I first met Nazzy Amin in a hostel in London when I had arrived to start my master’s program. She was in the city for a few days attending a conference for work. As we talked, we discovered that we had both attended CSW earlier that year. I am an introvert who tends to be quiet and even a little uncomfortable around new people, but something was different with Nazzy. Right away she struck me as a really special human and someone I was glad had walked into my life. As I interviewed her for this article I began to see the threads of how she became the woman that left such a lasting impression on me.
Nazzy had “identity issues from the beginning.” She was born in Pakistan, but her family relocated to the United Kingdom when she was three. This was a massive change that was followed by several more moves to different parts of the UK, where she went to two primary schools and two secondary schools. She remembers how difficult it was to start in a new place and try to find a community for herself. Every move, she worried about fitting in at her new school. Reflecting on this, she says that learning to find community in each new place was “an education in itself.”
At the end of year ten she was selected to be head girl, which was significant in helping her develop a sense of identity. She found that she could do more than follow the current of the standard school experience: she was a voice for the student body and an ambassador for the school. Through these responsibilities she built confidence as a public speaker. She says that as a head girl “you really feel like you can make a difference and that your voice will be heard.”
Through her speaking engagements she often talked about her Pakistani background. In her early years being from Pakistan felt like a burden because it made her different, but the more she talked about it, the more she began to embrace that part of her cultural identity. The same thing happened with her British identity years later when she did volunteer work in Nepal. As she began to have a more global perspective, her sense of self increased.
When Nazzy went to university she knew that she wanted to help people. She thought she might teach because of the great impact her teachers had had on her. She studied psychology, but ultimately it was an elective experience at the end of her university years that exposed the path that she would end up taking.
When she learned about an opportunity to volunteer abroad she was very interested, but found that the three-month program would conflict with Ramadan. Not willing to give up such an important religious observance, but wanting very much to volunteer, she decided to finish her dissertation a month early so that she could complete her volunteer experience before Ramadan began. Her time in Nepal completely changed her career path. When she arrived home, she prioritized volunteering, which eventually led to work in the international development sector.
I am inspired by Nazzy’s passion and awareness of people. The young girl who repeatedly navigated her way through new school communities became the woman who reached out to me in a London hostel. As I see her advocacy efforts it reminds me of my own power and responsibility to do good in the world.
Written by Elisabeth S. Weagel