By Danielle Haller // Staff Writer
FIU brings women to new heights. Here’s part one of Herstory, a series about FIU panthers changing the world and making history.
Prachi Lalwani Mirchandani migrated to the U.S. by herself in 2017 without knowing anyone here or knowledge in the English language. Being Venezuelan-Indian, she was exposed at a young age to the presence of female oppression. She later met a Venezuelan intern who encouraged her to connect with the UN to empower women and encourage women to use their voice.
“Coming from a country like Venezuela where there are heavy security and social issues, I grew up in a bubble. I didn’t know independence. I always had my twin brother to drive me places and my parents gave him more responsibility,” she said.
When Lalwani arrived in Florida she was always by herself. She remembers her last words to her brother, “I will see you soon, brother.”
“The most challenging part of starting a new life here was that I was by myself. I cried. I felt afraid, like how am I doing this? I don’t even understand the language! Now I was far from my family, learning how to walk in public by myself. In Venezuela you cannot do that. There is corruption. People get killed for having a phone. Freedom is death,” said Lalwani.
But she knew deep down that if she got to this point, that something good is coming.
“The transition was the hardest part. Now, I’m so used to being here that the new challenges are a breeze. Everything that I do, I add value to that with excellence and I shine through my classes. I have created my legacy that is reflected through my faith, grades and hard work.”
Lalwani discovered FIU when her brother and her were pro athletes. Her brother was playing soccer and she was swimming professionally in Tamiami Park. His friend’s mother worked at FIU and encouraged her to study English there in August of 2017.
She has been swimming since the age of 3. “It’s part of what made me who I am. I stopped swimming because I knew that in my time as a swimmer I’ve already accomplished everything I wanted to. Coming to FIU, I wanted to focus on making an effective impact on my career. I’ve never felt bad about it,” said Lalwani.
At age 17, just 2 weeks into her stay in America, she was bitten by a shark standing in water over her knees. She couldn’t move her foot, but she felt it was time to go. She told her brother to pull her to the shore.
“I stayed calm but all I wanted was my mom. I didn’t speak or know any English so I put my foot in the air to get the attention of the lifeguard. I was taken by ambulance and right before I went into shock I asked the paramedic to call my Pastor to pray for me,” Lalwani said.
Lalwani believes God is bigger than her pain. While it took her 5-6 months to recover and touch the water again, her faith and strong support system is what pulled her through her next race where despite losing feeling in her body, she made it to the finish line and won her section.
“There was a struggle emotionally, you know, a fight within oneself. But everytime I look at the scar I am reminded that I can do anything. God loves me so much that he chose me to do something bigger than myself and if one person believes in me then it was worth it. My dream is to impact others and be a reflection that through God, nothing is impossible,” said Lalwani.
After her accident, she started learning English. Coming to the U.S. was on a whim, but she prayed in her heart for a year before that. To her it was a dream come true, the answer to her prayers. She found herself feeling grateful, amazed, and in awe. She is an extrovert who loves to talk to people and let god shine through her.
Making friends isn’t easy for most international students, but Lalwani found that her best friends in the world are here and she met them through college. At FIU she has been exposed to a large number of people but she calls “friends” those who make her feel close to God and love her for who she is.
“We don’t just study together, but we make life together. We opened our hearts to find beauty and share the same values while respecting each other with trust regardless of our beliefs. My friends see me as the Prachi that loves to help people. My faith is not a religion, it is a relationship and it is the main part of who I am,” said Lalwani.
“I felt peace coming here. I was studying at many academies and FIU is the best one. All the professors in my field are former ambassadors, involved in the career, and one provides me mentorship through the Jackson Gordon institute and helped me to become head of the department where I gained a different perspective,” said Lalwani.
“I knew I wanted to do something bigger than myself, and I have the best of both worlds with my experience and knowledge. As an international student, I can be involved,” said Lalwani.
Lalwani led a diverse student career at FIU. Her first semester, Lalwani landed the role as President of Campus Ministry of Chi Alpha. She was soon after, appointed to represent the FIU Venezuelan Student Alliance and she was at FIU when former President Donald Trump came to visit, where she met the First Lady of Venezuela.
Lalwani completed a fellowship in Fall 2019 with the U.S. State Department through FIU’s Honors College. Her fellowship focused on how the State Department can help Pakistan recruitment in law enforcement.
She formulated a research report for Pakistani policy on recruitment and retention of women in law enforcement helping to see the inclusion of women. She compared her research to other countries, what it’s like working with the U.S. Dept of State, and held an official briefing with a state representative on her policy-based solutions.
