Young Khalsa Girls: Empowering Young Women of Color to Lead
with Tarina Ahuja of Young Khalsa Girls
In 2012, four young girls formed a nonprofit organization to raise funds to support higher education for girls in India.
Tarina Ahuja, Co-founder and Executive Director of Young Khalsa Girls, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss efforts to provide women of color — especially young Sikh girls — spaces of belonging to learn how to be leaders in their communities.
July 31, 2023
Anderson: In 2012, four young girls who referred to themselves as Young Khalsa Girls wrote a letter asking their community for help. They wanted them to donate to a Sikh Human Development Foundation that provided scholarships to support higher education for students in India. Their goal was to raise $500 to support one student, but through the support of their community the girls raised nearly $18,000, enough to support 35 students. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Young Khalsa Girls has grown over the years and works to empower young women of color to serve their communities through selflessness. Joining me to talk all about this is Tarina Ahuja, co-founder and co-executive director of Young Khalsa Girls. And, Tarina, thank you so much for being here.
Ahuja: Thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: An amazing organization. I want to start with the evolution. I understand that you and your friends sort of hatched this idea at a sleepover. This is not usual slumber party discussion.
Anderson: How did this all start?
Ahuja: Yeah, so it's actually a fun story. We were, you know, having, like, our classic sleepover things, watching movies, eating popcorn. And then we overhear our parents on a call. And they were talking about the Sikh Human Development Foundation and why they wanted to raise money to send students to school. And the four of us were like, "Okay, we want to get involved. We want to see what we can do." And so it was actually a sleepover of two. We called two of our friends and we were like, "Let's do something!" And so we were like, "Okay, what if we we do a lemonade stand? Maybe we'll make $500." We did the math, we tried to see how many lemons we'd need, and we were like, "Okay, maybe this isn't the right plan." And so what we did is we wrote a letter and we tried to send it out to our community. Our parents put it on Facebook, which we did not have at the time. We knocked on doors. We told our schools. We went to Starbucks and Paneras and just told people about what we were doing. And before we knew it, we saw our goal of $500 turn into $17,500 and thought to ourselves, "You know what? We are young, but we have this fire to do things for our community, so why should we stop here?" And that's kind of where Young Khalsa Girls -- and "khalsa" means "pure" in the Sikh faith -- that's where it came to be.
Anderson: It's an amazing evolution story. I'm wondering about the students that you're helping. I mean, what kind of barriers are these students in India facing?
Ahuja: Absolutely. So, you know, SHDF -- the Sikh Human Development Foundation -- that was the foundation or the organization that YKG started with. And, you know, there are so many different types of barriers. The predominant students they work with tend to be students in rural areas in India. And so these students' parents have faced many things, whether it be becoming widowed or having terminal health-care issues or even being part of the farmers who had committed suicide in Punjab. And so there are a lot of different social pressures, health issues, different inequities that create these barriers to education. And so even as, you know, young kids, we were like, "This is something that we want to get involved in."
Anderson: And how much has your membership grown, along with the number of students that you serve grown, since the days of that sleepover?
Ahuja: Yeah, absolutely. So our organization now has two chapters. We have a chapter of Young Khalsa Girls in the DMV and a chapter of Young Khalsa Girls in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And our mission is to empower young women to come into their own and understand that their identity as young women of color -- many of our members are young Sikh women -- that they are worthy in their identities and have the capacity to advocate for for bigger things. And so we've planned three projects a year that are all girl-led. And so girls have planned projects in environmental advocacy, in health, in looking at interfaith connection between young people. We've organized blood drives and food packaging drives and, you know, all of these things with the inherent mission to build community, to organize community and to build that capacity within ourselves as well.
Anderson: Your original goal of helping one student has officially been blown out of the water at this point. Where do you and your co-founders want to take the organization next?
Ahuja: Yeah, I think our goal is to reach more and more young women. We are in the process of building chapters in other states across the country and other cities. And I think that one thing that I absolutely want to touch on is that, for many young women of color, for many young Sikh women, it's hard to find community. And we're also bombarded with imposter syndrome, where we're told that we're not enough, or maybe we're not the ones that are supposed to be in these places of changemaking. And our goal is to make it known to the world and to our communities that that is just not true and that we belong in these spaces because young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, we're the leaders of today, and I think that's been shown time and time again.
Anderson: It's absolutely correct. And I know people have questions about what you're doing. What is your website? Where can they look?
Ahuja: Youngkhalsagirls.com. So if you put that in your website browser -- k-h-a-l-s-a. And you can also find us on Instagram @youngkhalsagirls.
Anderson: Tarina Ahuja of Young Khalsa Girls, thank you for joining us.
Ahuja: Thank you so much for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.