Over the course of the eighteen-years we have lived on this planet, we have learned, grown, and changed a lot, to say the least. However, there have definitely been certain elements in our lives that have remained the same. Passions we have carried with us since we were very young, and which we continue to pursue to this day. Activism and filmmaking are two of those passions, and combining them helped us express our vision for creating change in the form of our first Feature-Length Documentary Film, Destined to Soar.
Our names are Maryam and Nivaal Rehman, and we are twin activists, journalists, and filmmakers based in Toronto, Canada. We strive to create positive changes in the world, and inspire others to do the same. To meet this goal, we co-founded The World With MNR, a non-profit organization which uses storytelling, advocacy and development to take action for Climate Justice, Gender Equality, and Inclusivity.
We grew up with cameras in our hands, because our mom loved photography and taking family movies. We were fascinated by both mediums, and especially the storytelling aspect that came with them. We wanted to be in front of the camera, telling the story and behind the camera, taking the videos. To achieve this goal, we often took turns creating travel videos and short films as we grew up, during our family trips to various parts of Canada. We also used to spend hours planning and developing plots for films, books and T.V. shows that we planned on making one day.
On the other hand, we were activists. We were born and raised in Pakistan until we were five years old and love our homeland deeply. When we were eight, we visited a school that our grandmother had donated the land to build in our village. She wanted girls to have the same opportunities as boys, and a big dream of hers was making sure every girl in the village completed her education. When we went to that school, we instantly became friends with the girls there and spoke with them at length about their experiences. They told us that they would quit school when they reached Grade 5, because they had to work to support their families. This shocked us, and we resolved to fix the issue.
Over the next five years, during our family trips to Pakistan we did everything we could to inspire the girls to continue their education. We held workshops, talked to them about the importance of education, spoke about their dreams and aspirations while also playing games, reading and having fun. We also spoke to some of their parents, encouraging them to continue sending their girls to school, to ensure that they could break the cycle of poverty in the village, by becoming equipped with the qualifications for better jobs. When we went to Pakistan again in 2015, we were so excited to learn that some of the girls were actually going to high school. This was the first time that we realized our actions could have an impact, and inspired us to continue our activism to this day. During this trip, we also filmed a short documentary capturing our experiences. We worked so hard filming then spending hours editing the footage when we got home. At the time, we were not as experienced with film editing, and accidentally deleted all of the footage! In an instant, two months worth of wonderful memories disappeared, and there was no way to recover them. Needless to say, we were devastated. However, we had a plan for how we could move forward and make sure that those stories were still told.
We started high school in 2015, and were not able to go back to Pakistan for the duration of our high school career. That is when we started to plan for this new documentary, Destined to Soar. We worked on the focus, the themes we wanted to cover, and developed a framework for what we hoped to share in the documentary, throughout our four years in high school. We did a lot of social-justice related work like running eight clubs at our school including Model United Nations, Students Together Against Racism and Youth in Action. This helped us learn and become more informed. We gained experience as activists through these clubs and our YouTube Channel, The World With MNR. We also had the honour of meeting world leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Malala Yousafzai, to discuss the importance of girls’ education around the world. Meanwhile, the documentary project was always at the back of our minds during this time. We worked very hard to finish high school a semester early to be able to go back to Pakistan, continue our work there, and finally film the documentary.
In February 2019, we arrived in Pakistan, after four very long years. We were excited, nostalgic, and ready for the task at hand. We knew our time was going to be busy – conducting interviews, speaking at Youth Conferences, working with the girls in our village, filming, visiting family and stopping by at some tourist destinations along the way. Our two months were packed with non-stop travel, and although it was tiring at times, we do not regret any bit of it. Our experience was everything we imagined it to be, and we learned so much everywhere we went. When we came back in April, we worked hard to complete the editing phase of the film. Ultimately, it came together under the following premise: Destined to Soar shares the journey of twin activists Maryam and Nivaal Rehman as they determine the status of girls’ education in Pakistan, the issues girls face, and the work that is being done to resolve them. Their travels take them from conducting workshops in the school where they began their work ten years ago, to interviewing various industry leaders, and visiting schools challenging societal norms. It is a story of hope, persisting in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, and recognizing that you can make a difference.
We are now sharing the film with the world. Working with students in schools and universities globally, we’re organizing screenings and have held four so far in Whitby, Canada, Riga, Latvia, London, England and Skopje, North Macedonia. It is also available for the public to view on this link: https://www.theworldwithmnr.com/destined-to-soar. We hope that this story serves as an example for women everywhere that they should never be afraid to pursue their goals. We can doubt ourselves, sometimes think that our ideas are not good or even that we aren’t good enough for a position we’re applying to, but shifting that mindset is vital. You should brush away the doubts and try anyway. The worst that can happen is you won’t land the job or that idea won’t be successful. However, you will have learned along the way, putting you in a better position than where you started, from where you can pursue a whole new idea. When we first made our documentary in 2015 and lost the footage, we were devastated, but looking back we realize how it may have been for the best after all. In the four years between creating the two films, we learned vital lessons, grew as individuals and returned to Pakistan with a fresh and revised vision for creating our film. That was an important step in the process and it was also important for us to come back to filmmaking, even though it did not work that well the first time. That being said, we encourage you to also dream big, and wish you all the best in pursuing your goals and passions!
Maryam & Nivaal
Maryam and Nivaal Rehman are twin activists, journalists and filmmakers based in Toronto, Canada. They are currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at Trinity College in the University of Toronto where they hope to major in International Relations and Peace, Conflict and Justice studies. They also run their non-profit organization, the World With MNR through which they use advocacy, storytelling and development to take action for Climate Justice, Gender Equality and Inclusivity. Some of their most notable work includes their interviews with Nobel-Peace Prize winner Malala Yousufzai and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for the MalalaFund. They also advocated for the need to invest in girls’ education at the G7 Finance and Development Ministers’ meetings in 2018. They interviewed and spoke with world leaders including former CEO of the World Bank Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF Christine Lagarde, and Canadian Finance Minister, Bill Morneau. They also became filmmakers for Disney and the UN Girl Up Campaign’s “Dream Big Princess” project, and helped raise $1 million dollars for Girl Up in this process. Their activism began in a girls’ government school in their village in Pakistan 10 years ago. Since then, they have been making sure the girls in that community go to school, as well as being activists for various other causes around the world. They launched their first feature-length documentary about their work in Pakistan in November 2019, and are currently hosting screenings of the film worldwide. They have spoken at conferences internationally about their work, and are really passionate about making the world a better place.