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Interview

Aesnur Karani.

Hi, my name is Aesnur Karani and I am 16 years old. I am a third culture kid meaning I am an Indian who lives in Kinshasa, DRC and a student doing the International Baccalaureate at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa in Kenya. I am an executive in an organization called For the Menstruator- FTM  that works in collaboration with Tunaweza Women with Disabilities produces and distributes sanitary packages that are reusable, cost-effective, environmentally friendly and embarrassment free. These packages are 100% biodegradable, cost between $5 to $8 and last for up to 3 years, and the best part is that it does not even look like an ideal sanitary napkin due to the materials used. AASW also applies a unique sustainable and exponential approach to help not only equip themselves but also their communities. I am the regional ambassador for The One Smile Effect- an organization that spreads mental health awareness and education around the world, creates a space for teens to have a stigma-free place to discuss mental health, and provides free and accessible mental health resources. And lastly I am the outreach executive for an organization called Supporting Smiles which is also based on mental health. 

I saw your feature on The Purple Diary Project, in which it stated that you left home at the age of 11 and faced the “toughest six months of your life”. Could you tell us a little about that?

This is a very interesting question!  So I left home at the age of 11 to study in a completely new environment and a new country itself. I had no plans on going or leaving my family this early but in grade 5, the dean of the Academy had come to Kinshasa to recruit students who were interested and it had always been my parent’s dream since 2003 (ps- I wasn’t even born in 2003) for me to go to that school. Fun fact: I gave the exam only because it was a gift to my mum for Mother’s Day as the exam was on a Sunday and coincidentally it was Mother’s Day too. I remember this moment so vividly, it was 3:46 pm and my dad came home for lunch and we were all in my parent’s room. At exactly 4:11 pm my dad got an email from the school saying I was accepted to the school and I had never seen my parents this happy and proud of me ever. I had very mixed feelings because I was literally a child when I left. A part of me was so excited to make new friends, meet new people, new culture, new chapter but I did not want to leave home. I remember my parents came to leave on January 6th, 2016 and it was the first time I had seen my dad cry ever. Those 6 months were so tough on me because even though I was very mature for my age, I had clue about anything. I was very used to being home, being pampered by family, and being loved but school on the other hand was a completely new story. I had to work alone and teach myself. IB is a very tough curriculum and transition to that was very hard. And as a residential student, I had specific schedules to follow like waking up at 5:30 for morning exercise or going for a mandatory 5 week hiking trip which was very new to me. I feel like what I missed the most is the little things like my mum coming to school and surprising me with lunch or my dad coming to pick me up after school. But in the end of it all, those tough 6 months paid off and taught me an important lesson: never ever ever give up because there is always light after darkness, there is always sunshine after a thunderstorm.

I also learned that you are a regional ambassador for One Smile Effect. How has being part of an organization dedicated to mental health impacted you and your well-being?

Being part of the One Smile Effect family is AMAZING! Everyone on the team is so nice and warm. It has helped me realize and helped me cope with my well-being knowing that I am not alone and I have people who have got my back. Being part of OSE also helped me in a way because I know I am contributing to change and I learn new things about myself everyday. It’s very nice knowing there are people out there that have the same point of views and the same opinions as me on mental health. And lastly, being part of OSE has brought so much positivity and light into my life as it gives me a platform where I can voice my opinions and change is bound to come. 

Besides mental health, what other global issues are you passionate about? How can we, as a community, help combat said conflicts?

There are so many global issues that I am very passionate about. To name a few, some of them are feminism, misogyny, sexual harrasment, human trafficking, menstruation and the lack of access to sanitary products, racism, and domestic violence. As a community, we sometimes forget the power we hold, we need to understand that our voice and contribution matter. Some of the ways that we can help are donating and helping as much as you can, fundraising and  helping organizations help the victims, volunteering time and efforts to an organization, advocating and holding events to raise awareness, staying informed and mindful about these issues, following their social media accounts, and as I have said before, being there for them when needed because everyone needs somebody to tell them “hey, you have got this” or a shoulder to cry on.

What are the most beautiful things in life to you? 

