Nothing says ‘clean slate’ like a young student with big ideas. I sat down Pragya Chawla, with high school student and youth organizer, to discuss her love of art and culture, her latest conference, and her new youth movement, Tabula Rasa.
Dorian: What’s your birth place, and how has that impacted your life?
Pragya: I was born in New Delhi, India and yes, I would say that has shaped everything because the people there are full of determination. It’s a truly unique thing. The communities I was brought up in are highly education-focused and most families have a single goal, and that’s to extract as much as possible from their education. It’s a beautiful thing when even slum children dream and work hard. It’s amazing how every single person derives both joy and meaning from schooling.
Dorian: Tell me about the cultural- educational conference you organized at your high school.
Pragya: I worked for a school club called CAMUN which just went international this year! The club is six years old and allows students to role-play as leaders of different countries and represent foreign policies that they might not necessarily with. Often the ‘truth’ of history is little but the side of story that you’ve heard more. Being forced to look at foreign policies that you don’t agree with helps you snap out of that illusion of objectivity which is important in a world where people are too quickly painted as good or bad.
Dorian. That seems like a programme adults can benefit from, so it’s even more impressive that youth are getting that experience.
Pragya: The debate experience is exhilarating. The competition is intense yet the friendships are empowering; there is lots of laughter and a great feeling of international community. We also produce a spade of daily news reports called ‘CAMUNication’ in three parts: Kickoff, Crescendo and Meltdown.
Dorian: Have you decided what you want to study at university?
Pragya: I vacillate daily so I can’t promise I won’t end up studying architecture or medicine, but right now I am deeply engrossed in computer science with an emphasis on design and user experience. But who knows how that will change!
Dorian: And what about your new project, Tabula Rasa?
Pragya: Tabula Rasa is a Rooftop Rhythms for the young teenager: Rooftop Rhythms is spectacular movement, but it can often alienate the young who may not find their realm amongst a bunch of adults. Communities are important lifelines for high schoolers.
Teenagers need to feel like they are wanted, that their stories and voices are important, that someone is listening and that their art is important. I hope to establish a sustainable community of art enthusiasts who make friends and attend fun events together.
Dorian: I think it sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to see the benefits.
Pragya: Tabula Rasa is essential especially because creatives tend to ruminate more; high school can become a time of extreme mental vulnerability, and sometimes, isolation, loneliness, self-hatred and uncertainty.
It is important to offer artistic channels that help de-stress, gain self-esteem and provide a tool for teens to express themselves when things get overwhelming.
I hope to fill a gap in the art scene. There is a need to provide a constructive outlet for these intense and sometimes difficult feelings!
Dorian: Who is this Tabula Rasa open to?
Pragya: It is open to all between the ages of 13-19, or younger on a case-by-case basis. Currently, we just have a public Facebook group but we will soon have a website! So do Google us over the next few weeks to get involved.
Dorian: Looks like we share the same love of poetry! I was about your age when I discovered it. Where do you see yourself twenty years from now and how will you impact the world?
Pragya: Twenty years from now, I will have changed the way the world, or some extent of the world, perceives mental health.
I want to improve educational systems so they accommodate people with physical and mental disabilities.
I want to make quality education more accessible to people in need, such as refugees and people who have been alienated by society. So many dreams in a single lifetime. I’m going to believe I can until I do.
Dorian: Well said, indeed. And I’m going to believe you’re going to take care of this bill until you do. I got all day. *Crosses legs and reclines
Pragya: *Stares blankly