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Westwood girl’s simple plan aims to ensure no one is alone

Pragna Lal, 8, with her family: mother Deeksha Joshi; brother Kiaan, 3; and father Vishal Kumar.Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

When then first-grader Pragna Lal attended the Boston March for our Lives rally against gun violence with her family in 2018, it left her with a simple question: Why do people inflict violence on others?

Her father’s explanation, that many who carry out shootings do so because they feel lonely and sad, inspired Pragna on a mission to ensure all children feel like they have friends.

“I figured out this problem was growing rapidly. I thought that we should all help and there would be less depression in the world if we all come together and spread this message of friendship,” said Pragna, 8, now a third-grader at the Hanlon School in Westwood, where her family moved from New Hampshire last year.

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The result of her quest is Friendship Week, a campaign led by Pragna and her family that urges schools to plan an annual week of activities encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and make new friends.

Beginning as a small local gathering in 2018, Friendship Week took off this year when word of the movement spread through social media and more than 100 schools in the United States and three other countries agreed to participate in the kick-off celebration Nov. 11 through 17.

“I think people like this program because of this thing that is happening in the world and we want to solve it,” Pragna said of gun violence. With Friendship Week, “We get the message that we are not alone and we have someone to talk to about all our problems and you can have fun playing with that friend.”

Pragna got to participate in Friendship Week when her school observed it. Throughout the week, students wrote their thoughts about the meaning of friendship on sticky notes that were posted on a “friendship wall.” There were also different grade-level activities, including book read-alouds, games, and having students write compliments about one another on posters.

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Hanlon School principal Sarah Cronin, who worked with Pragna and her family to plan the celebration, is thrilled the school could offer the program.

“The idea is such a simple one and so easy to do,” she said of motivating children to be open to new friendships, adding that it was also “so meaningful that it came from one of our own students.”

“She is an extraordinary little girl, she’s got a big heart and an agile mind, “Cronin said of Pragna. “It’s really hard not to be captivated by the joy that exudes out of Pragna. She’s an amazing kid.”

Cronin said events such as Friendship Week can have a real impact in preventing tragedies.

“We can do all the lockdown and active shooter drills we want, but what we have to change is those feelings of isolation for kids that are on the fringe. I think Pragna’s idea is potentially a way to get us to this concept of spreading kindness. Helping other people feel connected is where the answer lies.”

Rydia Rajput, 9, a friend and classmate of Pragna, said she likes Friendship Week because “it tells us to be friends no matter how different you are or what you have in common.” She said she was also inspired by how Pragna came up with the concept and was determined “to make it happen.”

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“She’s very good at persevering,” Rydia said of her friend, describing Pragna also as “positive, cheerful, and enthusiastic.”

Pragna and her parents — Vishal Kumar and Deeksha Joshi — are still weighing how to develop Friendship Week further, according to Kumar. For now the couple — who also have a 3-year-old son, Kiaan — are pleased their daughter has been able to see her vision become real.

She has no dreams yet of a future career, but “I want to stick with Friendship Week because I want to help,” said Pragna, who believes her experience to date has already taught her an important lesson.

“I know adults can make changes but why can’t kids?” she said. “Kids can do it.”

For more information about Friendship Week, go to friendshipweek.org.


John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.