On Saturday, March 20, Youth Ambassadors hosted the 2021 Youth Festival, a virtual showcase of globally inspired art, outreach, and solutions. The digital event invited youth to explore how they can make a difference even while adapting to a changing world through the theme 2020 and Beyond: Embracing and Empowering YOUth.

Youth Ambassadors are high-school students who volunteer with the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in the Dallas area. Since 2011, the volunteer-run Youth Ambassador program has worked to cultivate future leaders who will drive global development. Ambassadors raise awareness of AKF’s work and encourage youth to engage issues of local and global importance through artistic expression, innovative solutions, and partnering with local communities. For years, Youth Ambassador officers have also organized a Youth Arts and Innovation competition to inspire student participants to express their passion to make a difference.

This year, the festival moved online to exhibit the visual art, spoken word, local community outreach projects, and “innovative solution” entries created by the youth competition participants.

As co-presidents Sarah Khoja and Eunbi Chung welcomed festival attendees, they reflected on their experiences with the Youth Ambassador program.

Eunbi Chung, Youth Ambassador Co-President

“When I joined as a volunteer, I initially wasn’t very confident,” Eunbi said. “But as the years passed, and as I saw more and more students my age make a difference in our local community, my passion only grew.”

Sarah added, “Throughout the six years that I have been with the Youth Ambassador program, I have been able to grow as not only a leader, but an experimenter and a problem solver.”

Sarah Khoja, Youth Ambassador Co-President

Read on to learn about the 2021 entries and winners in each category.

Arts and Culture

The Youth Ambassadors’ annual art and spoken word competitions create awareness and promote change for a better quality of life for all. Youth can express their voice through visual art and spoken word pieces, and local artists participate as judges in the competition. 2021 Youth Festival attendees were also able to vote for the winner of the People’s Choice award.

This year’s art entries focused on embracing diversity in community for a more equitable future.

First place winner: "Lean In" by Claire Song
First place winner: "Unity in Diversity" by Ananya Subramaniam
Artwork showing a young women covering her mouth with her hands while surrounded by drawings of mouths
Third place winner "Noise" by Sannidhi Udayagiri
Artwork showing drawings of a tree, Greta Thunberg, and protest signs with the text "Small seeds grow into larger trees"
People's Choice winner: "The Youth's Growing Seeds" by Asta Lalani

The spoken word entries examined the social, environmental, and political challenges that 2020 revealed, and challenged youth to action. “We are the help, we are the future, we all are the solution,” said first place winner Shruthi Dandamudi in the poem Hold on to More Hands.

“It is easy to feel overwhelmed,” said Anjali Das in Remember Your Roots, which won second place. “But you have to remember that you were born because you have purpose in this realm.”

Third place winner Diyaa Dossani and People’s Choice winner Aaliya Lalani cast a vision for a communal approach to change in their poems There Was and A Changing World.

“Together we stand strong, but alone, we cannot move along,” Diyaa said. “Now there will be a time when there aren’t long days and rough nights.”

Aaliya concluded her spoken word piece with a connection to the Youth Ambassador program, saying, “When the youth overcome these challenges, innovate sustainable solutions, and come together as one and advocate, we can see change, and we can adapt to this changing world.”

Acting Locally

The Local Project component of the Youth Festival highlighted local community outreach led by Youth Ambassadors. Ambassadors presented their projects, which partner with Title 1 schools in the Dallas area to implement projects inspired by the Aga Khan Foundation’s work across Africa and Asia.

The initiatives range from promoting literacy, empowering students, and improving learning environments. Several projects are inspired by current AKF USA partnerships in Central Asia and East Africa, from encouraging student skills through designing a rock garden (drawn from Thrive Tajikistan’s work with student councils) to creating leveled libraries (inspired by the Yetu Initiative’s “Start a Library” work).

View the Local Projects presentations below.

Thinking Globally

The Youth Festival also has an annual Innovative Solutions challenge competition, which brings together teams of high-school students to create sustainable solutions to community issues. Through the competition, students research and exchange ideas to address local and global problems.

The 2021 Innovative Solutions Challenge winners presented ideas that speak to the challenges heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, from disinfecting technology to resources for women facing increased rates of domestic violence.

Team TechnoGreen (Aarian Dhanani, Pranav Mukund, and Kaden Nathani) won first place for their project CubeUV, a product that disinfects and provides light to combat the lack of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In second place was Team NexTech (Christopher Dycus, Azal Amer, Pranav Joshi, Daniel Walker) for the Port Stove, a safe and affordable cooking surface that runs off sustainable energy in an effort to provide greater access to working kitchen equipment.

Team Jamila (Nandita Kumar, Sarosh Ismail) won third place and the People’s Choice Award for their project Jamila, an app that provides a domestic violence help hotline, local services, and other resources for South Asian women.

Congratulations to all the 2021 Youth Arts and Innovation Competition entrants and winners!