Meet Student Aid Drop's founder Praveena Tharmathas and co-founder Reem Ahmed
This female-led student NGO aims to make a difference in the current refugee crisis
Edited by Tamar Weisert.
What are your stories, where do you come from?
Praveena: Hey, my name is Praveena Tharmathas. I'm 22 and studying medicine here at Medical University Sofia. I was born in Sri Lanka and moved to the UK when I was 6. Growing up, my dad took me to a lot of protests against the Sri Lankan genocide. I didn't appreciate or see the impact that it had on me until I moved away for my studies. It gave me the humanitarian spirit I have today and made me want to give back to those less fortunate.
Reem: My name is Reem Ahmed. I am 23 years old and currently studying at Medical University Sofia and have been in Sofia for the last five years. I am a first-generation British immigrant of Sudanese origin. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in a career path in which I could help others. Growing up, this would be between medicine and law; I guess seeing my father come home every evening and tell his tales from within the hospital inspired me to pursue this.
What is the idea behind Student Aid Drop?
Praveena: Student Aid Drop was solely set up to help people. Looking back to the 19-year-old girls who set this NGO up, it really makes me proud. I don't think any of us thought it would grow the way it has and that for me shows our innocence of wanting to help those in need at the time. What makes us stand out from the others is that we are a youth-led organization, focusing on interfaith and integration. We try to show that we can all make a positive difference in our communities by bringing people of different faiths and backgrounds together.
Our core team consists of 5 females. We are from different backgrounds and faiths. We are all British and originally from Sudan, India, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka. Our larger team of volunteers are from all over the world. Being international students here in Sofia has allowed us to branch out and work with many different people and other NGOs, too.
What do you wish you'd known before moving to Bulgaria?
Reem: Being an 18-year-old moving here in 2015, I wish I knew more about Bulgaria and its culture. I wish I also knew more about the university set up and examination system. Back then, there were not any societies at university giving information. However, five years down the line, information is abundant for students thinking about coming to study here. I also wish there was a Sofia guide at the time with cool places to eat, go to gyms, thrift stores, and bars - all the hidden gems that took us time to find in Sofia.
Praveena: I wish I had read up on the culture and necessary language skills to integrate better into the Bulgarian community. Still, it has been quite easy to pick these skills up along the way.
Would you consider moving back to the UK or to another country, or would you stay here?
Reem: Once I have finished my degree, I hope to return to the UK to complete my training in line with the General Medical Council (GMC) regulations. Studying abroad in Bulgaria has given me insight into the perks of living abroad and has a special place in my heart. I do not see myself living in one place for the rest of my life, and I do hope that my line of work will allow me to travel and live abroad both for my practice and for voluntary purposes, e.g., Doctors without borders.
What would be your piece of advice to a student or volunteer interested in moving to Bulgaria?
Reem: With regards to the university, I recommend doing your research prior so that you can acquaint yourself with the exam structure and the synopsis. I would also recommend visiting Bulgaria and exploring the respective city that you are planning on moving to, to get a better feel. Finally, studying in Bulgaria was the best decision I could have made. I've had the best experiences, met incredible people from different backgrounds, and experienced immense personal growth. For anyone who's having doubts, I'd say seize the opportunity. You won't regret it!