For me the most beautiful things in life are moments, real moments, when you get that grade you have been studying and working hard for, when you get that dream body after all the struggles and workouts, that hug from your mum after a meltdown, the “hey, you have got this” from your best friend, or the “hey, you have a nice smile, your pretty,” from a stranger and the list goes on and on.  With a positive mindset and perspective, everything in life is beautiful as long as you also  appreciate and be grateful for everything. 

How has the pandemic affected you mentally? What things did you learn about yourself during the course of this pandemic that you didn’t know before?

To begin with, this pandemic hit too close to home. 5 out of 8 of my family members tested positive for COVID-19 but thankfully they have all recovered now. So firstly, this pandemic has changed me, I am a whole new person, from how I speak to how I dress and my sleeping schedule. I went through a lot mentaally and physically. I lost so many of my friends but also gained so many friends. The first two months- March and April, were all sunshine and fun because I finally got to be home as I study in another country. But May is when things went downhill, I started having arguments with my parents, I started losing friendships, my grades started dropping, and my mental health was in a very bad place. I was so insecure about my body and my self-esteem and confidence dropped. It took a lot of time to come out of that dark place and I decided to work on myself by the end of July. I started watching motivational videos, started working out and healthy, fixed my sleep schedule and most importantly cut out all the toxic people that brought me down (which took A LOT of courage to do because it is never easy to break a 7-year long friendship). One thing I learnt about myself is that I have a very strong will, once I want something, I will work hard and do whatever it takes to get it. Another thing I learnt is that I don’t like conflict, I really value all my relationships but I can now differentiate on what is toxic and what is healthy. Additionally, I realized my self worth and that I am a coconut, I like keeping my walls up and do not let people in very easily and I am a very soft person inside.  However, I am very loud and outgoing. I love meeting new people. And last but not least, I learnt that I am too hard on myself and keep a lot of expectations and as we all know “Expectations lead to disappointments”. So now I just try to give my best no matter what the result. 

Are there any specific psychological conditions/disorders that mean a lot to you? Why do they hold importance and how can we, as a community, help and provide support to people who go through them?

There are no specific psychological conditions/disorders that mean a lot to me as all are important and require the same attention and care. As a community, we should help people and just simply be there for them when needed, that should be the bare minimum, and not judge anyone based on that. 

Why do you think prioritizing mental health is so important, especially for youth?

Mental health should be and must be everyone’s priority especially for youth, Gen Z. Times have changed and so has the environment. People have just become so self-centered that they sometimes forget about how they affect someone’s emotions. Teenagers go through so many issues right now such as stress, anxiety, depression, bullying and peer-pressure, insecurities, teen pregnancy and the list just goes on on and on. Most of the time these people either choose drugs and alcohol or suicidal attempts. Mental health is a real thing and it is not being given the importance it should, it is not being addressed in our society, people are dying, committing sucuide. I feel like at the end of the day everyone needs somebody to tell them “hey, you are loved and you have got this” which most people do not get and feel alone. Not only that, but mental health can affect their physical health, affect their education and relationships so it is very important to keep your foundation strong. Last but not least, good mental health allows the youth to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.

Who have been your biggest role-models or resources in times of unsureness, grief, and healing? 

My biggest role models are my parents and my friends, I really value my time with family because it is scarce and limited. I value my friendships a lot because friends are family to me, I spend more time with my friends, as I am away from home, than my family. My friends and family are my brain and my heart, cannot function without them. My parents are my foundation and friends are the building blocks. They have always been there for me no matter what, and showed me the right path. 

What does mental health mean to YOU?

Mental health to me is like a garden, you really have to take care of it and nurture it and be careful about everything because you never know what may harm you. Mental health is not like a race, it’s a journey with no destination, there is no start or finish and it’s very very very different and personal to everyone. And lastly, mental health is that one topic that is so close to my heart because I have been on the dark side and I know how it feels. 

Is there anything else you would like Revive’s audience to know about you?

I just want everyone to know that my DMs are always open to anyone who wants to rant, ask for advice, have any questions about anything because you are not alone and you will never be alone. 


Check out Aesnur & the Organizations They’re Part of!

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