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Vakhshoori Scholarship Recipients for school year 2019-2020

  • Mr. Ruzbeh Hodiwala : $5,000
    • Doctor in Religions, specializing in Zoroastrianism, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), England, UK
  • Ms. Nasreen Bhumgara: $2,000
    • BA in Public Health Sciences, University of Maryland, Maryland, USA
  • Ms. Shanaya Sales: $2,000
    • BA in Dramatic Art (Acting), University of Southern California(USC), California, USA
  • Ms. Tarana Kaovasia: $2,000
    • MS in Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, USA
  • Mr. Jamsheed Cooper: $1000
    • M.A. in Development Studies, University of Sussex, England, UK
  • Ms. Kashmeera Patel: $1000
    • M.A. in Development Studies, University of Sussex, England, UK

Rustum Chhor

Ruzbeh Vistasp Hodiwala is pursuing his doctoral studies in Zoroastrianism at SOAS, University of London. He completed his Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad in 2015 and Master’s in Iranian Studies from SOAS in 2017. He has served as the vice president of the St. Xavier’s College Student Council and was instrumental in reconstituting the India Society at SOAS in 2016, where he served as the co-president during his postgrad program.

Ruzbeh was a recipient of SOAS Kamran Djam Scholarship for Iranian Studies in 2016-17. In 2019, he was provided the SOAS Kamran Djam and a SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji scholarship to pursue his doctoral studies. His postgraduate and doctoral project has received continuous support from various Zoroastrian Trusts in India, UK, USA and Hong Kong. He was given the Principal’s Prize for special performance and contribution to St. Xavier’s College for two consecutive years in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

He was awarded an AFS Intercultural Programs’ annual cultural exchange scholarship to study in Italy in 2010-11. In 2012 Ruzbeh attended the IV Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Kazakhstan as part of the Zoroastrian delegation headed by Dr Homi B. Dhalla and a follow up round table hosted by the Kazakhstan Embassy in New Delhi in 2013. In 2014, he was nominated as a youth member to the International Association for Religious Freedom’s (IARF) Gujarat chapter in India. He was part of IARF-India’s youth delegation and represented Zoroastrianism at the 34th IARF World Congress in the United Kingdom in 2014. He has represented the community as a representative of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe at several inter-faith events in the UK.

He was felicitated for extra-curricular activities and community service by the Ushta-Te Foundation in Ahmedabad in 2014; Ahmedabad Parsi Panchayat in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, he was part of a ten-member Parsi delegation from Ahmedabad who called upon by the governor of Gujarat State for a dialogue.

Ruzbeh has a keen interest in Indian polity. After the completion of his MA in London in 2017, he returned to India and worked as an assistant to a Member of the legislative Assembly in the Gujarat state of India.

Pledge:

I pledge to contribute to the understanding of Zoroastrianism and help advance the study of contemporary Zoroastrians through my doctoral project and other future academic pursuits.

I pledge to be available and render my service/advice to the Zoroastrian community in capacity of a researcher on Zoroastrianism.

I pledge that I will strive to represent Zoroastrianism and its ethos through participation in various interfaith platforms globally.

There are many Zoroastrian students in India who want to pursue higher education abroad, but they are not well versed with the admission process and availability of community Trusts to fund their studies. The families of these students often end up seeking advice from expensive education agencies and enter a spiral of high interest bank loans. I pledge to be available to guide the students of our community who require assistance in planning their education abroad.

Watch Ruzbeh's video by clicking here


Nasreen Bhumgara

For the past three years, Nasreen has been a group leader at an after-school program, leaving her to monitor and take care of children from 3rd-6th grade.  Her responsibilities included promoting a safe environment for all children and peers, making sure all areas of children’s room were clean, abiding by the child care health codes, and answering phone calls for parent pick-up/drop-off, as well as inquiries about the after-school program.  Nasreen has also recently volunteered over 100 hours at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts, in five different units of the hospital: Adult GI, Surgical Pre-Op, Emergency Radiology, USEN 4 Patients, and Maternity Discharge. Her responsibilities included, improving efficiency in each unit by assisting with various entry-level tasks, in order to save valuable time for nurses on-call, as well as keeping facilities well-maintained to best meet each unit’s specific needs, and escorting patients out to their rides after procedures, following hospital protocol.  For the past 2 years, she has been a coordinator of the annual Harvard Interfaith Thanksgiving Meal Packing Event. She ensured that the day of the volunteer event went smoothly as planned, and that the packaged meals were delivered to outside organizations properly on the day of the event. From 2015-2019, Nasreen has been the teacher of the youngest children’s religious class (age 4-6) in my Zoroastrian community. She single-handedly planned out every class in detail in order to teach the kids about their culture and religion, while keeping them engaged and entertained.

