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Cary teen uses math to help students in India

Cary teen Sachin Raghavendran, in red shirt, was moved by his 2014 trip to India where he met smart children who struggled with poverty. When he came back to the U.S., he and his friends held a math competition to raise money for Pratham, which helps educate children in India.
Cary teen Sachin Raghavendran, in red shirt, was moved by his 2014 trip to India where he met smart children who struggled with poverty. When he came back to the U.S., he and his friends held a math competition to raise money for Pratham, which helps educate children in India. CONTRIBUTED

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 said. “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.

Trip to India

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 where his parents were born through an organization known as Pratham.

The international organization’s mission is to educate India’s children. The Research Triangle Park chapter is one of 14 in the U.S.

“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, a magnet school where he’s captain of the quiz bowl team and has participated on the debate team.

Excels at math

While Sachin excels in math – he’s enrolled in college calculus 3 through an N.C. State University distance education course – he’s also a history buff and enjoys philosophy.

He’s read “The Republic” by Plato multiple times and also likes to play basketball and cricket.

Enloe has allowed him to “blossom,” he said. If he wasn’t a student there, he might not know that 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 siblings, back home every year when they were younger.

Now, they go every few years.

Children without resources

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 to meet students in their homes.

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.

Math in action

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. 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 there as the community outreach director.

“I told him it would be nice to have a math-type competition for Wake County,” Dawson said. “He organized the whole thing, the student volunteers, the promotion. He put together the test and graded it.”

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.

Next year

Sachin has applied to attend the N. C. School of Science and Mathematics next year.

But he’s hopeful that he and his friends can develop 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.”

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