As I walked down the dusty road towards the Maganoorpatti Elementary school, located in rural Tamil Nadu, India, I thought about the task before me. I was a twelve year old kid, about to embark on a summer of teaching English to fifth grade students. The conversation of the day before rolled through my mind. The principal had told me when I met with him, “teaching these students is a waste of your time. They aren’t going to amount to anything. They will simply become farmers, just like their parents.” The words had astounded me, but it quickly made me realize that I could be the change in the village of Maganoorpatti.
Fast-forward three years. When I was a ninth grade student, I started the Tamil Nadu India School Fund, a non-profit organization designed to help village schools in and around Maganoorpatti. My drive, my primary passion, my heart and soul over the past three years, has been totally devoted to TNISF. I have raised about $60,000 with the help of my mentor, Mr. Bill Smyth, by speaking to school groups, Rotary Clubs, and writing several grants.
Since my organization’s inception, we have paid students' fees, bought school supplies, provided desks so the 1,200 students who were previously sitting on the floor now have a place to sit, purchased science equipment, installed fans, and built a compound wall. To further this work, the World Bank constructed an eight-classroom building that houses a computer lab, three science labs, and four classrooms.
A year later, TNISF acquired four acres of additional land behind the school for future school expansion. We purchased additional science equipment, constructed a basketball court, bought a generator to provide electricity for the school, instituted academic awards, and provided uniforms and shoes for the Scout troop.
This past summer, we installed a 10,000 gallon per day water purification system so that the students and villagers have safe water to drink. This has made all the difference in the world.
Several new initiatives are on tap for this spring and summer. One of our biggest thrusts is to complete the computer lab. Computer literacy is vital for student success. Equally as important, the students and I are creating a library. They have selected the books, and they are staffing it. Calculators, school supplies for six additional elementary schools, an after-school exam prep program for tenth and twelfth graders, a summer program for rising sixth graders, an elementary school art program, improvements to the athletic fields, and sanitation facilities are being put into place as funds are available. Additionally, TNISF will grant a partial scholarship to every senior who plans to continue his/her education at a college or university.
From my involvement with TNISF, another passion has come forth. I have started a mission locally in Charleston to inspire the students, as Gandhi so eloquently put it, to “be the change you want to see in the world.” As I speak to the school students about my own project in India, I tell them how they can benefit from doing a project within their own communities. Many have started their own community service projects or service organizations within their schools. Currently, my mentor and I are working with our city’s mayor to implement an official community service program in all of the 80 schools of Charleston County and many of the private schools as well. This effort will have a profound effect on the quality of life in the Lowcountry.