My name is Sneha Mahapatra and I have always wanted to work with women and gender related issues as my area of interest. Being a girl from India, I always wondered what my life would be like if I was born into a family of acute poverty and forced to give up education for marriage. How different would my life be?

“Life is all about taking risks.” But so many millions of people struggle to stay alive on a daily basis, that they never get the opportunity to take that risk! Therefore, I feel privileged that I have been given many occasions to take a risk, and have always wanted to learn and grow with each time I was given the opportunity.

Attending United World College was one such risk, and I am so grateful that I took it. “Understanding that there is more than one way to look at a situation and keeping an open mind is what I learnt in UWC was the biggest solution to solving all issues of discrimination, violence and injustice”. We live in a society of labels that need to be broken. If people realize how similar we are, and that prejudice only exists because we create it then ending discrimination is something that is not a dream. People are divided by thought created because of lack of exposure, not by choice! Hope exists because our generation has the power and resources to “be the change we want to see” (MK Gandhi).

United World College Students on the Great Wall of China, Beijing, China.

After completing United World College, I had the opportunity to do a semester studying abroad doing Semester At Sea with students from all over the world and all over the United States.  This was again a chance to take another risk: a risk to travel the world and do courses that I am passionate about.  To travel to countries that I have always wanted to see through the lens of me being an Indian girl and examine how my identity shapes my world view as a traveler and further to understand how being a woman traveling to these countries would help me better see myself as a woman – an important part of my identity, better. I was visiting these cultures to be challenged and to challenge my ideas of the world and the people in it. To not only see one story and be exposed to what books and popular media tell you about a place, but to live the place through its food, people, religions, political structures and social norms.

This summer I got the incredible opportunity to intern with the 1947 Partition Archive at Berkeley, California, where I played the role of an oral history archivist archiving stories of first hard Partition survivors, whose lives, views and struggles have been long forgotten. “Peace begins with knowing where we have come from and gaining better understanding of how our past shapes our present”- this internship has played a huge role in understanding the India-Pakistan conflict, something I have always been passionate in learning more about. Being from India and sharing a border with a country built on the foundation of and filled with years of hate, distrust, violence, learning about the root cause of the Partition has always been an area of interest for me.

Finally, being a woman brings me to my last point in conflict resolution and understanding – which is women and gender related issues – that have always been a driving source in life. I have seen and interacted with women in some of the most primitive places in India, and their stories have shocked and inspired me. From killing of the girl child to suppression of women in the most brutal ways, there is still tremendous work that needs to be done if India desires to progress and achieve the goal of equality, but more so, equity for all.  However, in the face of adversity the lives these women work toward achieving and do not “settle” to live is remarkable. I have wanted to work with women in areas of health, both general and sexual because of the number of women that face discrimination and are unaware of possibleresources to help them fight against and change oppressive norms in society that, because they were created, must cease to exist. Traveling to Ghana and South Africa opened by eyes to the shattering reality that it is not only India and women in India who face these challenges. Women in these parts of the world as well are denied of the most basic, rudimentary forms of rights and such forms of corrosive oppression only pushes the inhabitants of such societies into further isolation.

I am a firm believer of the idea that there is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela. Hence, I feeldedicating my life to the cause of working with and not “for” such members of my society fills me with the kind of passion that makes me want to wake up each day and strive to work toward achieving something bigger than myself with purpose and determination.


Torgame Village – workshop “of, with, to and by the rhythms of the women”, Ghana, Africa.