Whether it be online or on campus, many of us are back in school and our main priority is our studies. It’s difficult to imagine what our lives would be like without an education, as our daily routines are created with respect to our academics. However, for many children in less fortunate countries, basic education and fundamental health care are inaccessible and obsolete.
Noor Qureshi, a third-year Medical Sciences student at Western University, created the non-profit organization Penpals 4 Peace during quarantine last year. Although the organization is fairly new, Noor’s passion for the project began when she first traveled to Pakistan many years ago. When I asked Noor what inspired her to start this project, she began telling me stories of her realizing the state that many people live in.
When Noor visited Pakistan, she encountered many children who were homeless and begging for clothes and money as she drove through the streets. Upon further research, Noor learned that these children did not have access to an education. It seemed as though no one cared for them — as if they were invisible.
Later during the trip, her uncle took her to a car show where she met a boy who was about her age who was barefoot and had torn clothes. He explained to Noor that he did not go to school and instead had to work at the car factory to be able to provide for his siblings. Noor was taken aback by this boy’s story; to this day, she never forgot what he looked like.
Several years later, Noor’s 15-year-old cousin had to go through open-heart surgery in Pakistan. The surgery cost 12 000 CAD — a price that his family could not afford. Noor felt a sense of anger at how unfair it was that children could rarely get access to healthcare because of their poor financial conditions.
Through these key experiences, Noor knew she wanted to reduce the gap between inaccessibility to education and healthcare in youth around the world.
During quarantine, her passion grew as she did extensive research specifically targeted toward healthcare and education policies in Yemen, which was going through an armed conflict, resulting in the largest humanitarian crisis in the world. She came across Al-Shoomukh School, a school dedicated to poor and orphaned children, in addition to children with special needs in Yemen. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, Al-Shoomukh School still needed school supplies, toys, and uniforms. Eager to help, Noor set up a donation drive across the GTA to collect anything that could be of use to the students and teachers at the school. This was just the start of Penpals 4 Peace.
Over the next few months, her non-profit organization set up events to raise additional supplies for Al-Shoomukh School. Additionally, Penpals 4 Peace aided in charity work around Canada, such as by helping feed the homeless in local communities in Ontario and donating to clothing drives and money to SickKids.
Ultimately, Noor wants to raise awareness to young adults in privileged countries about the issues happening in other countries such as homelessness and lack of accessibility to education and healthcare. She brings a different perspective on the contrast between how we live our lives in comparison to the children of third-world countries. Most importantly, she wants to teach others how to use their platform and privilege to spread awareness to their friends, family, and peers to make a change in the lives of the less fortunate.
To get involved with and read more about Penpals 4 Peace and their upcoming events, check out https://www.penpals4peace.org/.