Three students nominated for an ECHO Award: ‘I want to make the world a better place’
A more inclusive and diverse society is what Talisha Schilder, Hawra Nissi and Chiraz Hassoumi spend many hours a week working towards. Their hard work led them to being nominated for the ECHO Award.
The ECHO Awards are prizes for exceptionally talented students in higher education who have a migration background from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Turkey. The nominees have a unique perspective on promoting diversity and inclusivity within their field of expertise. Both Dutch and international students can be nominated.
Talisha Schilder has been nominated for her work with the Diversity & Inclusion Office and the COOP student initiative COOP. ‘From a young age, I wanted to make the world a better place. My family is from Indonesia, a long-time colony of the Netherlands. As a result of an internalised colonial ideology, members of my family adopted an attitude of never complaining because they had to feel grateful that they were allowed to come to the Netherlands at all. They thought they had to adapt completely in order to be part of Dutch society: they kept their own culture and ideas behind closed doors. But this created a paradox, causing them to still feel like outsiders as soon as they stepped outside. This is why I have a passion for creating a space where diverse opinions, views and ideas can be shared, helping people to connect with each other. You can see that commitment in both my work and my studies.’
‘I work for the Diversity & Inclusion Office and I also set up a project: COOP. We organise workshops and events in which students are given tools to deal with diverse or conflicting opinions. This is important in a time of polarisation,’ she says. ‘In the future, I’d like to continue to work on facilitating compassionate and empathic conversation spaces for people. I want to make sure that people don’t view differences and similarities as opposite poles, but as complementary elements like yin and yang.’
‘The nomination for the ECHO Award helped me stop and realise everything I’ve been doing to promote diversity and inclusivity in our society. The nomination process helps the students to better map out their personal stories. Moreover, ECHO offers opportunities: everyone who’s nominated becomes part of the ECHO network. That’s important for students with an immigration background and first-generation students. I don't have any friends of parents who work somewhere and have a job for me. The network helps me get to know people in the business world, even if it’s just for an interesting conversation. The ECHO ambassadorship is a valuable asset.’
Hawra Nissi has been nominated for her work with various charitable organisations in the socio-cultural field. She is also committed to the Ahwazi community, in both her personal and academic life. ‘My pre-master’s thesis reflected a big step in my development. I did historiographic research on how the history of a dynasty in Southern Iran was written. Historiography is the study of the history of history. My research showed that there were three approaches: the Arabic, the Persian and the English. The approaches were always a little isolated from one another and it seemed as if historians from each area painted a different - sometimes completely contradictory - picture of the region. I’m trying to build a bridge between these three different approaches and, by doing that, contribute to the research about my people. I believe we need this indigenous perspective. We’ve always been written about, but we’ve never really written about ourselves. I think Professor Jos Gommans, who nominated me, saw that I can make a difference to my community.’
‘On a personal level, I want to break the cycle of fear, disappointment and pain. If you talk to a young Ahwazi, they’ll tell you they are disappointed. Nobody knows them. Nobody acknowledges them. As Ahwazis, we are always afraid that we’ll end up assimilating into Persian culture in Iran and lose our culture and language. We have the same fear here in the Netherlands, so we tend to hold on to our culture. But we do this out of fear, not out of love. I want to break this cycle. I want to celebrate my culture without being afraid of the other side, or feel free to celebrate both.’
‘If I’m honest, I don't feel entirely comfortable with my nomination. To me personally, my work speaks for itself, so it’s something I still need to get used to. I didn’t expect to be nominated for something like this. I’m not interested in winning. My community just wants someone to represent them and who helps make sure there is voice heard. These nominations do tend to attract people, so if one more person learns about my story, I count it as a success. I’m not sure if I’m a good representative, but I’d like to try.’
Chiraz Hassoumi has been nominated for her contribution as president of the Middle East Committee at BASIS, the study association for International Studies, and her contribution to the Student Advisory Group on Diversity and Inclusion. ‘The committee’s main goal was to use it as a platform, an opportunity to create awareness of the Middle East within the university. Everyone’s different, so we had a lot of different events and activities. We had lectures on Palestine and Syria, but also workshops on learning Arabic, for example. As a member of the D&I Student Advisory Group,I mainly focus on gender-related issues. I think that’s partly because one of our members is non-binary, which makes you more aware of everything that still needs to be done in that area. The other day, I was asked to fill in a form for my internship and it only listed the options male or female under gender. These little things need to be changed, so I pointed that out.’
‘Diversity and inclusion are very important to me. I don't think you should pick someone just because of their skin colour or gender, but there are situations where a white man and a black man are both equally qualified for a position. Why not choose someone who’s not already part of the majority in the organisation? That way, you create opportunities for other life experiences. As a woman of colour, I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement here.’
‘I felt honoured that my work is being recognised. I would like to gain inspiration and hope from the ECHO community. Sometimes I think the world is being ruined by climate change and political instability. That can make me quite sad. I think ECHO is a place for people who want to contribute to the world. The prospect of working with other ambassadors and exchanging knowledge is really interesting to me because I think you can learn so much from interactions with other people.’