Sister City Inspires Gold Award Project

The sister cities network has over the years supported countless local youth initiatives, giving youth a chance to not only build cultural awareness but also create lasting friendships. Aesha Rajan, a high school junior from Fremont, CA, is one such youth who, using sister cities as a resource, created a program to connect students from two different cultures.

Aesha created this program to complete the Gold Award for Girl Scouts. The Gold Award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouts and challenges girls in high school to complete a project that can “change the world—or at least your corner of it…” For her project, Aesha decided to create a pen-pal program to connect students from different parts of the world with the aim of building bridges between students with completely different backgrounds and life experiences.

As she began preliminary research on how to start the project, Aesha came across Sister Cities International’s website and found a nearby local sister cities program. Inspired by how sister cities partner, learn, and benefit from each other, she decided to connect a school in Union City, CA with a school in sister city Jalandhar, India.

After a few months of coordinating and communicating, Aesha was able to connect two eighth-grade classrooms from Mission Hills Middle School, Union City and Kendriya Vidyalaya School 1 in Jalandhar. She also had a classroom from an elementary school in Fremont, CA participate. The students then began exchanging letters and wrote about life in their city, about their families, and their culture. The project benefitted the students, building their social and writing skills while also giving them a perspective on life in a different country. The project also helped spread a stronger cultural awareness among youth about their communities’ sister city.

Midway through the project, Aesha was also able to visit Kendriya Vidyalaya School 1 in India. During her visit, she addressed students at their morning assembly, toured the school grounds, and even personally met eighth-grade pen-pal participants!

Back in Union City, Aesha also created dance workshops where she and a volunteer dance choreographer taught students and adults “Bhangra”, a traditional Indian dance popular in Jalandhar. In the last month of the project, Aesha displayed the students’ work in an exhibition held at the Union City Library. The exhibition included posters, presentations, and even a music video of her dance workshops.

Aesha is very proud of the students who took part in the pilot program, saying, “The kids were so enthusiastic!” 90 percent of the students surveyed about the program now want the project to continue. And through this project Aesha has broadened her leadership skills and even improved her self-confidence. She calls it “one of the best experiences of my life.”  Aesha now hopes her project inspires others too.

The pen-pal program Aesha started continues to exist and a new batch of students in Union City is currently waiting for students from Jalandhar to respond.

All pictures courtesy Aesha Rajan.