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High School Student Wins Philanthropy Award for Teaching English to Students in India

February 6, 2006

(Feb. 6, 2006) Vasanth Kuppuswamy, currently a 16-year-old in the tenth grade at Academic Magnet High School in Charleston, S.C., will be awarded the 2006 William R. Simms Award for Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy, Ages 5-17, by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) during the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in April.

Kuppuswamy has been voluntarily teaching English to children in the village schools of Maganoorpatti, Tamil Nadu, in India for the past several years.

“Vasanth’s story illustrates the important role youth can and does play in philanthropy worldwide,” says Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, AFP president and CEO. “He has truly embraced the cause of educating youth in India and has become a tireless advocate on their behalf. Nonprofits need the enthusiasm and energy that young people bring to the philanthropic process.”

Kuppuswamy first began teaching the children when he was 12 years. However, when he started, he was told by the school principal there that he was wasting his time as the children would grow up to be nothing more than shepherds, servants or farm hands. Believing the children could aspire to more, he told them that he believed in them and they would be destined for greater things.

Two and a half years later, Kuppuswamy began speaking to classes of children about his teaching in India and challenged them to select a project to work on and support. His words had such a profound effect on the students that within weeks, they had established an account at a local bank and had donated money for the schools in India. His work inspired a local newspaper to publish two articles about the schools, and four more schools and two Rotary Clubs joined the campaign. When he left for India that summer, he carried $8,000 with him to help the students.

When Kuppuswamy arrived in India, he oversaw the ordering and provision of supplies for the students. He ordered all of the necessary parts to build sturdy benches (they had been sitting on cement floors) and equipment for a science lab. He also paid for every student’s school fees for the year.

Kuppuswamy’s efforts were quickly noticed. Government leaders and school officials followed his work, and local newspaper reporters covered the story. By the summer’s end, government officials had donated $18,000, and a government minister had not only commended his efforts, but also talked about replicating the project elsewhere in Tamil Nadu.

But the impact of the student’s work is being felt not just in India, but in Charleston as well. When he returned to the United States, he gave presentations to local schools (more than 1,500 students) and Rotary Clubs that had supported him, showing them “before” and “after” slides of the Tamil Nadu project. He invited donors to a downtown venue to see his photos and hear his story. At every engagement, he asks, “What are you doing to better your community?”

The students in Charleston have responded directly to Kuppuswamy’s challenge. They have raised and continue to raise money and bring in clothing to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. They are sponsoring a college student who will ride his bike across the United States to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity. These and other initiatives were the direct result of Kuppuswamy’s inspiring words.

Kuppuswamy’s work for the schools in India also continues. Recently, the government has approved funding for a state of the art computer lab at the high school. With the grant money, he plans to better the water situation, buy more computers and improve the athletic fields of the high school. With any left over money he wants to help nearby elementary schools which ultimately feed into the high school.

In the words of one of Kuppuswamy’s teachers: “Vasanth did not merely initiate and lead a fundraiser to India, he inspired a generation of youth to go out and help others for the rest of their lives. Vasanth taught us that each individual can indeed change the world. What a valuable lesson to teach children. And adults.”

To attend the AFP Awards for Philanthropy banquet or to register for the AFP International Conference on Fundraising, please visit the AFP conference website.

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