came across a remote school in Ladakh. The students welcomed us into their classrooms and offered to show us what they were learning. I immediately noticed how different their classrooms were in comparison to my own. Not only were there not enough desks or chairs for the students, but there was also a lack of basic supplies. We returned to the school shortly after with a bag of school supplies. Laughter and excitement filled the rooms as we handed each student a pen and notebook. That was when I realized how fortunate I was and how a little help could go a long way in improving the lives of others.
Back home, I teamed up with my incredible friend, Anjali Gupta, to discuss potential ways to help students in underdeveloped areas. This is how School for a Village came to be. Our mission is to provide students with technology and educational resources to help them take the next steps towards a brighter future. Every student deserves an equal chance at achieving their dreams and we believe that education is the key to doing so. Our most current project is the construction of a science laboratory at Vidya Mandir School, located in Bahjoi, India.
How is School for a Village different?
Sohil Malik: School for a Village creates a unique course of action for each school. In order to make the most direct impact, we make an effort to truly understand the needs of students. Because a majority of Vidya Mandir School wishes to pursue a STEM-based career, a science laboratory became our main priority. In focusing our efforts in one area, we are able to make progress quickly and efficiently, rather than spreading our resources thin over multiple goals. Not only are we building the facilities for a science lab, but we are also equipping the students with the knowledge of how to use them. By doing so, we help the students make the best use of their resources rather than inundating them with devices that they are unfamiliar with.
What’s your dream with your company?
Sohil Malik: As a student-run organization, we hope to foster an international community of students passionate about education. With chapters throughout the United States, every fundraising event and idea is the initiative of a team of dedicated high school and college students. Although fundraising plays a prominent role in the activities of each chapter, we hope to cultivate a direct network of communication between students in the United States and students in villages across the world. This communication net would motivate conversation and empathy in America about the lack of education in impoverished areas. We hope that individuals then will help to instill the same resourceful education available in the United States to the impoverished abroad.
How do you creatively advertise?
Sohil Malik: We recognized the importance of advertising at an early stage. Our first step was to have an online presence and we did this by creating a website and by connecting with our audience through social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). We then focused on creating tangible advertising methods such as brochures, t-shirts, and banners.
To raise awareness in our community, we organized several fundraising events ranging from a family carnival night to a music & arts festival. We needed to start somewhere and the best way to do so was among our friends and families. By allowing families to participate in enjoyable activities and showcasing the talents of our fellow high school peers, we were able to promote our cause in a familiar context, surrounded by local community members.
Our next priority was to raise awareness on a more national level. We have had the opportunity to speak on a few television shows and radio stations. We also had the privilege of working with Chhavi Verg (Miss NJ USA 2017 and First Runner Up at Miss USA 2017) to help share our message with a larger audience.
What excites you everyday to work on your charity?
Sohil Malik: We often take for granted the amazing resources we have: capital, technology, problem-solving skills, and team spirit. Bringing it all together to make a difference in the lives of the students in need of these resources is what excites me every day.
What were your biggest failure and biggest success? What did you learn from them?
Sohil Malik: Our biggest failure was definitely our naive thinking during the initial stages of School for a Village. We realized that being a 501(c)(3) organization was not enough to get people to support our cause. While knocking on doors in our local neighborhood, we hoped people would listen to our message and possibly make a donation. However, many people simply shut their doors and shooed us away. One of our neighbors had even told us that it was impossible for two high school students to make a significant change. And while we refused to be discouraged, this definitely got us thinking.
We realized that in order to convince people of the importance of our cause, we had to both create a brand and garner the support of our friends. Marketing became a huge priority as we then focused on creating a website and establishing a social media presence. Having brochures and banners on hand played a major role in getting people to take us seriously. By inviting our friends to join the first chapter of School for a Village in our own community, our organization slowly began to grow. People no longer viewed us as high school kids with hopeless ambitions. People were finally able to share our vision and even offered to provide sponsorships for future events. Within our first year of operation, we have raised over 70% of the cost to build a science lab in Bahjoi, India. We are incredibly grateful for the amount of support we have received over the past year and are excited to connect with more passionate students in all parts of the world.
Thank you for letting us share your story here on Future Sharks Sohil! Keep up the good work.