In 2012, twin girls of Pakistani descent – Maryam and Nivaal Rehman – were born in Canada. At the age of eight, the girls visited their ancestral homeland, Pakistan, and the school which had been built on land donated by their grandmother. Maryam and Nivaal met the girls who studied there. During their visit, many of the girls told Maryam and Nivaal that they would quit school at grade five in order to get jobs and support their families. Maryam and Nivaal found that unacceptable.
The twins began working at the school, empowering the girls to continue their education through workshops, speaking with parents, and donating school supplies purchased with the twins’ pocket money. Their actions led to immediate change: some of the girls continued their studies into high school.
Maryam and Nivaal continued to visit the school during family trips to Pakistan. In between, they became activists in Canada, leading fundraising efforts to support schools and organizations around the world. They also led social justice-based school clubs like Youth in Action, Girl Up, Model United Nations, and Students Together Against Racism. Their activism soon became global in scope, as they began working with large organizations such as the United Nations, the Malala Fund, and the David Suzuki Foundation.
In 2016, Maryam and Nivaal launched “The World with MNR,” a YouTube channel to share the work they were doing and inspire others to do the same. They hoped the videos would inspire people to bridge the gap between knowing about problems and doing something to help. They covered many events, interviewed many well-known activists like Malala Yousafzai and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and even made documentaries about their journey. Within three years, The World with MNR became a registered non-profit and expanded from education and gender equality to climate justice and inclusivity.
What makes Maryam and Nivaal’s journey is that it sheds light on how the world thinks about girls and youth activism. In an interview with Women of Influence Canada, the twins stated that the thing that surprises people most is their age: “Ever since we began to attend conferences, summits and events globally, we have often found that we are the youngest people in the room. As we introduce ourselves or share our story, the one thing that surprises people the most is how old we are.”
Throughout their activism, the girls have found ways to balance school and extracurriculars. They also learned the importance of self-care, developing a strict schedule with the support of their parents and teachers that helped them meet their goals without wearing themselves out. Their advice to budding girl activists?
“To start by taking action in their local community, for one cause they care about. The world has so many big problems and it is easy to feel like you can’t do anything to solve them, but by starting somewhere locally, you can make a big difference and open up doors to expand your impact.”