At 16, Anjali Bhatia founded a student organization to raise awareness of global issues. Today that organization, Discover Worlds, is building relationships between American students and Rwandans orphans. VOA's Susan Logue has a profile of this remarkable young woman.
Now 19 and a student at Duke University, Anjali Bhatia was recently honored as the youngest of six Americans to receive the first National Awards for Citizen Diplomacy last month.
The organization she founded, Discover Worlds, now has 57 chapters in American high schools and universities, as well as one in Rwanda, which has become the focus of the organization's efforts.
Bhatia explains that many of the students active with Discover Worlds were focused on poverty and genocide as issues of concern.
"So we decided to pick Rwanda, because of the genocide that happened and the current state of about one fourth of the country (being) in extreme poverty."
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Anjali Bhatia grew up in the northeastern U.S. state of New Jersey, but she was a world traveler by the age of four, and exposed to many cultures. By the age of nine she was organizing fundraisers in her school to donate money to the poor in India, where her grandparents still live.
Bhatia says she isn't unique in her motivation to help others, but she concedes she might be better informed than many of her peers. "Oftentimes, students are characterized as being apathetic," she says, "but in actuality, students just don't know much about these issues and they don't have a way to get involved." Bhatia says when she was giving presentations, and persuaded students they could have a significant impact "a lot of students naturally wanted to get involved."
Unfortunately, she says, adults were not as enthusiastic about her efforts. "A student could start a club and they would be praised for that," she says. "But a lot of times adults don't think past that and think that a student isn't going to just be a leader tomorrow, and make differences tomorrow, but a student can make differences today."
Bhatia says her parents were not among those who questioned her potential as a leader. "They were right behind me, giving me ideas, helping me in any way," she says, "not only with helping me with their knowledge and experience and contacts, but in general, just wanting to be there for me."
Since its inception three years ago, Discover Worlds has gone from an organization focused on raising awareness to one that's helping students to take action. Last summer, Bhatia visited Rwanda to set up programs that connect students there with American students through a network of sister schools and orphan sponsorships.
Bhatia says Discover Worlds' goal for this year is to raise enough money to sponsor 250 children who lost their parents to the Rwandan genocide or to AIDS. The sponsorships would pay for the children's education and healthcare.
Bhatia says, because Rwandan orphans live in communities of child-headed households, with an older orphan caring for three or four younger children, "when we get one orphan sponsored for just $300 a year, this is actually helping the entire community."
Bhatia plans to travel to India this summer to help launch a Discover Worlds' program in that country. "I'm going to Calcutta and hopefully we can get a base there, and show Indian students how they can make the difference with the poverty they see everyday." She says she wants Indian students to learn that "they can be leaders of change for their own country."
Because Discover Worlds is strictly student-run, Bhatia anticipates leaving the organization she created when she finishes her university studies. Although she doesn't have any specific plans yet, she says she will remain involved in global issues, and notes she has "been looking a lot into micro-lending and using business solutions to end rural poverty."
Bhatia is currently studying a field called "neuro-economics," which applies brain science and psychology to economic concepts such as game theory and altruism, to better understand human behavior in the marketplace. For Anjali Bhatia, it's an innovative path toward her goal of making the world a better place.