Aayush Sharma, 15, of West Windsor, taught English and basic computer skills to 18 children from slums in India this past summer through Project Bhilai. He raised more than $1,200 for computers, furniture, Internet service, and books from friends and family through the project site, http://projectbhilai.weebly.com.
“I had the idea for a long time but this was the first year I could do it,” says Sharma, a freshman at High School North. “I have always been interested in contributing to a community service project to help poor and disadvantaged children.”
His plan was to teach phonics and pronunciation with a goal of having students read and write English. The computer literacy course included Microsoft Word, E-mail, search engines, and address bars. A blog was established for children to post about their experiences and update their progress.
A non-government organization helped Sharma identify the first group of needy people and with logistics. Children of Bhilai Township in Chhattisgarh, India, were chosen. Sharma stayed with his grandparents, who helped him locate shops and buy computers for the project.
“The entire community took part in the project,” says Sharma. “Although the kids are from a poor area of the city all have ambitions of becoming doctors, scientists, or engineers.” The ages ranged from 9 to 17. “The only thing holding them back was opportunity resources,” says Sharma.
Prior to his return to the U.S. he selected the four best students to be in charge of classes. “They now review material with the original students and also accept new students to teach,” says Sharma. “I still keep in touch with them via the blog on my website and phone calls.”
Sharma speaks and understands Hindi, but English is his first language and has always been spoken at home. His father, Alok, works in finance for Millennium Capital in New York City. His mother, Rachna, an engineer by training, works at home. His brother, Ishaan, 5, is in kindergarten at Hawk School.
Community service is not new to Sharma, a Boy Scout in Troop 40. He has helped others with their Eagle Scout projects at Van Nest Park, Ron Rogers Arboretum, Hawk School’s outdoor classroom, and the West Windsor Trolley Lane. Sharma also mentors kids on public speaking through Toastmasters International. He plans to begin his Eagle project next summer.
“I see the project as ongoing in the community with students taking over the class,” says Sharma, who plans to visit the project in India next summer.