Pledge:

In future years, I would like to be a mentor to the Zoroastrian youth, and guide them through their education and/or careers. I already have experience in guiding the youth through their religious education. For the past four years I have been teaching our community’s youngest religious class (ages 4-6), every month. I create each class’s lesson plans, and ensure that the kids can learn while having fun. It is very important to me that the Zoroastrian youth gets the guidance and mentorship that they need to succeed in the future, because I have received that from older community members, growing up, and still continue to till this day. I would love to personally mentor the youth through their education and career goals, helping them in any way I can.

Watch Nasreen's video by clicking here


Shanaya Sales

Shanaya Sales is currently a Freshman at the University of Southern California where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting for Stage, Screen, and New Media. She was born and raised in San Jose, California where she first began attending the Darb-eh-Mehr as a baby--accompanying her older sister and mom. As this community became an integral part of her bi-weekly routine, her life values, and most important friendships, her involvement and devotion increased. She volunteered to help lead crafts for the younger students, fundraise, and act as an assistant director alongside Parinaz Kianian for the plays that were put on during Norouz every year. It was these plays and seeing the impact that they had on the community that sparked her craving to pursue theater professionally.

Shanaya attended Archbishop Mitty High School where she was a heavily involved member of the Speech and Debate team which won the California State Championships all four years she was on the team. Shanaya was a team captain and won the National Glenbrooks Tournament in Chicago, Illinois and was ranked fourth in the State of California for her individual events. Additionally, Shanaya was involved in the Performing Arts department. She was a cast member in 12 plays and musicals with roles including Madamé Thénardier in Les Miserables and Madame in Cinderella. In 2018, Shanaya won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Dolly in One Man Two Guvnors by the National Youth Theater Awards.

After her Sedreh-Pooshi, Shanaya joined the Teen Interfaith Council of Santa Clara in order to share her faith with others and explore it more deeply. The council met on a monthly basis to brainstorm religious peace, volunteer, and even travel to Orange County and New Mexico for a week long exploration of interfaith service and conversation. The depth of understanding of Zoroastrianism offered to her through this council was a catalyst for her decision to study acting for film: she discovered the power of representation.

Pledge:

The underrepresentation of Iranians in the media—and the complete lack of representation of our Zoroastrian community in the mainstream media—is a major issue in my opinion. It forces our community to continue to feel invisible and remain marginalized. My long-term goals are to expand the representation of this community that has been such an integral part of my life, as I journey into a career in an industry that blatantly ignores us.

As a global institution with several thousand students and even more distinguished alumni, studying acting at USC will give me access to a massive demographic of people to share my message and my culture with.

Watch Shanaya's video by clicking here


Tarana Kaovasia

I, Tarana Kaovasia, was born in Mumbai and brought up in Pune, India. Growing up, I was exposed to a variety of experiences with my family playing a vital role in shaping who I am today. They encouraged and supported me in my endeavors- from introducing me to the piano at the age of five to supporting me when I represented my state in soccer and now sending me far from home to pursue my Master’s. They taught me that if I went after my goals with good thoughts, good words and good deeds, then sky’s the limit to what I can achieve.

I then went on to pursue my undergraduate degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at SRM Institute of Science and Technology for which I received the Jimi N. Kathawalla Memorial Prize (as a part of ZOSTA’s annual award function), being its sole recipient that year. During my undergrad, I had the opportunity to venture into various areas of research like space research (as an ADCS Engineer in Team SRMSAT), hybrid electric vehicles (as Assistant in a review paper), renewable energy (project lead). In my third year, when I realized that Biomedical Engineering, as a field, allowed me to use engineering practices to improve the quality of lives of individuals, I dove right into it. That same year, I presented a paper on autologous blood transfusion at the NewTech Congress’18, held in Spain, in which two papers I co-authored were published. My senior design project entailed developing a mechanism to aid people with partial paralysis to mimic their natural gait. Outside the academic spectrum, I was actively involved in the organizing team of a national level techno-management fest-Aaruush which receives an average footfall of approximately 20,000 people. I was also involved in my department’s association (EEE Association) and went on to become its first Joint Secretary. With all of this I subconsciously mantained my grades-receiving a performance-based scholarship every year. I graduated second in my department earlier this year.

Pausing has never been option for me. I wanted to further my knowledgebase in a field I had come to love and did not wait to pursue a graduate degree in the same. I am currently pursuing my Mater’s in Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, USA. I aim to contribute to the healthcare system by making quality healthcare devices which are economical as well and hence, available to larger sections of the society.

Throughout my journey I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people- in the form of family and a community who have taught, supported and encouraged me. I hope and aim to have a similar impact on people.

Pledge:

Throughout my journey I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people- in the form of family and a community who have taught, supported and encouraged me. I hope and aim to have a similar impact on people. I pledge to extend this support to any student who seeks it. I will help them to the best of my abilities or will get them in touch with the best person for the job. I also want to make other Zoroastrian students aware of the financial support available from the various organizations and patrons of our community. Any student reading this who wants to reach out can do so through the Vakhshoori Foundation. I also welcome suggestions.

