When Sachin Raghavendran says he has a passion for helping others, you can hear it in his voice and the way he expresses himself.
He clearly articulates his goals and the moment he realized when young people can make a difference.
“I’ve done Beta Club, Key Club,” he says. “Sure you’re helping these events. Deep down in my heart, I don’t feel like I’m purifying my soul.”
These words are all the more remarkable because they come from a 15-year-old boy who decided to act on his feelings.
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Inspired by a trip to India, where he saw poverty and how the right resources could help smart kids reach their potential, Sachin and his friends held a local math competition last month and raised $1,200 in the process. The money, mostly from entry fees, will go back to the country his parents were born in through an organization known as Pratham.
The international organization’s mission is to educate India’s children. The Research Triangle Park chapter of the organization is one of 14 in the United States.
“It’s a modest start,” Sachin said of his competition’s results. “We have to make a modest start. Once they realize it’s a legit competition, others will start flooding in.”
Sachin and his family live in Cary. He’s a 10th-grader at Enloe High School where he’s captain of the quiz bowl team and has participated on the debate team. While he indubitably excels in math – he’s enrolled in college calculus 3 through an N.C. State distance education course – he’s quick to note he’s also a history buff and enjoys philosophy. He’s read “The Republic” by Plato multiple times and likes to play basketball and cricket.
Enloe, a magnet school, has allowed him to “blossom,” he said. If he wasn’t a student there, he might not know he wants to pursue a career in applied sciences.
But it was last summer’s trip to India that pushed him to consider how he could use his abilities to help the greater good.
His father, Vijayakumar, and mother, Sampada, were born in India and often took their children, Sachin and his two younger siblings, back home every year when they were younger. Now, they go every few years.
Last summer, his mother took him to a village in southern India where they toured a rural school run by the government. The school’s headmaster brought Sachin and to meet students in their homes, a visit he makes when he needs to talk to pupils’ parents. There, the children struggle with poverty, a lack of electricity and parents who sometimes have to work through the night to provide for them.
“It really touched me,” Sachin said. “They have problems. Going to this school is like a solace for them. It’s like an island in a sea of tension and a sea of difficulty they have.”
Sachin saw himself in these students, bright children who could do amazing things if they attended a school with more resources and were pushed beyond the basics.
He also saw firsthand the message that his parents often tell him: Don’t waste food because people in India and other parts of the world go hungry.
“This was the first time I was able to understand what’s going on,” he said. “I saw what those words really meant.”
Upon his return to the United States, he contemplated what to do. He decided to use his math skills and those of his friends to create a math competition. Most of the students on the competition committee are sophomores at Enloe with Sachin. Two go to other area high schools.
“I trust them,” he said. “They didn’t fail me.”
He was able to get a room donated by Country Inn & Suites in Morrisville. Glen Dawson, director of Advanced Placement Academy in Morrisville, sponsored $500 in prizes. Sachin has been a student of Dawson’s for about two years, and Sachin’s mother works as the community outreach director.
“It’s really remarkable all the work he did,” Dawson said. “I told him it would be nice to have a math-type competition for Wake County. He organized the whole thing, the student volunteers, the promotion. He put together the test and graded it.”
Dawson said he’s impressed with Sachin’s commitment to education; his house is filled with books, and he takes online college courses. But Dawson, who emphasizes community service at the academy, said Sachin is about more than just excelling academically.
“I quickly realized what a special person he was with his motivation, and just his caring about others,” Dawson said. “He’s humble that way. He doesn’t put on any displays of arrogance. Just a really nice kid.”
On Feb. 14, about 50 fifth- through eighth-graders came to the hotel to tackle a series of math questions created by Sachin and his committee of volunteers. Representatives from Pratham spoke to the group about their work. (Sachin’s father is active with the group, and Sachin has been a volunteer for five years.)
At the end of the afternoon, the friends sat down to grade the papers and gave out prizes a few days later at an awards ceremony.
Sachin said every dollar raised will go to Pratham. That’s just the beginning, he said. He’d like to raise more money to he can spread education to other countries and get children access to learning materials through technology. He also wants to be able to provide one-on-one tutoring for students who, he said, “show a remarkable amount of potential.”
He has applied to attend the North Carolina School of Science and Math next year. But he’s hopeful that he and his friends can grow the math competition next year, allowing it to sustain itself after they go to college. While his drive to help Indian children is clear, he’s just as eager to prove that young people can make a change in the world if they want to.
“This is all youth driven,” he said. “That’s the best part. This is a way others can satisfy their wanting to help other kids around the world. You have to start somewhere.”
Banov: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @JessicaBanov