Arya Diwase

Bridging Inequality with Drama

For Arya Diwase, all the world’s a stage — and in her opinion, commanding the stage might be the best way to learn English.

While a freshman, Diwase fused her eloquent verbal communication skills with her passion for social change by co-founding the non-profit Jazz Hands. The organization teaches English to children through drama and is based in Pune, India — where Diwase grew up.

This idea first came to the CAS junior when she identified a major problem within the Indian education system. According to Diwase, many Indian public schools lack the funding to teach students properly — it is not uncommon for a teacher to lead classes of 70 students whose educational levels span multiple grades.

Unless students come from wealthier families with the means to attend private schools, they have few public school opportunities after the eighth grade. This impedes paths to higher education, because the 10th grade college entrance exam positions students from underprivileged public schools at a disadvantage, especially when it comes to the test’s English portion.

Jazz Hands aims to bridge that class gap by connecting volunteers attending private schools or college with young students who attend public schools. By matching them together, Diwase hopes to establish greater cross-class empathy.

“There’s this huge socioeconomic divide in India,” Diwase said. “In my own private school, we never were in a situation where we had to interact with someone who didn’t have the same facilities or experiences we did.”

Since recognizing this gap and starting Jazz Hands, Diwase has seen the organization grow exponentially. At its inception, the program operated out of a single public school in Pune with only a handful of volunteers in the summer. And the following year, the program expanded to two schools with 180 volunteers. Now in its third year, Jazz Hands is launching a year-round program and adding a third school.

This rapid expansion has garnered the attention of people even outside Pune — Diwase said she has gotten calls about bringing the program to other Indian cities. She is optimistic about its future and hopes to expand into Mumbai and eventually to all of India.

“I honestly want my curriculum to be implemented in every school in Pune before I go national,” Diwase said. “We have 700 schools in my city alone. There are 700 schools that are not functioning properly — these 700 schools have so many students who are not learning properly. After that I will definitely expand. We will go to Mumbai. We will go anywhere.”

She said the beauty of Jazz Hands is that it can be implemented anywhere in the world with just the curriculum and people who care and are willing to put in the time.

Jazz Hands was listed as one of World Corporate Social Responsibility Day’s 50 Most Impactful Social Innovators in 2017, making Diwase a leader in global social entrepreneurship. That means at only 20 years old, she is already one of the top people in the world using entrepreneurial techniques for social change. But despite her youth, Diwase carries herself with the maturity and ability of someone decades older.

Anushka Desai, the head of Human Resources for Jazz Hands, appreciates Diwase’s capability and said she has a warm rapport with both the volunteers and children. She described Diwase as a quick-witted and reliable leader with a strong sense of social justice.

“She is very straightforward and unbiased, and that makes her a great leader,” Desai said. “Having worked with her for two years, I’ve seen that she is capable of dealing with stressful situations with tact and quick thinking.”

But Jazz Hands isn’t the only way Diwase demonstrates her ability. At NYU, she studies environmental sciences and broadcast journalism with hopes of attending law school. And all this leads to a singular goal: to change the world.

“Even though I wanted to do environmental studies, I never wanted to get into the science of it, since I wanted to get into policy,” Diwase said. “What I wanted to do was something that would bring about change, and I think journalism is a powerful medium to do that and so is law.”

As Diwase spends her undergraduate career exploring these passions, she is also honing her skills with NYU’s award-winning Mock Trial team. As the treasurer and captain of the B team, it isn’t hard to guess where Diwase hides her confidence and shrewd public speaking ability — she doesn’t.

She is both a veteran and leader on the team, so Diwase doesn’t hesitate to help anyone who asks, especially her newer team members — she always offers assistance despite her busy schedule. But that’s just the kind of person Diwase is: motivated, dedicated and nonstop. She’s changing the world, one show at a time.

Email Kaitlyn Wang at [email protected]