Humans of Harker: A lending hand

Mahika Halepete (12) betters the world through creativity and humanitarian aid


Anoushka Buch

“It’s impossible to solve one problem with one dart on a target. [A problem is] so multifaceted that if you don’t see the humans behind it first, then it’s impossible to solve. Whenever I see a problem that I want to fix, I want to ask myself, ‘Who are the real people behind this, and what do they need.’ I think we all get this internal reward from helping somebody else, and when you connect your desire to do good with somebody that is actually affected, you can create a solution that benefits all,” Mahika Halepete (12) said.

Clack, clack, clack comes the rhythmic clicking of Mahika Halepete’s (12) thrifted heels against the glitter covered floors of Moon Zoom, a small vintage store tucked between a used car dealership and a tiny hair salon. She browses the aisles, occasionally stopping to pick up a stylish skirt from the ‘50s or laugh at a gaudy top from the ‘80s. As she shuffles through the mismatched apparel on the racks, she lets out an excited gasp, pulling out a pale yellow top from the mess of clothing and tucking it under her arm. 

Moon Zoom is one of the many second-hand clothing stores Mahika visits regularly. While at first glance Mahika’s closet may seem like that of any other fashion enthusiast’s, one feature distinguishes her clothing from the others: most of what she wears is either second-hand or thrifted. Her clothing conveys her bold and flavorful identity, but beneath the miscellaneous textiles and assorted fabrics lies a careful selection of ethically made clothing. 

“Mahika’s style really embodies who she is because it’s very different from what you see other people wearing,” close friend Anoushka Buch (11) said. “I think that kind of speaks to her confidence: she’s not afraid of judgement or what people think, and she’s always encouraged me to do the same. She’s not at all ordinary; she’s bright and unique and confident in what she does.”

From the way clothes are made to the decisions governments make, Mahika pays close attention to the morality and ethics behind choices, and these observations drive her to pursue a lifestyle of sustainability and activism. 

“For me, [fashion] is not only a way of self-expression, but it’s also about being really mindful of the choices that I’m making with those clothes,” Mahika said. “I’m very cautious of how the clothing that I wear is produced. I don’t like the idea of contributing to a production process that systemically oppresses people in the global south and also child labor, environmental issues … there’s so much wrong with fast fashion.” 

Fashion is only one of the many interests Mahika has – she has also dabbled in singing and playing a variety of instruments. Instead of “pigeon-holing” herself in one specific hobby, Mahika believes in building a diverse skill set through pursuing multiple activities, all of which tie into one common goal: the betterment of the world. 

“It’s kind of impossible for all seasons of your life to just stick with one thing and like it for your whole life,” Mahika said. “I think humans are so multi-dimensional and constantly evolving that it’s difficult for us to pick one thing that we really like, so I put my eggs in many different baskets and have seen where those have all led me.”

In all aspects of her life, Mahika tries to spread positivity and foster an insightful atmosphere. Close friend Katelyn Chen (12) appreciates Mahika’s reliable nature that she brings to everything, from her love for music to her friendships.

“She’s always been this really bubbly character. She would always be singing or testing out new fashion choices,” Katelyn said. “Mahika has always been really mature, and she always knows how to take care of her friends.”

In her freshman year of high school, Mahika became a part-time music teacher for preschoolers and elementary school students. Through both her artistry and her interactions with the children, Mahika found a way to express her raw, unfiltered self without feeling the pressures of being judged by other people. 

“All these things that we see as the negative aspects of childhood are really just true emotional freedom, and as we grow older we hold back and we present ourselves in a way that we think people will accept us for,” Mahika said. “I think music is a great way to teach us to be more accepting of ourselves and overcome perfectionism, but working with these kids is such a beautiful and profound lesson to be myself and to not put up all of these walls.”

This same mindfulness toward the impact that her actions leave on her surroundings translates into all aspects of Mahika’s life, from her experience as a music teacher to her work in humanitarian aid. She firmly believes that anyone can contribute to the improvement of society through exchange of ideas and beliefs. 

