7x21 - Rana Arif

7x21 explores life at 21 with 7 young wāhine and irarere. Here's the awesome Rana Arif !


When you introduce yourself to people what do you say?

I start with my pepeha: Ko Arafa te maunga - Arafa is my mountain. Ko Rafidayn te awa - Rafidayn is my river. Ko Emirates te waka - Emirates is my boat. Then I say my Mum is Syrian and my Dad is Iraqi, and my name is Rana. Informally I don’t say that.

When you came to Aotearoa at 14, from UAE, what did you think 21 would be like?

I didn’t imagine myself to be in this position, with the hats I wear and the roles I have. I always had quite a typical image of what I would be like. Young adult, travelling, having a full-time job and enjoying my life - very superficial. I did not think I would be going down the path of helping rangatahi.

What’s the most important thing for you about working with young people?

Sometimes the root of many things is a lack of belonging. Lack of being able to go somewhere to talk about things. It seems small but it has so many impacts when you feel that so when I see a young person who comes from a minority or ethnic group, I want to make sure they have a space they can belong to. Sometimes it can be overwhelming working in this space, and I need to remind myself of my purpose. I am not doing this for myself, but for the young people in the community I represent. The sense of community is so much stronger here in Aotearoa compared to when we lived in the UAE.

What’s your favourite part about belonging to your community?

Honestly, I think it’s automatically having a connection through the things you do that the majority don’t do. If I see another sister who wears a hijab, and I know she’s Muslim, and we say ‘Salam alaykum’ even though we don’t know each other, you connect in that way. I love celebrating little things within our religion and culture together.

Who are your heroes?

My mum will always be my number one hero. I have a lot of amazing women who have impacted the way I do things but my mum is my number one. The way she handles things. Her ups and downs. Through her, I have learned how to be a community member, how to lead an organisation and take charge as a woman.

What’s the last thing you googled?

Gift boxes. We have a person we know who is in hospital.

Do you feel like an adult – being 21?

In certain ways I do. I look back on what I thought a 21-year-old would think and be doing – people I knew who were 21 looked like they had their shit together – then I look at my situation and think I don’t do that. I’m proud of everything I have achieved, it’s been good for my development. I have done a lot and sometimes I feel old then sometimes I look back and go meh, you’re just 21.

Hopes and dreams for future you?

I hope by 25, I am in a position that I am passionate about, loving and enjoying the work I am doing and still finding a way to give back to my community. I never want to be in a job where I am only in it to pay the bills. I want to facilitate a space encouraging young people to step into roles and lead in spaces – I don’t want to keep leading. I would love to be in a relationship or married to a person that I love and care about. If I’m married, then I would want to have a child by then as well. I want to be in a position where I have control over my life. There’s a lot of privilege in that.

If you could wish for one thing to change right now in Aotearoa, what would it be?

Balance. This country is learning and growing. Having two main political parties means we go back and forth and there is either a focus on people or the economy. When you focus on one thing, something else falls. If I was to change one thing it would be not sacrificing one element over another. If we want to grow our economy, we can do that at the same time as growing our people and communities. We can slowly plant seeds everywhere instead of trying to make one thing grow quickly.

What do you think about the stereotype that all Gen Z’s do is live on your phones?

You can’t create technology and social media and expect us not to use it. If phones were available however many years ago, people would have used them then. They blame Gen Z but who created this technology? It wasn’t us.

What’s the biggest challenge between generations?

Everyone goes through a lot. When you’re dealing or talking or working with someone from another generation, you cannot take that person based on what they’re offering. If you disagree with them or you don’t like their mindset, you have to understand they come from a time that had its own challenges. Just like our generation grew up with covid, we went into lockdowns, it’s a different way of living. Previous generations have gone through different challenges and experiences. My advice to all generations – take it easy. Have an open mind. Try to educate and understand the other side before you ‘cancel’. Even within generations, no two people are the same.

What’s one word or term to sum up how you feel about the future?

Growth. Unlearning negative habits and learning new ways of doing things. Chillaxing. For the last three years, I was constantly on the move from uni, to work, to work at uni, to work in community places. I didn’t get a break until I travelled and realised, oh I don’t need to do anything. I wasn’t used to that. When your plate is overly full, you don’t have time to have space and relax.

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