Jathusha Mahenthirarajan (Canada)
National Leader of the Year
During my middle school years, I had a tough time navigating mental health issues, friendship drama, bullying, and building self-confidence as I felt unreasonable pressure from the impossible expectation to be everything to everyone at all times. Luckily, I had a mentor in university who helped keep my spirits up, and became the big sister I never had. Years later, when my sister entered middle school and I saw her go through similar issues, I knew something had to be done. Grounded in my mission to create safe spaces for girls to share their innermost deepest thoughts, and explore their identities in a supportive environment, I founded the Richmond Hill Girl Talk chapter in November 2015 with the desire to empower girls with an inclusive, sustainable solution to the issues they were facing.
From Cultural Celebration Day to our monthly Feeling Circles to talent shows for the girls to step out of their comfort zones, I was so proud to see our mentees explore, challenge and take action against issues such as body shaming, racism, hypersexualization, abusive relationships, and peer pressure. For the end-of-the-year visual reflection, one of our 7th graders who struggled with self-image, drew her face and split it in half to demonstrate the before and after of Girl Talk. Using words like “stupid, fat, unwanted, ugly, weird” on one side, and “beautiful, generous, funny, powerful, loved” on the other, it was evident proof of how influential mentorship was redefining the way young girls viewed and believed in themselves. Girl Talk has given me the confidence to stand up for what I believe in, regardless of what other people may think of me. This confidence that I portrayed had a ripple effect.
My passion for equity and vision for justice actualized when I volunteered in the surgical wing of a Kenyan hospital. My strong conviction in giving [the hospital patients] a voice pushed me to act.
After founding Richmond Hill Girl Talk, this experience inspired me to volunteer in SriLanka this past summer at a girls’ orphanage where I implemented a week-long confidence-building program.
Selected among hundreds as a "Because I am a Girl" national spokesperson, I was able to broaden the scope of my vision and spread my message globally. I met with global leaders, such as Cabinet Minister Patricia Hajdu and Madame Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, to discuss obstacles Canadian girls face. This empowered me to look further than my position as Vice President of Student Council, and see myself in politics.
To make sure every woman’s voice was heard, I started a blog, "Community Superwomen”, where I interviewed girls about their dreams, and struggles.
As President of Empowered Student Partnerships, I’ve raised thousands of dollars for women’s shelters, directed social justice films, and held awareness campaigns.
I’ve utilized my voice, performing slam poetry about human rights to thousands of people, winning regional competitions for the past 3 years.
I’ve been involved in other positions such as Minister of External Affairs of Youth Health Club, Head of Mentorship for my school’s leadership conference, Prefect, and as an Event Coordinator for nonprofits.
Inspired by all these experiences, I founded my youth-led grassroots community organization, L.I.G.H.T. (Lead Inspire Grow Hope Transform) where we’ve run book drives, free art camps, mental health walks, and volunteering mentorship programs for marginalized children and youth.
This fall, I will be entering York University in Toronto, where I will be studying human rights and equity studies. I aspire to work at UN Women, become an international leadership and diversity consultant, and work on changing policies to advance human rights.
Girl Talk has given me the confidence to stand up for what I believe in, and shaped me into the visionary leader, fierce advocate, thoughtful friend, and compassionate human being I am today.