By Valerie Shelton
Clovis West graduate and valedictorian Shahana Farooqi has another accolade to add to her long list of accomplishments. The UC Berkeley bound 18-year-old was recently recognized by the National Exchange Club as the Youth of the Year for the California-Nevada district.
Rick Snow, who heads up the local chapter of the Exchange Club, said in order to be chosen for the honor a student must be well rounded in academics, schools activities, community activities including voluntary and charitable work, and write two essays.
The selection process, Snow said, begins with local clubs picking graduating seniors each month for Student of the Month. Each club then goes on to choose a Student of the Year from amongst those recognized monthly and submits that student’s application to the district. Each district then selects a female and male Youth of the Year from all the students nominated by their local club. The two student selected also go on to compete for a national Youth of the Year title—to be determined later this month.
Farooqi was introduced as the female Youth of the Year for the district as the California-Nevada District Convention held June 12 to 14 in Culver City.
“The Exchange Club of Clovis is once again proud to have one of our students recognized as the California-Nevada Female Youth of the Year,” Snow said. “One of our girls also won in 2014.”
Snow said Farooqui is a remarkable person. Not only did she excel at Clovis West academically, achieving a 4.5 GPA, but she also served in several leadership roles on campus. She was the senior class vice president, an Inter-School Council member and was instrumental in managing the annual “La Bella Vita Fashion Show” and assisting in the planning of a camp for CUSD leadership students.
Most impressive, though, is the service work Farooqi was done overseas.
“She is not only involved in serving her local community, but has served internationally, starting her own children’s library in Kashmir,” Snow said.
Farooqi’s parents are from Kasmir, an undisputed territory in northern India and southern Pakistan, and she and her family travel to there frequently to visit her grandparents. On these trips, Farooqi said she noticed the need for educational materials for lower-class children in the region.
“I wanted to help people out there because I always see people and the same thought always came to mind because poverty is so rampant and there are kids who are disadvantaged,” Farooqi said. “Going to private school is kind of the norm there for those who can afford it and for those who can’t there are government schools, which shouldn’t even be called schools. The one I went to was just this brick building with no ceiling, crumbling with hardly any walls and the floor is dirt. The teachers are also known for taking kids’ school supplies and selling them for their benefit because they don’t get paid a lot. There is corruption everywhere. There is also the mindset of it’s everyone for themselves so there isn’t a lot of help coming from others.”
To make a difference, before her last trip to Kashmir the summer before her senior year Farooqi raised $300 selling candy outside her Mosque. In Kashmir, the $300 allowed her to purchase 50 books in English and Kashmiri and 50 sets of school supplies—bags containing pencils, notebooks, erasers and sharpeners.
She passed out the supplies to 50 school children in the neighborhood near her grandparent’s home. She then sent up a small library in a room on her grandparent’s property that is detached from their home. There is no check-in, check-out system at the library, but children are welcome to come sit and read the books.
Continuing to add to the library, Farooqi said, is difficult since she is so far away, but she plans to add to it every time she visits and in the future establish a point of contact there who she can send money to in order to get new books on a regular basis.
Farooqi described herself a humanitarian, stating that service projects like the Books for Kashmir project are her passion.
Locally, she has been involved in several service projects. All four years of high school, she assisted with the La Bella Vita Fashion Show and last year was the event’s coordinator, helping to raise over $6,000 for the Pinedale Boys and Girls Club. Also throughout high school, Farooqi served on the St. Baldrick’s Foundation committee on campus. St. Baldrick’s is dedicated to spreading awareness of childhood cancer and raising money to help fund research. Each year, Clovis West has a St. Balderick’s Day, where people can shave their heads to better understand the stigma associated with being a cancer patient, or cut their hair to donate for wigs. Farooqi was also a member of the Red Cross Club and has volunteered at Fairwinds.
Farooqi was accepted to several prestigious colleges including UC Davis, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, Drexel University, Union College and the University of North Carolina, but she has chosen to attend UC Berkeley this fall and study Pre-Med.
“I chose Berkeley because I like that it is academically rigorous and I like the feel of the campus,” Farooqi said. “I like that it’s not politically neutral, politics has a presence there. I like that it’s liberal and outspoken. I wouldn’t be one of the students destroying public property or anything but I’d like to be involved. I like the spirit of Berkeley and every time I go there I like it more.”