“Every interaction we have, everything we purchase, when we vote, all of these things are contributing to the footprint we leave in the world. Especially because of social media, we don’t get to choose whether we’re making an impact on the world or not because we are,” Mahika said. “With my music and teaching kids and even buying clothes, everything I try to make as positive of an imprint on the world as possible.”

Even before she began shifting her lifestyle to one more focused on bettering the world, Mahika contributed to her local community alongside her mother, Deepali, and her sister, Medini. With their mother’s encouragement, Mahika and her sister raised money for a local women’s shelter and made blankets for the Humane Society, acts that jump-started her interest in altruism. 

In a Washington Post article, her parents Sameer and Deepali explain how Mahika founded her non-profit organization, Ayana, mostly independently. What began as tutoring a girl in Africa through another organization transformed into Mahika’s creation of a way to empower youth in developing countries by funding projects for solutions they come up with. The many impactful projects Ayana has funded, from hand-washing stations that help solve the lack of access to sanitation in Tanzania to a community pop-up library in Kenya that fosters education.  

“For me, that kind of work in humanitarianism is all rooted in my deep spiritual belief that if you look at one another, without religion or anything, you can see that we’re all the same,” Mahika said. “Given this opportunity, I really wanted to find something that I could wake up every day and think to myself, ‘I know that I left the world better today than it was yesterday.’ I think that’s what we all want to do–to know that your being here on this planet is for a reason and for a purpose, that we didn’t just come here and leave and not leave a trace of our existence.”

This unique perspective on the world that Mahika has developed is a product of both evidently important life experiences and seemingly mundane activities. From learning about other people’s beliefs to traveling across more than twenty countries to collaborate with teenagers across the world and solve local problems, Mahika’s viewpoints are ever-changing and improving as she continues to discover what it means to be human. 

“I’m constantly picking up on other people and hearing from other people and all these things are constantly shaping my world view, and as a result, my interests are constantly evolving and the ways that I want to impact the world are constantly evolving,” Mahika said. “So I think of it not as one moment where I woke up and thought, ‘Oh wow, I really want to work in humanitarian aid,’ but [as] a lifelong progression.” 

Her enthusiasm for and acceptance of various beliefs make her dynamic and constantly evolving. Though her interests all tie into one common theme, Mahika looks to think outside of the box when brainstorming ideas regarding all aspects of her life. 

“She’s just full of life, she was always willing to accept new ideas,” Mahika’s junior year mathematics teacher Dr. Bune Bloomquist said. 

Mahika’s work in humanitarian aid often requires her to travel across the globe and meet with people living in vastly different environments than she. After launching Ayana, Mahika and her mother traveled to Rwanda in order to gain a better sense of the communities there. Mahika wishes to not simply solve problems for those who she works with but rather aid them as they work through solving problems in a way that only someone from deep in the community could do, and this belief lies at the core of her organization.   

“It’s impossible to solve one problem with one dart on a target. [A problem is] so multifaceted that if you don’t see the humans behind it first, then it’s impossible to solve. Whenever I see a problem that I want to fix, I want to ask myself, ‘Who are the real people behind this, and what do they need,’” Mahika said. “I think we all get this internal reward from helping somebody else, and when you connect your desire to do good with somebody that is actually affected, you can create a solution that benefits all.”

The projects that Mahika has accomplished during her time in high school are no doubt awe-inspiring and incredible – she has helped level the playing fields globally and promote global equity, among others. Yet, at the end of the day, Mahika emphasizes one simple objective: to live a happy and full life. 

“I want to make an impact on the world in the sense that when I see problems, I want to be able to solve them and [do] all of these things that are kind of my mission statement,” Mahika said. “But as a human being, i just want to live with a lot of joy and meaning, and I think if you have those things, and you can see joy and be grateful for everything in your life and have a purpose behind it all, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you’re living a full life.”