Inspirational Wasjah rediscovers voice through Shakespeare’s words

Ruth Peterson | November 13, 2020

A brave young college student who strived to make her voice heard again with help from William Shakespeare’s works has achieved a prestigious award for inspirational young South Asian people.

Wasjah accepts her award

Wasjah Mehdi is the winner of the Yorkshire Asian Young Achievers Awards 2020 in the Achievement in School or College category.

Through sheer determination, the Bradford College student, now 17, took steps to overcome selective mutism to perform scenes from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in front of others.

It shows an ordinary girl can have extraordinary things happen when you start to be brave.

Accepting her award on Wednesday (11 November), Wasjah said: “It shows an ordinary girl can have extraordinary things happen when you start to be brave.”

Her teacher, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) lecturer Esther Wilkey, nominated her for her achievements.

Originally from Pakistan, Wasjah spent much of her childhood in Italy. As a result of bullying at school, Wasjah developed selective mutism: an anxiety disorder which affects people’s ability to talk in certain social settings such as school. Wasjah said: “I decided not to speak.”

She was still unwilling to speak to fellow students and teachers when she came to Bradford College last year.

Shakespeare Club

A key part of ESOL classes at Bradford College is Shakespeare Club, a unique way of engaging learners in speaking and reading the English language. Not only does it have a powerful impact upon language skills but also creates self-belief and confidence which has changed students’ lives.

Shakespeare Club uses techniques used by Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) actors in their rehearsals. Together, they use the actors’ warm up techniques to improve eye contact, work as a team and look to each other for cues. They pick out key scenes from plays such as The Taming of The Shrew and The Merchant of Venice, develop delivery techniques for each line and create a performance.

Supported by the RSC and Bradford Theatres, students have performed in plays and workshops.

Wasjah said: “In Shakespeare Club, I had to be brave and speak my lines. At Christmas, I promised myself I would start to speak.”

So she created a timeline for the year ahead to help her take steps to achieve her goals. As well as taking part in The Merchant of Venice, Wasjah took part in a job interview.

“Nobody should have power over somebody else’s life”

Before receiving her award, Wasjah said she was showing the people who had bullied her at school that they could not stop her from achieving what she wanted. She said: “Nobody should have power over somebody else’s life.

“If I see somebody treated like I was before, I would tell them to believe in themselves.”

Esther, who nominated Wasjah for the award, said: “I am so proud of Wasjah and delighted that she won this award. Strength of character, being part of a supportive and inclusive college community, and engagement with learning have combined to enable Wasjah to overcome obstacles that had seemed insurmountable previously.”

“Speaking in front of people and doing Shakespeare was not easy but I did it.”

Wasjah is now hoping to become a police officer in the future. She said: “Speaking in front of people and doing Shakespeare was not easy but I did it. I’m very proud of my achievement. I hope this encourages other young people to do difficult things.”

Wasjah and the other winners of the YAYAs 2020 received their awards at a virtual event on Wednesday, November 11, 2020. It was hosted by award-winning BBC Radio and TV presenter and stand-up comedian Noreen Khan.

The ceremony is available to view at

About the Yorkshire Asian Young Achievers Awards

The Yorkshire Asian Young Achievers awards (The YAYAs) is the first scheme of its kind set up to recognise the efforts of young people aged 16-30, of South Asian heritage born or living and working in Yorkshire.

Its special focus is on those socially-mobile young achievers who have overcome deprivation and disadvantage, or have broken through traditional barriers to progress.
The awards aim to:

  • Promote social mobility among young South Asians
  • Identify role models to help inspire others from the relevant communities
  • Encourage young South Asians to seek out and take up further and higher education opportunities

 The YAYAs are organised by the QED Foundation, a registered charity which exists to improve the social and economic position of disadvantaged communities in partnership with public, private and civil society organisations.

For more information on the YAYAs and the full list of award winners, please visit

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