Young Ismailis are increasingly making their mark in all fields – academic and non-academic. Through the Youth Awards for Excellence, 2010, the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board (AKYSB) for India, recognised the Jamati youth and honoured high achievers in fields such as sports, the arts, sciences, creative expression, and leadership.
Held on 25 December at the Bandra Fort Amphitheatre in Mumbai, the ceremony for the second cycle of the Youth Awards came alive with lights and music. The event was presided over by Aitmadi Gulam Rahimtoola, President of the Ismaili Council for India, and was attended by a number of prominent guests, including Chief Guest Geet Sethi, a former National Billiards Champion, members of the award jury, business leaders, media personalities and AKDN and Jamati institutional leaders.
“[The] selection of these winners was a long process,” said Riyaaz Makaney, Chairman of AKYSB. “It took several intense discussions and debates, spread over many rigorous brain storming rounds, before the jury selected 37 winners out of over 700 applicants.”
Amongst the youngest achievers was 10-year-old Anam Tyrewala, who was recognised for Excellence in Sports in the 8–11 year-old category. She had swum 19 kilometres in just three hours, becoming India's youngest national swimming champion. Mumbai's Armaan Karim Premjee was another winner, with over 100 swimming medals and two national records to his credit.
Rhea Jaffer, a winner for gymnastics during the previous cycle of the Youth Awards, earned an award for her football achievements this year. Selected among the best 11 out of 1 600 football players in the under-14 age group for the Junior Soccer Challenge 2009, she also represented Western India in the Sub-Junior National Football Championship 2010-11.
The awards were not just limited to sports achievements. Saif Lakhani of Hyderabad, received the Special Achievement Award for garnering accolades, including first place among 50 000 participants in an All-India Environmental Awareness competition, placing among the top three in a quiz competition held by the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, and placing third at the Aerospace Olympiad organised by the Aeronautical Society of India.
The Youth Awards recognised at least two young inventors – Nimroj Nizarali Maknojia, a gold medallist from Mumbai University whose 6-speed automatic gearbox has been approved for use in Honda Siel India Car Ltd's Hybrid Car division, and Zohra Azizali Manjiyani, an undergraduate whose camera is now being used by the Indian Space Research Organisation to take pictures of the Earth from India's smallest satellite.
“The concept of the Awards is such that it encourages us [the youth] to go the extra mile, go beyond academics and explore co-curricular activities,” says winner Mariyam Jivani from Goa. “What I also liked is that the system of choosing winners is very transparent.”
Wrestling champion Mohsin Salim Hansraj from Kutch, Gujarat, who has won an award in both cycles recalls: “When I won the Youth Awards for Excellence in 2007, it enhanced my self-confidence and goaded me to excel further so as to win the award again in 2010.”
Apart from boosting the morale of the youth in general, and the winners in particular, the Youth Awards have also given a fillip to parents who wish to see their children amongst the winners soon.
“When we returned home after the Awards ceremony, many parents from our Jamat visited us to enquire what they should be doing to ensure their kids' overall development,” says Zahra Panjwani, mother of 14-year-old Riyaz, the sole winner from Warangal in Southern India. “It shows the kind of interest and awareness the Awards have generated amongst the Jamat.”
In some cases, the award recipients were already making an impact through their achievements. Zameer Kazani, winner of the Special Achievements Award for his creative exhibitions, had been invited by HSBC bank, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Spastic Society of India, and various other NGOs to exhibit his work. Kazani uses the funds generated from these exhibitions to hone the skills of other differently-abled children. He says he is overwhelmed by the recognition he received at the Awards, and says that the award has motivated him to strive further.
The winners' impressive feats did not come easily. “I practice for two to three hours every day without fail,” explains Tyrewala, the 10-year-old champion swimmer. She believes that a combination of will power and hard work can help one achieve anything.
In his address during the ceremony, chief guest Geet Sethi told the youth: “I have always maintained that excellence is a function of action – action which has consistency, conviction, perseverance, and action laced with humility. The only message I can give to the wonderful youth here is that live your lives such that people give you blessings but don't rely on those blessings for your excellence; rely on your actions, on yourself to excel, to make yourself proud, to uplift yourself, your community, your country, and eventually the world.”