21-Year-Old SFU Student’s Spark for Empowering Youth
By Fiona Lam
Rochelle Prasad, 21-year-old SFU political science student, is the founder and executive director of non-profit Spark Foundation
“Age doesn’t matter when making a difference.”
21-year-old Rochelle Prasad not only teaches this affirmation of hers to youth across Canada but also embodies it herself. She has been named in the Top 25 Under 25 by the Surrey Board of Trade, nominated for the YWCA Women of Distinction award, and awarded the Governor General Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers—just to name a few of the recognitions she has received for her community leadership work. As a social entrepreneur and youth activist, the 4th-year Simon Fraser University political science student has already authored a novella, ‘Because We Can’, and co-founded 2 organizations that seek to empower the next generation, one of which is the Surrey-based non-profit, Spark Foundation.
6 years ago, Rochelle and Amandeep Boparai, an undergraduate at the University of Fraser Valley, founded Spark Foundation (formerly known as Camp We Empower) after leaving a school conference disappointed by how little value it offered them. They wanted to learn how to be strong leaders and citizens, lessons the traditional school classroom did not teach. Deciding to take matters into their own hands, Rochelle and Amandeep planned their own conference revolving around the theme leadership. Gathering their school mates, they rented 3 RV cabins and hosted their inaugural conference at an RV camp, an unconventional venue that inspired Spark Foundation’s original name, Camp We Empower. The program has grown from 20 to 100,000 attendees in just 4 years.
Today, Spark Foundation continues its legacy of “igniting change, one spark at a time”, as Rochelle says. With their team of 7, including Rochelle, Spark Foundation offers life education to K-12 students across Canada. Through a variety of workshops and camps on diverse topics such as entrepreneurship, climate change, financial literacy, and emerging technologies, Spark is equipping youth with the real-world leadership skills needed to make a positive difference and create more sustainable communities.
Two months ago, Rochelle realized her dreams when Spark Foundation became a registered UN partner to help achieve the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Spark Foundation has chosen to focus on four of those goals: quality education, sustainable cities and communities, climate action, and peace, justice and strong institutions.
When asked why she chose to focus on quality education, Rochelle reminisces about her volunteer trip to Kenya two years ago. She passionately propounds that Kenya’s quality of education is better than the West. While education in the West is all about ticking off checkboxes, children there are taught how to talk to each other, empathy, kindness, and the importance of community. Once students learn something new, they immediately go share it with other children. They also bring real world problems into their learning. This cooperative exchange of knowledge and pragmatic learning is what Rochelle wants to ignite in Canadian youth communities with Spark Foundation.
As an SDG partner, Rochelle and Spark can access the vast global networks of other UN partners to spur greater impact in their shared commitment to sustainable development. Rochelle aspires to continue working with the UN on curriculum development and to build schools in third-world countries, “igniting flames of change, one spark at a time”.