I have observed that among people outside the Zoroastrian community there isn’t as much awareness about our practices and way of life. I have always gone the extra mile to close this gap and will continue to do so.

In conclusion, I pledge to continue to represent our community in whatever I do.

Watch Tarana's video by clicking here


Jamsheed Cooper

I, Jamsheed Cooper, was born in Mumbai, India and raised in Dubai, UAE. I graduated with a BS in Biomedical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and am now pursuing an MA in Governance, Development, and Public Policy at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in Brighton, UK.

During my undergraduate career at Georgia Tech, I played an active role in the Engineers without Borders Society by planning and implementing a large water distribution project in Uganda, eventually leading the transition team between the first and second phase of implementation in 2016. We would plan the size and routes of boreholes, types of pumps, daily pump capacity, and filtration systems, and a successful transition phase allowed for the unhindered construction, assembly, and testing of the pump and filtration units. This remains one of my proudest leadership moments, as we independently developed a technical framework which would improve lives and livelihoods of people on the other side of the world.

Political activism has also played a significant role in my life. In 2015, I joined the Atlanta chapter of RESULTS, a grassroots advocacy organization advocating for increased access to healthcare, education, and economic opportunity, and its sister organization Citizens Climate Lobby. I eventually became an office holder in each chapter and would organize fundraisers and information sessions on campus, and conduct meetings with US congressmen and health secretaries to advocate for specific health and education bills.

At the US Senate, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, and Community Led Total Sanitation Foundation (CLTS), he worked with various policies and projects related to foreign affairs, weapons of mass destruction, international displaced persons (IDPs), infectious diseases, healthcare, and sanitation. At CLTS he was intimately involved in efforts to end open defecation and expand sanitation behavior change in West Bengal and the rest of India, which inspired him to focus on water management and sanitation policy in South Asia.

At IDS, he aims to research and study the political, social, economic, legal, and administrative shortcomings responsible for slow progress in sanitation and public health in South Asia, especially given rapid economic growth. In the future, he intends to pursue a Master’s in Public Administration to develop the management, administrative, and financial expertise necessary to develop, implement, finance, and monitor public health policies as an international civil servant or a policy consultant.

Pledge:

I aim to encourage and show Zoroastrians that, though they may work in a particular field, be it education, finance or engineering, it is always possible to make inroads into the field of policy and international development. As such, I intend to organize online workshops and webinars as part of a mentorship program where I and other professionals can provide advice on university applications and admissions, writing and academic skills, navigating employment opportunities, and identifying areas and organizations of interest.

As an activist, I have seen the positive effect that consistent advocacy and pressure on political elites can play in bringing issues such as climate change, income inequality, and human rights. Thus, I also aim to inspire more Zoroastrians to be more politically cognizant and active, to pay attention to the political goings-on in their communities at the local, state, and national level, and get involved with policymakers whose policies reflect their Zoroastrian values.

Watch Jamseed's video by clicking here


Kashmeera Patel

Kashmeera was born and raised in Delhi where she lived until September 2019 when she moved to the UK to pursue her Masters in Development Studies from the Institute of Development Studies. She aspires to become such a development specialist and work towards inclusive and holistic development in the near future.

Excellent academic performance has always been her priority. A high aggregate in her school board exams secured her a place in the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi for her undergraduate degree in Sociology where she also minored in Economics.

Her parents encouraged her to learn about her religion and culture from a young age. She is an active member of the Delhi Parsi Anjuman comprising of the Zoroastrian community in Delhi. Curiosity about her culture lead her write two research papers on the same. The first titled The Creation Myths Of Christianity And Zoroastrianism- A Functionalist And Structuralist Study looked into the similarities and differences in the creation myths of the two religions, the second titled Kinship Relations Amongst The Zoroastrians studied kinship relations through Surnames, Inheritance, Religion, Location and Migration and Membership through Adoptions.

Along with a keen interest in academics, she has also had the privilege of contributing to the community. Her love for animals pushed her to volunteer with Friendicoes SECA, Delhi’s oldest animal shelter. Within six months, she was promoted to the post of Project Head with a team of 50 volunteers under her supervision. She has also spent some time volunteering with The Robin Hood Army. Her biggest take away from this experience was the realisation that while she has ambitions and aspirations for herself, she has to try, to achieve them by extending a helping hand to those less fortunate.

Pledge:

While mentorship can be valuable at any stage of a career, it's especially important when the mentee doesn't have as much personal experience in the industry. With a mentor, they can benefit from the insights gained through years of experience--without having to spend years of trial and error themselves. I would be more than happy to play this role in the lives of other young Zoroastrians seeking advice on career and education choices specially in the fields of Sociology and Development. In a close knit community like ours it’s important to help and look out for one another and it would be my pleasure to mentor young Zoroastrians and provide them with guidance to the best of my abilities. From personal experience excellent mentorship involves providing encouragement and direction, which can be of great help in making career choices, and I am committed to helping out other young members of my community.

Watch Kashmeera' video by clicking here