It may still be summer, but that hasn’t stopped Howe Sound Secondary student Sarah Sheng from tackling her own project: starting a non-profit.
Just weeks before entering Grade 11, Sheng launched Others and You, a non-profit that sells T-shirts and aims to raise awareness about the lack of education support in developing countries.
Two years ago, Sheng contacted UNICEF, asking how she could help. They put her in touch with Twende Education Centre, located inside a cancer hospital, where they teach children who are receiving cancer treatment. Sheng travelled to Zambia, and for a week she met with the kids and the founder.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Sheng was inspired by the children's persisting ambitions: to become doctors, to become president.
"All of them were so passionate," she said. "They were really strong, because while they were receiving their cancers treatments... they were so, so very bright and very keen on their education. That really inspired me.
"I realized they were so limited in their resources,” Sheng said. Some of the children she met came from remote areas, and had never been formally taught before.
While she's still getting started, and will be shortly setting up the website and online store for her non-profit, Sheng hopes to branch out to multiple projects. The first will be Project Twende, for the education centre she visited, where the kids will draw on the back of a t-shirt. Their design will then be printed, and then funds will help the founder hire more teachers and buy more supplies.
So far, Others and You have made 1,000 t-shirts and they've already sold 200 internationally.
The focus on education is important because "everyone knows it is the root of success for younger generations," Sheng said.
The website will also feature the stories and ambitions of the children Sheng met in Zambia.
"If people have an interpersonal connection by reading these children's stories, I feel like they would be more inclined to help out,” she said. "Even if they don't buy the t-shirt, I just hope that maybe they're inspired to create change in their own way … At the end of the day, even an amount as small as $10 can drastically change someone's life overseas."
At only 17 years old herself, Sheng said she’s been inspired by other teens striving to make a change. This summer, she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) LaunchX summer program for high school entrepreneurs. There she met other students from around the world, including one who'd started her own education centre for children with special needs in the Bronx, NYC.
“I feel that change can happen whenever you want it to. I feel like young people shouldn't have to wait until they graduate or until they become an adult, because I feel they need to realize the amount of influence their voice can have,” she said. “No matter how young you are, if you have enough power, if you have enough people supporting you, you can do great things in the world.”
This December, Sheng plans to travel back to the Twin Day Education Centre. She'll be bringing Others and You t-shirts for the kids.