“This meant a lot to me because the first honors college class that I took, I was a freshman and everyone else was junior and senior. I learned language writing and research skills weren’t the same. I was full of fear but I knew through my amazing professor and director of the Jackson Gordon institute and weekly meetings with the teacher’s assistant, I could do it,” Lalwani said.
International students are not always considered U.S. citizens. Lalwani wanted to experience the freedom to make changes for her country in the U.S. Now she knows what it means to do the work and the meaning of that took her to the next semester where she made even bigger impressions.
As an international FIU Honors student with dreams to achieve gender equity for women’s rights, Lalwani initiated changes globally that were once thought to be beyond her wildest dreams.
Part of her academic career has led her to interview Ambassadors of different countries, work for the Red Cross workforce engagement team and participate in a diplomacy lab. She studied international outbreaks of the Zika Virus in the U.S, Ecuador, and her home country, Venezuela, to help them overcome COVID-19 outbreak that affected the world in 2020.
“This opportunity makes me so happy because even though I am not in my country, I can still help through research and support. If I were in my country and I saw someone working toward this, I’d know it was a ripple effect. I speak their voice and they get a voice too!,”said Lalwani.
After research and case studies, Lalwani created policies and sent them in for approval. She also worked on human rights and policy at FIU in DC through the Hamilton Scholars program and Heritage Foundation fellowship in Spring of 2021.
She introduced a policy proposal during her Spring 2021 Hamilton Scholar Fellowship to help build up the women’s community of resources. She also worked for a human rights organization, Justice Revival in Summer 2021, creating strategies, speaking with donors, creating rapport and analysis of how the company can help to “create a just, peaceful and prosperous world.”
Lalwani was Millennium Campus Network (MCN) fellow in 2020 and a campus director in 2021 where she led a large cohort of fellows with the help of co-director, D’andria Hollins. Her United Nations (UN) involvement has been personal as she has a multinational background.
By the end of 2021 she became a Student Ambassador and the leader of 3 campus organizations, Kai Alpha Campus Ministry, Venezuelan Student Alliance, and Institute for Civic Leadership.
Lalwani is set to graduate in Fall of 2022 with Honors and her bachelor’s degree in international relations with a minor in political science. Additionally, she will hold four certificates in human rights and political translation, Latino American Caribbean studies, European and Eurasian Studies, and Peace Corp prep.
She is a student at the FIU Honors College, member of the Global Medallion VIP, Honors Society, and has participated in FIU In DC, the Women’s Center, became a Model of United Nations, and completed a College Tour.
“I believe that I can be an example for women. You matter. You are worth it. You have the same rights as everyone else. I believe that I can be the voice for them, but I want to empower them to use their own voice too,” said Lalwani.
“The world is getting worse. I know I am only human but if I can make a change in at least one person’s life, then I am still making a difference. My values about human rights align with the United Nations so I chose to do something bigger than myself,” said Lalwani.
Lalwani has become a Student Ambassador who was chosen to be VP of Operations as of Spring 2022. She is a finalist and scholarship winner for the Outstanding Student and Innovation Award and won the 2021 Global Learning and Transformation contest.
“I took a class called, ‘Theories of International Relations: How Global is IR?’ which defines how global encompasses everyone. However, everything we have learned is through a dominant western mindset and it’s not helping us truly learn about international issues. I wanted to opt for a different perspective, so the UN global and international opportunities really appealed to me,” said Lalwani.
For her Millennium Campus Network (MCN) Fellow Project, “Own Your Crown,” Lalwani would hold global webinars with women from a variety of career fields for educational workshops and advice every Friday evening. More than 1,500 women participated and were touched by her workshops.
As MCN Director, her Project was, “Claim Your Crown” where she focused on social media impact. She would post videos on social media reaching up to more than 2,500 women.
“I loved the fact I was a fellow then a director because as a fellow I had the opportunity to receive, to create, double-up skills, and get inside. As a director, it was my time to give back. My goal is to keep giving women the platform to take risks and follow an opportunity without the fear of being discriminated against. Next year, I will come back with new ideas, building upon the skills I learned this year, on how to help more women to “Claim Their Crown,” said Lalwani.
In 2-3 years, you may see Lalwani working for MCN with her love to guide and help people, especially from other universities.
“Moreover, my experience at FIU has personally allowed me to improve my linguistic skills and expand upon my knowledge of the subject matter to further understand women’s struggles. It has also provided an opportunity which has allowed me to create a platform to empower a generation of women to seek their freedom, find their passions, and fight for their voice,” said Lalwani.