Twin activists and journalists on their Kashmiri heritage and identity, film-making with Disney, and pursuing international relations at U of T as Trinity College students.

Aamyneh Mecklai, Staff Writer

We’ve always identified with our countries—Canada and Pakistan—as well as our Kashmiri heritage,” noted Maryam. “Yes, our identity has evolved and changed, but the two of us have always been together. So, in a way, our identity has changed collectively,” said Nivaal.

Maryam and Nivaal Rehman, U of T second year students pursuing International Relations and Peace, Conflict & Justice studies with a minor in Women in Gender studies, grew up in Pakistan and moved to Canada with their parents when they were just five. 

As immigrants, the twins found themselves exploring their identity and heritage through the lens of international relations in the classroom. “You don’t fully identify with Pakistan or you can’t necessarily because when you visit, you’re from abroad. When you’re in Canada, even though it’s pretty diverse, in some situations, you feel a little out of place,” Nivaal conveyed. At U of T, Maryam and Nivaal indicated that international relations has allowed them to think more about their identity and different ways in which their identity can be imagined.

Furthermore, their academic trajectory aligns with their interests outside of the classroom. “Pursuing international relations allows us to understand the world around us, and then also how to improve the world that we live in,” Nivaal smiled. 

While on a family trip to their village in Pakistan, the twins met with disadvantaged girls who planned to quit school in fifth grade. “That was a moment we decided we wanted to take action and make sure that these girls continued to go to school.” This experience sowed the seeds for their role as young activists and journalists who went on to interview Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and even Malala Yousafzai to raise awareness about inequality in educational opportunity.

Today, they work as twin activists and journalists who advocate for climate change, gender equality, and inclusivity through the organization they founded together, The World With MNR. 

Over the years, film-making became a central piece in the twins’ mosaic of action-oriented advocacy. “I just vividly remember, when we were younger, planning out films we would make and pretending to be doing interviews,” Maryam chuckled. As they grew older, they explored a central question: “How do we get people to pay attention and listen to what we have to say?”

“The power of film is that it can get people to make a conscious decision to go to a theatre, sit, and listen,” revealed Nivaal. It was at this moment that Maryam humbly interjected, “our films are of course not at that level yet, though we love how film allows you to capture real stories visually and creatively.”

The twins began to pursue film-making in their early teens, producing their first documentary when they were 16. Recently, they launched a feature-length documentary, “Destined To Soar” which revolves around their return to Pakistan to campaign for girls’ education. 

In 2018, Maryam and Nivaal were chosen by Disney for the Dream Big Princess Project in conjunction with Girl Up, a United Nations campaign, as two of 21 girls picked from around the world. The Dream Big Princess project aimed to empower girls from around the world and foster a sense of global, female-led synergy. 

“We grew up watching Disney movies. We absolutely love Disney. When we saw the announcement that Girl Up and Disney put out, we thought, there’s obviously no way we’re going to get this,” Nivaal pointed out, rather unassumingly.

The broadcasted announcement read the following: become a film-maker with Disney. “We applied together. We don’t like it when one of us gets something and the other doesn’t. So it was clear—either the both of us or none of us,” said Maryam. Soon after they submitted their application, the twins received an email from Disney and much like a dreamy and magical fairytale, they were flown down to Washington, D.C., received professional training in film-making, and met with aspiring female film-makers from different corners of the world. “It was just surreal and some of those girls [that were chosen for the project] are still really close with us. One of them even works with us on our executive team,” Nivaal noted.

Interestingly enough, Maryam and Nivaal were not always a joint force. “We were very individual and separate growing up. But as we grew older and our interests aligned, our paths converged. Ever since then, it’s been both of us or none of us,” Maryam reiterated.

While the powerhouse duo champion their heritage and roots, campaign for what they believe in, and continue to film-make, what really stands out is their unparalleled teamwork: a sisterhood that is fuelled by the desire to fearlessly empower and also, to be empowered.

Aamyneh Mecklai is a first-year undergraduate student at Trinity College, studying Finance & Economics at Rotman Commerce.

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