Tell us a little bit about your background…
I am from Coventry, I am also Afghan Sikh, and for some people, that seems like a strange mix of backgrounds. However, there was a huge community of Sikhs in Afghanistan a lot of us have had to flee the country due to religious persecution. So, I came to the UK when I was four as a refugee, not knowing anything, not speaking the language. My parents never really had the opportunity to go to school but have worked and built up a life here in Coventry from nothing.
I went to your bog-standard state school, but one that had teachers who cared about my progression. I was always academic and getting involved in different projects and activities, that’s why my teacher recommended Pathways to Law.
What was your experience like on your Sutton Trust Programmes, both Pathways and the Summer School?
My Sutton Trust programmes showed me how transformative university can be, I learnt this from speaking to ambassadors and other people who had the same worries as me.
With Pathways not only did I gain experience within the legal profession, I was also exposed to debating and mooting competitions (which I later got involved with when I started university) and went into Warwick to shadow students too. These experiences transformed me. I had such an exceptional experience there that one of the first people I called on results day was one of my Pathways to Law coordinators, to let her know what results I got and that I would be coming to Warwick.
My English Literature Summer School at Cambridge gave me the strongest indicator that this was the subject for me and contributed my decision to study English at Warwick. It also gave me the new experience of living in halls and I realised this would be a big part of my development. Whilst I ultimately decided that Cambridge wasn’t for me, the Summer School empowered me to make that choice. I had agency and was active in that decision making as opposed to thinking I couldn’t do it and that it wasn’t a space for me.
How has your career developed after the programmes?
The programmes gave me the confidence to put myself out there throughout university and built up my knowledge of how important experiences are, which were some of the reasons I did a year abroad in Canada. My time away, and exposure to grass roots organisations there, made me realise I want to make an impact here in the UK. How do I do that? How do I give back what I have received? I thought going into the charity sector would be cool but at the time I didn’t know how to get in and from my perspective it had always seemed a bit inaccessible.
However, I was then accepted onto the Charityworks graduate scheme which allowed me to bring all my experiences forward into the workspace, and on my leadership journey. I learnt more about the third sector as a career route, as well as developing hard skills. After the scheme I decided on a break, because in all honesty, I probably had burn out. This time really improved my mental health and allowed me to get involved in a lot of things: I helped with my mum’s food blog, travelled, explored, did nothing and had time to pause and think. I thought especially about creating my own charity or social enterprise – and reached out to mentors to start conversations to help my development. Then the pandemic hit, and I came across my current opportunity. As Coventry won the bid to become the city of culture, I’m working specifically on the project management of an Arts Council England funded Transforming Leadership Programme.
What are your ambitions for the future?
With Pathways to Law I knew I wanted to do law; I just hadn’t developed my thoughts on my specific interests in the field. I have used the past year to expand my legal knowledge; getting involved in the “Redefined” project has brought me into human rights and the social justice part of the sector. This motivated me to finally go for law, so I am going to be doing a part-time MA in Law.
Ultimately, I would really like to develop my own social enterprise, to shine a spotlight on the Afghan Sikh community and help tell our stories and have our voices heard. To develop a platform to allow this to happen, where people can connect, network and commission research. All I want to do is be in positions where I am making an impact.
What advice would you give to a future Sutton Trust Student?
My advice is to do the things that you don’t feel you can because once you do them, you’ll learn. Remember too that you’re on your own path, don’t compare yourself to others. Equally don’t let pressure or fears of whether you’re good enough hold you back. Your opinion matters, your opinion is valid, so speak on it. Don’t police yourself because other people are already doing enough of that for you.
Finally, take value in those around you. That doesn’t necessarily just mean the person that can give you a reference, it could be anyone who gives you their time, energy and experience. Those are the people you need to attract into your life and foster connections with.