By TAYLOR HARTZ
Ishaan Patel is an eighth-grade student at Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford, where lessons are taught on smart boards and assignments are completed on laptops.
When Patel thought of school, he thought of an education modeled around technology—typing essays, researching online, and using computer software to complete his projects. That was until his aunt took trips to India and Costa Rica and returned home with photos of dirt-covered children sitting on concrete floors, and attending class with no desks, no pencils, and no books.
“When we saw the pictures, it made me want to actually do something,” said Patel.
Like many eighth-graders, Patel keeps a busy schedule filled with classes, homework, a sport each season, and lessons for two instruments. Unlike most his age, Patel founded a 501c3 non-profit organization, at the age of 13, where he raises funds to help provide students in the U.S. and abroad with an education.
Patel said he found it both “fascinating and scary” to hear stories of what schools were like in underprivileged areas around the world, and it inspired him to do something to help.
“It made me feel that we need to do something about it,” said Patel, “we need to give what we have to them to make it even.”
Worried about the skills gap that students without access to computers and internet access will face, Patel began researching how he could make a difference. The eighth-grader found that only two-percent of humanitarian aid is dedicated to education and that in the U.S., many students don’t have a computer.
Patel worried how these students would receive an education similar to his without these resources.
His solution was to establish Planting Pencils, a non-profit to provide supplies and technology to underprivileged areas. He plans to launch a school overseas where he will ensure health, safety, and education.
While he plans to start by dedicating 80-percent of his funding to U.S. schools and 20-percent to international education, Patel’s goals are big, broad, and long-term.
“I think he is able to have such a broad scope because he’s a child,” said his mother, Alpa Patel, who said she is inspired by his “why can’t we do it all?” attitude.
Up and running for just a month and a half, Planting Pencils has raised over $4,000. Patel’s goal is closer to the $40, 000 range.
One day, he hopes to build a school in India or Africa, where problems such as malnutrition and lack of clean water prevent children from learning.
At the school, Patel plans to supply clean water for showering and drinking, and to serve students breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He believes that if students are healthy and comfortable, they will benefit even more from the internet access and computers he plans to provide for them.
“If we provide food and water in the schools they wouldn’t have to worry about that during school or back at home,” said Patel, whose hopes to offer an education that allows poverty-stricken communities to help encourage more healthy living habits.
“If people are educated they’ll be able to be self sufficient,” said Patel.
Though he dreams of opening a school that will provide these resources, and potential trips to Ghana and India are already in the works, Patel plans to start locally.As the non-profit saves for the school, they will donate funds along the way to schools in the U.S., and to partnerships with schools abroad.
“We’ll start by helping out schools that are already established,” said his mother, who supported her son in the founding of the non-profit.
In addition to collecting basic school supplies, Patel is researching schools in urban areas in the state, including Hartford and Waterbury. He hopes to start by providing internet access and computers to any schools in these areas that are lacking in the technology department.
From there, they will continue to expand their reach to schools across the nation and globe.
Patel is currently looking at one school in India and two schools in Africa, for a potential partnership with Kingswood Oxford. He hopes to provide students in an underserved area overseas with the technology needed to have a digital pen-pal here in Connecticut.
Patel thinks that if students in India or Africa can communicate with his classmates over Skype, they can offer each other tutoring, and peer support, and that it might inspire his classmates to give back to those less fortunate. He hopes he can help students everywhere become “up to speed” with their peers at schools such as his.
Patel’s mother said that unlike most, it is often difficult to convince her teenage son to buy a new toy or game.
“He feels guilty spending money on frivolous things like games,” said Alpa Patel, who said she and her husband, Alkesh, have always tried to instill gratitude and humility in their children.
Having immigrated from India in their childhoods, Patel’s parents both work in Southington as doctors specializing in pediatrics and internal medicine.
“Nothing you see came easily,” Alpa Patel said she often tells her son, sharing stories of childhood homes in India with no running water and crumbling foundations.
While he dedicates the majority of his free time to producing multimedia videos for Planting Pencils, planning fundraisers, and updating the non-profits’ social media accounts, Patel still keeps busy doing what he can for the students he wishes to help.
Just last month, Patel sent an email to all his family members asking that they donate to Planting Pencils as a “Christmas Challenge.”
Rather than receiving any gifts for Christmas, the 13-year-old put $1, 500 in the Planting Pencils fund.
Locally, he is planning several fundraisers in the upcoming months and already collecting baskets filled with school supplies.
On Feb. 2, Zing Fitness will be offering a fundraiser, with all proceeds going directly to Planting Pencils.
The Southington studio will be hosting a 45-minute Zumba class at Kennedy Middle School. The class will begin at 6p.m., with an admission fee od $10 per person, and $20 per family.
For the Spring, Patel is planning two fair-style fundraisers in Southington and West Hartford, where he hopes to gather local business owners and artists in an effort to raise more funds for educational supplies.
More information about Planting Pencils can be found at www.plantingpencils.org.