Young Change Makers: Why and How Priyanka Nambiar Is Helping To Change Our World
Sometimes you’re going to have to do some dirty work. Although it may seem like it, the entire experience is not just going to be sunshine and rainbows. You’re going to have some obligations that are unexpected and that you’d much rather not do. During my summer volunteering following the art fundraiser, I often had to deal with the less glamorous side of things. Cocoa Packs provides nutritious and healthy foods that are chock full of produce, but fruits and vegetables have a very limited shelf life. There were multiple occasions where I was stuck taking boxes of rotten vegetables to the trash; believe me, the mysterious liquids dripping from them were not fun for my sneakers, but I persisted through it because I knew, in the end, it would be worth it. You just have to focus on the positives and the main goal- what you’re doing everything for.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Priyanka Nambia.
Priyanka Nambiar is a teen author whose manuscript won the International Writing Contest of Stone Soup magazine and MacKenzie Press. MacKenzie Press is now publishing her debut novel, Escape the War.
Priyanka says ‘’I have been writing ever since I was five or six years old. My writing has always been a way to escape, a way to vanish into the lush and fantastical worlds I’ve crafted. Now, though, it is wonderful to see activism on current matters being broadcasted via literature. Writing can make a difference, inspire others, and help take steps in bettering our society. I hope to be able to inspire others with activism through my writing like Amanda Gorman does, who I so admire.’’
Priyanka has been featured on ABC television, has received a certificate of recognition from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for her work, and has also been honored by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
Priyanka Nambiar was born and raised in Pennsylvania where she currently resides with her family.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series, Priyanka! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Hi! Thank you so much for this opportunity; I’m absolutely thrilled! I’m born and raised in “chocolate town,” also known as Hershey, PA, and I’ve lived there for my entire life. I currently reside with my parents and my four-year-old Bichon Shih-Tzu dog; I also have an older sister who just recently left for college. Growing up, I was always focused on the arts; my parents constantly encouraged me and my sister to get involved with a ton of activities. I started dancing when I was 5 years old, taking Bharatanatyam, Indian classical dance, as well as western forms like ballet. It’s always been a huge passion of mine. Even when I was little, I was an enthusiastic reader, so no one was surprised when that translated into me becoming a writer years later. Additionally, drawing and painting have been a huge part of my life since I was young.
Is there a particular book or organization that has made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The first cause I was ever passionate about was animal rights. I’ve always been a very empathetic person, and growing up, I would always hear about The Humane Society from my best friend. Hearing about how it was constantly working to make a difference with animal rights made a huge impact on me, and I believe that’s what inspired me to become an animal rights activist from such a young age. Without it, I would have never expanded into other avenues of activism; it was truly like an introduction for me into the world of social justice and equity.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Making a difference can be defined as so many different things because it’s such an interpretive term. I don’t believe there is one definite meaning for it, but in my opinion, making a difference means making an effort, whether it be conscious or not, to have a positive impact on something- no matter how big or small it is. When it comes to making a difference, every little piece is absolutely crucial and can eventually add up to bigger and more extensive results.
Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently working with an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about how you and this organization are trying to change in our world today?
Yes, this past year I’ve become very involved in working with Cocoa Packs, an incredible local organization that is dedicated to helping fight childhood hunger in my community. They provide completely free and nutritious weekly meals for families, helping reduce the widespread issue of childhood hunger. Alongside this, they aim to improve children’s overall well-being, hosting events throughout the year to boost other aspects of their lives such as morale. It relies on volunteers to help package food and get important tasks done, which is where I spent almost all of my summer helping out. Donations are also a large part of their funds, considering it is a nonprofit organization, and to support them, I raised over $600 in a fundraiser with my art.
