Ever wanted to make a *big* change to what you're learning in school? Teen activist Zoya Haq has ideas...

It's true, we all picked up some new hobbies and habits while stuck inside at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our time trapped at home was filled with everything from learning to crochet to cutting our own bangs (yikes!) to reconnecting with our families to freaking out about a scary and uncertain future.

Zoya Haq, age 18, was no exception—only she decided to direct her energy towards making her then-virtual school (and the wider world) a better place.

Using her unique skills for socializing and storytelling, Zoya teamed up with fellow students to kickstart her own initiative: HiStory Retold. As the founder of the organization, Zoya's job is to talk to people of all different backgrounds, ages and walks of life, record their experiences and transform their stories into classroom materials that teachers can *actually* use IRL.

"I've always been interested in writing and self-expression," she says. "And we wanted to kind of bring that storytelling vein into the work that we were hoping to in education". 

She shared more about the very first story she ever collected, her uncoventional approach to giving back and how she stays strong in the face of pushback.

Girls' Life Magazine: What's the mission of HiStory Retold?

Zoya: I started HiStory Retold in 2020, when I had this idea of collecting stories and oral histories from different communities and incorporating them into classrooms. Our mission is not to rewrite history but to make sure that the way that we share historical narratives is truly inclusive.

GL: How did you get the idea to start your own organization?

Zoya:  I was looking for ways to connect with other students in this time period where I was really deprived of connection. I joined this online forum where I got to meet three other girls from across the country who were also students just like me.

We were having some conversations, meeting via Zoom. We realized that a lot of what we were seeing in the news on a daily basis really tied back to a lack of education and understanding about alternate perspectives and viewpoints. That kind of became the launch point for all of our work.

GL: Can you give an example of the types of stories you're collecting?

Zoya: The very first story that we collected, it was from a girl named Asha. She came from a background where she was half-white and half-Indigenous. She submitted a testimonial that talked about how she's grappled with these two different sides of her identity.

It was really striking, because we were able to connect with this girl who none of us knew and learn about her in such an intimate way. And we still kept in touch to this day, years later.  

GL: Why do you think these first-person stories are important to incorporate into classrooms?

Zoya: I think it helps students to more directly reckon with their own history. Our history shapes who we are in the present. When you're only learning about it in a textbook format, it's hard to recognize that link. But when you're seeing real people and real narratives, then you're able to really understand.

GL: What challenges have you faced in fighting for change in the education system?

Zoya:  Sometimes, it can be scary or daunting because adults are telling you: You're too young to do this. But once you actually enter this world, once you start working and advocating, you'll realize that your voice and your perspective as a young person is incredibly valued. We need to be a part of the change that's unfolding on a daily basis...because we're the ones who are going to be impacted by it 10-20 years from now.

GL: What advice do you have for girls who are trying to get more involved in their communities?

Zoya: There’s power in numbers. If there's other students who will support you, who can maybe come with you to approach a teacher or an administrator, that can always help. Tap into your peers, really learn from them and lean into their strengths. 

If you're already giving back to your community in a unique way,
enter here to become an Emerging Visionary like Zoya! 

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by Madelon Basil | 11/1/2023