It was intended to be a simple family trip to Inida. They’d planned just to see family and tour the area from which their ancestors hailed. But a basic request to see a school where his mother formerly taught led Ajey Bhagwat, a junior at Methacton High School, to form an organization to help change the world, one backpack at a time.
Bhagwat said that once he returned home to the United States, he wanted to gather his friends to form a group called Kits for Kids.
“I wanted to find a way to help kids in India,” said Bhagwat. “I went there over a summer, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”
He spoke with a fellow Methacton junior, Vinay Parakala.
“The school is close to Ajey’s family there,” said Parakala. “Kids there cannot afford an education, but this school is free.”
Though there is no tuition at the school, students still often lack the ability to purchase very basic needs, such as notebooks and pencils.
“I knew about the school, that it was there,” said Bhagwat. “I just never thought much about it. I’d never visited it before, but I made it a point to go on my second trip.”
During that visit he realized he wanted to make a difference.
“I realized how fortunate I am to have an education, to have a school, clothes on my back,” he said.
Parakala came up with the “Kits for Kids” name and gathered a group of the boys’ friends, including Pooja Bobba, Ajay Benno, Varun Belur, Jeffrey Li and Elaine Shiao, all students at the high school. The group quickly divided roles and shared the workload to spread the word via marketing, communications, event planning and preparation.
“We split the work evenly,” said Parakala. “Elaine and Pooja did the communicating, while Jeffery did the website.”
Soon the group had its organization up and running. They were able to raise funds for school supplies with unique events, like a Super Mario Tournament, which allowed players to donate a $5 entry fee to play.
“We then use that money to buy the supplies and ship them to India,” said Bhagwat.
Other events included an ongoing supply drive at the school, where high school students brought in brand new pencils, pens, notebooks and erasers to donate. They also participated in the Holy Festival at the Holy Bhratiya Temple in Lansdale for both publicity and to ask for donations.
Kits for Kids will also host a Movie Night at the high school’s auditorium open to the public and families. For just a $5 suggested donation, those in attendance can enjoy an affordable night of family fun and give to a worthy cause.
Once funds are raised, the seven students unite to purchase the school supplies and assemble the kits. Each “kit” is a backpack containing one notebook, two folders, five pencils, a protractor and rule, a pencil sharpener, black and blue pens, an eraser and a pencil case.
The school students, who reside about four hours east of Mumbai, Bhagwat said, can’t afford even these basic items.
“In August and September, we hope to send more,” he said. Shipments to the Bal Vikas School in Kulgaon, India, are made as often as the group can fill the backpacks.
Li said he focuses on promoting the events via the group’s website and on Twitter and Facebook.
The busy high school students don’t plan to stop there.
“I hope that if the school is filled with supplies, we could move into other countries, or perhaps another state in India,” said Bhagwat.
The group also hopes to expand outside of the Methacton community to grow its reach.
“We are speaking with kids at Abington, North Penn, Upper Dublin and Spring-Ford to start clubs in their areas,” said Bhagwat. “We hope that when we go to college, others will continue the club here.”
Through their charity work, the students say they have learned a lot.
“In general, we are able to go to school,” said Bhagwat. “If I need a pencil, I ask a friend for one, or I pick one up, and I just write. I get to go to school, and not worry about having enough paper to do my homework.”
He said his club hopes to take that same worry from others.
“I hope with this worry out of their mind, the kids can focus on their education,” he said. “Education is a way out of poverty, and with the right educational tools, they can break the cycle of poverty.”
All funds raised by the organization go directly to the purchasing and shipping of school kits for children. There is no cost or paid help for the program.