Meet Robin! He comes from distant Pakistan, but that doesn’t stop him from being incredibly active across many areas of life in Klaipėda. Robin wholeheartedly says that it’s important to love one’s neighbor as oneself and that it’s important to serve and help others.
Robin, what was your life like before coming to LCC? What are some of the experiences that made you the person you are today?
Growing up I wanted to be a doctor. I was and still am fascinated by science. In high school, I was studying biology and took science classes. But my dream was out of my reach and I could not study in a medical school, as I am the 9th child in my family. Several of my sisters are nurses, so I applied to a nursing school instead. During my nursing studies, I was given an award for “The Best Student President” in the school’s entire existence. I was even then, already active in volunteering and serving others. My father and his father were pastors, so my siblings and I were also active in the church community. Growing up, I was already taking the idea of helping those in need seriously.
How did you discover LCC and why did you decide to study here?
After graduating from nursing school, there was a change in me. I became very aware of the minorities that live in Pakistan. I became more interested in human rights. I discovered LCC while looking into North American universities. I agreed with LCC’s values and found helpful financial aid that I was not offered elsewhere. I became interested in enrolling…and now, here I am. I wanted primarily to pursue a Theology degree. I believe the teachings of the Bible are revolutionary. The Bible promotes our similarities, not differences. I want to combine the kind of values I hold with a career in human rights. That’s why I’m pursuing a Theology degree with a minor in International Relations first. I want to combine these two fields of study for my career.
You lead a particularly volunteering-driven life. How did you first realize that you wanted to commit your life to help others? What was your first volunteering experience?
There was a poor remote area in my city. My sister, who was a Sunday school teacher, wanted to create an outreach to help in that area. She asked me to join. At first, I didn’t want to join, but after encouragement from the family, I did. The community was in a particularly difficult situation. Some children did not even know how to button their own shirts. Some children did not have slippers or shoes, while others did not have enough food most times. I felt much empathy in my heart and I decided that I should help my sister and this community. I started teaching the children Christian hymns in English, playing games with them, and having a good time with them. Later, in 2019, I went back to that area. I saw a girl there that I recognized but wasn’t exactly sure who she was. She came to me and asked if I recognized her. She had been one of the Sunday school students back when I used to lead the kids there, and now she herself was a teacher there. That experience blessed my heart.
Last month you received two awards. Robin, you personally were awarded as “The Young Leader of the Year,” and Gausus Gyvenimas (your NGO) was also deemed as “The Most Civilly Active Organization.” Congratulations! Going forward, what does the recognition mean to you?
At first, I didn’t even know that I had been nominated, or our NGO, Gausus Gyvenimas, had been either. I’m very happy about the awards. It’s like a congratulatory ‘pat on the back.’ Although, the real award is the impact we make. I say we because Gausus Gyvenimas is not just my work. Teamwork and being one for another are essential. Back in September, Gausus Gyvenimas held an event at Theater Square here in Klaipėda on Suicide Prevention Day. One girl came to me and said that she was dealing with mental problems and was careless about her mental health. That event encouraged her to finally seek help. That is the recognition that really gives us a huge encouragement boost. The awards are of course nice, and especially unexpected as other nominees were Lithuanian and therefore more probable to win, but I don’t serve people for recognition. What matters more is that, as Bible puts it, by serving people, we serve God.
Let's talk about Gausus Gyvenimas. Was it a challenge to establish your own non-profit organization? What areas is Gausus Gyvenimas active in?
When I started the process, the phrase I heard the most was “since you are not Lithuanian…” And, the amount of documentation required and the list of documents that came to me was astounding. This was the challenge because as a non-citizen of Lithuania, I had to go through many lengthy processes to establish Gausus Gyvenimas as an NGO. For example, I am still waiting for the bank to conclude their investigation and results, although the registration process is complete. As for the work Gausus Gyvenimas does, we operate as a preventive organization. We want to prevent suicides – that’s the main goal. I myself come from a huge city with 20 million people. Sadly, that city still has better statistics when it comes to suicides than Lithuania. Lithuania has only approximately 2.5 million people, yet suicide numbers are extremely high. I was really blown away by this and could not understand why this is happening in this country. After doing research into the problem, and have established partnerships, we are now focusing on the younger generation for prevention. In 2021, we want to focus on ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences. When a child experiences trauma in the family and they grow in a toxic environment, they are likely to develop addiction problems as well as mental issues. As teenagers, these children are more likely to attempt suicide. To tackle this issue, we are partnering with an expert on ACEs, and we are organizing training for children and community workers. Sometime in the future, we want to have seminars for parents as well. We want to improve family life in these communities which is essential to prevention. It’s very easy to blame the suicide problem on excess alcohol, or depression, or even just excuse it as part of cultural norms, but it’s most important to get to the root of the problem. Although there are noticeable cultural differences, there’s also hope to make a difference and change these statistics in Lithuania.
You're also a part of an organization called Choose Klaipėda. What do you do there?
I first attended one even for Choose Klaipėda at Hofas. I noticed that they had a vision for the youth in this city. I had been a youth leader in Pakistan where I led a group of 31 young people in volunteer work. We cleaned beaches in Karachi, for example. So, I wanted to get involved with something similar here too. After talking with people at Choose Klaipėda, I learned that they want to engage young people in the economic and political lives of Lithuania. I became an ambassador and now I am representing one of the major platforms for European Youth Capital 2021 – the platform of volunteering and solidarity. I want to encourage any international students locally to integrate. As soon as the pandemic ends, I plan to go to different universities and colleges around the country to give speeches about self-development.
Being so active in Klaipėda, naturally, it's a clever decision to learn the local language. How is it going? Do you find Lithuanian difficult? What other languages do you speak?
Well, it is hard. I had a good introduction to the Lithuanian language at LCC. My professor, Radvyda, was amazing. She kept us engaged and made us want to come to the class, no matter how actually challenging it was. I’m taking classes at the Lithuanian Red Cross now. I think I know basic Lithuanian. I can ask for information about a bus, I can ask for things in grocery shops, and I can ask for help when I need it. As for the other languages I speak besides English, my mother tongue is Punjabi, my regional language is Sindhi, and my national language is Urdu. And now I’m learning to master Lithuanian.
You're also active in LCC's Spiritual Life department. What passage from the Bible do you think about the most in your everyday life?
One of the most important passages for me is Colossians 3:23. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” I want to explain it a little. What the passage means is that service to people is service to God. In other words, don’t help people just to get something back from them. It doesn’t work that way, because God sees our good deeds, and only He is able to truly reward us.
When you graduate next year, do you plan to continue civic activities locally, or do you plan to provide help someplace else?
I would like to stay in Lithuania. I am enjoying the peacefulness here and I am getting adjusted to the weather. I know that God has called me here and led me to start my community initiatives here. I want to finish what I’ve started and I would like to continue to see the results. I am the first from my family to be a university student, and I’d like to continue my education by earning a Master’s degree and perhaps also a Ph.D. I am considering further study in International Relations & Development, focusing on NGOs and human rights.