In the end, Cocoa Packs is just trying to positively impact the community, and I’m just doing my best to help them in any way that I can.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I’ve known about Cocoa Packs for several years, but I never actually got involved with them until recently. I’ve always had a strong passion for art, as I’ve previously mentioned- drawing in particular. Around last Thanksgiving, I realized that instead of sitting around or waiting until I’m an adult, I should be using my talent to positively impact the world around me in any way I could. That’s what sparked the idea to create an art sale fundraiser. When thinking of organizations I could make a difference with, my mom brought up Cocoa Packs. I had volunteered there before once or twice, and I remembered how genuinely kind everyone was and how much they truly cared for their cause. I knew that by raising money for them, I would be making a prominent impact on my local community with an organization that deserved it.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I’ve always thought about harnessing my talents into doing something good for my community, but like you said, I never acted upon them because I was “too young” or “didn’t have enough time.” That final trigger for me definitely occurred last year. I had decided to open up art commissions in the summer, and I spent those three months getting paid for making custom drawings for family members and friends. When I thought back to those, I realized that I could’ve been using them to make a difference in my community. That’s when it hit me: this was the opportunity to harness my talents for the greater good that I was looking for. It was at that point that I began getting involved with Cocoa Packs.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to take leadership or even start a new organization. What are some of the things or steps you took to get inspired to dedicate your passion toward change?
The fact still remains that there are so many young people that have insane talents but don’t know how to channel them for the greater good. Becoming part of an organization and dedicating your passion to change are often one in the same; that’s how it was for me. After I realized that I could utilize my artistic talents, a big step I took was finding the right organization for me. Of course, everyone wants to make a huge difference- national or worldwide- but often, the places that you can make the biggest impact are right in your local community. Cocoa Packs was perfect for me, and seeing how much they impacted people’s lives- that was really one of the main inspirations for finally using my passion. My advice for other young teens is to try and look around your city or town for a local organization that fires you up, one that inspires you to make change happen. It will kickstart your motivation.
In regards to taking a leadership role, my best advice is to prove your dedication. People naturally gravitate to the individual who’s always there and knows what to do. If you are genuinely dedicated to a cause, it will show, and people will begin to notice. The leadership thing will kind of happen naturally. That’s why it’s so incredibly important to be motivated and inspired about the cause you are fighting for.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began working with your organization?
It was only my second day of volunteering, so I was still extremely new to working with the organization. They were hosting a “start of the summer” event for all the kids, and I was tasked with taking photos of everything for their social media accounts. There were a ton of vendors or local businesses that were donating their baked goods, and many other companies were teaching the children about what they did and informing them about opportunities. Seeing their faces light up with glee and some of the parents even crying tears of joy- it was an unforgettable experience. That was when I knew I had chosen the right organization for me to work with; I felt that inspiration light me up.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Of course, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes when starting out, as has anyone, but a particularly funny experience always sticks out in my mind. My drawings are realistic and extremely detailed, and they usually take multiple hours per piece- anywhere from 5–20 hours depending on the difficulty. Upon starting the idea of having an art sale fundraiser, I automatically assumed that I would be creating all the pieces from hand. I’d done commissions before on a time crunch, so I thought I would be okay.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I realized there were thirty plus orders with more on the way, I knew there was no possible way that I’d be able to make all of them within a month. My mom laughed at me when she heard my original plan, and she contacted someone who made professional art prints.
It turned out to be a much better system- and way more timely. I only had to create one of each specific piece (the rest would be copied) and I would just have to hand paint the few painting orders. The sale turned out successful, and it was much less stressful when I didn’t have to worry about creating thirty drawings in a month.
Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Definitely flexibility. Things never really go the way you planned, especially working with an organization or trying something completely new. It’s always good to have multiple ideas in case a plan falls through because it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to have to use “Plan B” at some point.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I wouldn’t have gotten the idea to work with Cocoa Packs if it weren’t for my mom. She’s an enthusiastic member of our community and loves to help out with local organizations; when I told her that I wanted to use my art to donate money to a non-profit, she suggested several organizations that she thought I’d like, Cocoa Packs being one of them. Additionally, she has always been a huge supporter for all of my endeavors, encouraging me to pursue my art as much as I could. None of this would have happened if it weren’t for her.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I wasn’t really aware of how many people Cocoa Packs helped until working with them; they really are helping a huge part of the community. During one of my volunteer sessions, I spotted a friend from school who was being aided by Cocoa Packs. I had no idea they were involved with it, and it really opened my eyes to how widespread the issue of childhood hunger is; it really was affecting people right under my nose and I had no idea. Of course, I was so happy that they were getting the assistance they needed, and I was more than delighted to be a part of the solution.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
The root of childhood hunger can be attributed to many different broader issues, the main ones being poverty and a lack of available jobs. Creating more adequately paying jobs can vastly decrease the number of children who have to go hungry, thus reducing the origin of the problem. Additionally, a big but rarely discussed root is the nutritional quality disparity. When money is tight, families turn to cheaper options for food, which tend to be nutritionally poor. This can lead to children having a lack of the vitamins and nutrients that are so crucial to their development. Creating more well-balanced cheaper meals can be a big step in addressing childhood hunger. Although it isn’t necessarily addressing the origin of the issue, federal nutrition programs in schools have been invaluable in the fight against childhood hunger; continuing to fund these will make a significant impact.
Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started dedicating my passions toward greater good” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
Starting out on this journey can seem overwhelming or scary at times, but it’s truly a priceless learning experience. Still, there are definitely a few things I wish I would’ve known before beginning.
- First off, sometimes you’re going to have to do some dirty work. Although it may seem like it, the entire experience is not just going to be sunshine and rainbows. You’re going to have some obligations that are unexpected and that you’d much rather not do. During my summer volunteering following the art fundraiser, I often had to deal with the less glamorous side of things. Cocoa Packs provides nutritious and healthy foods that are chock full of produce, but fruits and vegetables have a very limited shelf life. There were multiple occasions where I was stuck taking boxes of rotten vegetables to the trash; believe me, the mysterious liquids dripping from them were not fun for my sneakers, but I persisted through it because I knew, in the end, it would be worth it. You just have to focus on the positives and the main goal- what you’re doing everything for.
- This next one is probably the most important piece of guidance. Burnout happens, and it’s completely normal. When you dedicate a passion of yours to any sort of cause, you are going to be working at it constantly. And, as with everything, too much of it- even if it is your passion- isn’t good. You might need to take a break, but as someone who has gone through it before, I promise that it will get better. At the end of the fundraiser, I had to hand paint the last few orders, but I had hit a complete burnout and was too unmotivated to do so. Luckily, I was able to contact the people who had ordered, and I got to take a little bit of a break before completing them. A few weeks later and I was back to being inspired and in love with my art. It’s nothing to worry about, just a normal part of the journey.
- Another key component- staying organized and balanced is key to being successful. I had to figure out how to balance school, clubs, and dance alongside the fundraiser. Filling out orders was crucial, but I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my grades for it. I balanced my very busy schedule by creating detailed plans for each week in my planner. By sectioning out times to do homework and go to clubs, I created space for me to focus on the fundraiser and working with Cocoa Packs. Luckily, it was almost second nature for me because I am normally an extremely busy person in the first place. But don’t worry about it if it’s not something you’re used to doing! The whole process is all about learning what works and what doesn’t work for you.
- Sacrifices are often discussed when it comes to pursuing something that you love doing, but it’s still a very significant part. If this is really something you want to do, you are going to have to make some sacrifices. Hopefully, if you stay well balanced and organized, the decisions won’t be too difficult, but it’s necessary to give some things up if you want to put your full effort into persevering the greater good. I, for one, had to give up some of my social life. For those few weeks of really hard work on the fundraiser, I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with my friends. It wasn’t ideal, of course, but they understood my situation and supported me nonetheless. That’s what mattered. And when the more time-consuming parts of the fundraiser were over, I went right back to spending time with everyone again. I didn’t regret it one bit, though, because I knew it was all going to be worth it.
- That leads me right into my last piece of advice: it’s all worth it for those little moments. All the work you put in will have a reward; you just have to persevere and get to it. After months of planning and working for my fundraiser, the moment when I finally calculated how much I had raised for charity- my heart swelled with pride. I just remember that glowing feeling- thinking about how many kids I’d helped feed by doing this fundraiser. It’s those moments that make you remember what it was all for- the moments where you remember that you made a difference.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Even in 2021, young people are constantly undermined and deprecated for being “too young” to make an impact. How do I respond to this? I prove them wrong. Don’t doubt yourself- teens have so many incredible ideas and impactful plans for the future, but too many aren’t confident enough to follow through with them. Don’t wait until you’re older, do it now and don’t take no for an answer. Make a difference and be that positive change.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I have been a fan of Emma Watson for years, ever since I first saw her in her role as Hermione Granger when I was eight or nine. Along with being an incredibly talented actress, she uses her platform as a way to speak out against important issues, both social, environmental, and more. Emma was one of the main reasons I became an activist myself; her speaking out on feminism caused me to become an advocate for women’s rights at a very young age. Having a private breakfast or lunch with her would be a dream come true, considering she’s been my role model for almost my entire life.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on Instagram @pri_nambiar!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!