Two young female leaders give back to their community
When their dad took a new job, sisters Anjana, now 20, and Ananya Murali, now 18, moved with their parents from India to Montana when they were little. It meant adapting to a different culture, climate and community. As they put it, “we were the diversity in Montana.”
After 9/11 happened, life got more challenging as the Murali family were among the few in Helena with dark skin. “I asked my mom to take me to the store for lotion to make my skin white,” says Anjana. “That’s when I remember my mom saying she wanted to educate the community, and she started with my kindergarten class.”
The Muralis’ community outreach in Montana was a positive experience, especially for the girls, and that inspiration continues, following another move — this time to the Milwaukee, Wis., area in their teenage years.
“My mom is one of my biggest heroes,” says Anjana “She took initiative to educate the community.”
“She organized a booth at the annual Helena Fair about Indian culture and traditions. Visitors to the booth could try on sarees (Indian clothing), get henna designs, watch and listen to Indian music/dance performances, and even taste Indian food for the first time,” Anjana continued.
“She gave numerous presentations in and around the community about Indian culture, especially arranged marriages. Through her efforts, she was able to dispel misconceptions about our culture in a positive way,” Ananya, shared.
Anjana and Ananya have continued that legacy by focusing on youths in their new community of Milwaukee. Both have pursued their Girl Scout Gold Awards to better their corner of the world. Together, they created a non-profit organization called “Educate, Engage, Empower, Inc.” in order to continue their projects and reach out to youth all over the world.
Finding Their Niche
Ananya decided to tackle teen suicide related to bullying.
“I worked with local organizations like the police department, mindful yoga and self-defense instruction to create a camp for middle school girls — not just for them to find a way to share their problems, but also to be leaders in their community,” Ananya says. “It was a huge success and it motivated me to continue my efforts, so I kept applying for grants and went to India to do five camps over the summer. I learned that bullying is actually an international issue.”
As a senior at Shorewood High School, Ananya has involved more than 1,000 youth through presentations at Girl Scout troops, school events, Native American reservations, International Youth Peace Conferences, and the United Nations.
Anjana was motivated by a less traumatic experience than her sister, but no less impactful, when she lost a competitive chess match to a boy.
“It wasn’t that I lost that made me angry. It was that he said he would beat me just because I am a girl,” shared Anjana.
It motivated her to find a chess coach and practice enough to become the girls’ state chess champion in Wisconsin in just a few years.
Anjana’s efforts took off when she launched her mission in her new community near Milwaukee, creating “Queen’s Game”, the first all-girls chess camp in the United States in 2012. It was an experience that put wheels in motion and led Anjana to becoming a member of the State Farm Youth Advisory Board.
“The whole idea behind my chess camps is to break gender barriers in both chess and in life.
You could see the girls blossom as leaders and in their confidence,” Anjana says. “I remember one girl said to me she had never won a trophy in her life and never saw herself as a champion until that day.”
Now a sophomore, pre-med student at the University of Pittsburgh, she has conducted five chess camps for 500-plus girls and also started an elementary school chess club.
Small Scale, Great Impact
Ananya recently received a Global Youth Service Day grant through Youth Service America to combat bullying and empower girls to become leaders. Her event took place on April 16 at Glen Hills Middle School in Wisconsin. It featured Senator Lena Taylor and other local community leaders. They talked about cyber bullying, empowering girls, the DARE program, yoga, leadership and the importance of community service.
Anjana joined the State Farm Youth Advisory Board to also make a difference. The members are 17-20 year old students from around the country who collaborate on funding service learning projects around the country!
After just one meeting with the 29 other “YABBIES”, she was convinced she was in the right place to continue her mission.
“Sometimes it seems like big boulders aren’t being moved by teaching girls chess in the grand scheme of things,” Anjana says. “But seeing these other people involved with Youth Advisory Board, they are moving mountains in their own world. It’s a great motivation to keep my flame going.”