Children shouldn’t be penalized because of where they were born.
That’s the philosophy that keeps 16-year-old Sumant Iyer of Thousand Oaksactive in an educational nonprofit organization focused on schooling kids who live in remote tribal villages throughout India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Sumant first became involved with The Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (www.ekal.org) when he was in elementary school by attending functions with his father, Sumesh, who is also an active volunteer in the group.
“I’ve always liked technology, so I’d run the projector and make sure the PowerPoint presentation was ready,” he said.
Sumant spent two weeks this summer working on a mapping project with Ekal and Google. Their object was to gather the coordinates of 100 of Ekal’s 54,000 sponsored schools so their locations can be identified on Google Maps.
“We found a lot of the donors from the United States didn’t understand what these schools are. Sometimes it’s just a gathering under a tree. . . . We set out to make this Google Maps project to let the donors see where the schools are,” he said.
Working with Android phones to gather coordinates, the team Sumant was with was able to visit 10 schools. One of the difficulties in mapping the schools is the distance between the locations, not to mention the rough terrain.
Sometimes the only way to get to the villages is by motorbike or bicycle, according to Ranjani Saigal, Ekal Vidyalaya executive director.
“We think it’s important for the villagers to know about the donors and the donors to know about the villagers, but it’s not like these villages even have a postal address.
“ They e ver ver y remote. . . . y,Sumantar came up with the idea to add them to Google Maps as a way to start sharing information,” Saigal said.
The more people who know about Ekal’s efforts, the more likely they are to donate and help the children, he added.
To that end, the 50 Ekal volunteers working on the mapping project this summer in India also collected information about the students themselves and the villages in which they live.
Information about the general health of villagers and even the number of toilets in a village was collected, Saigal said.
Sumant gathered statistics regarding how many students move on to higher education and what they end up doing after school.
His own plans are to complete his senior year at Westlake High School, where he’s active in Future Business Leaders of America, the robotics club and tennis team, and then study engineering in college.
He recently visited the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., to discuss his efforts and will represent the Los Angeles chapter of Ekal Vidyalaya at the organization’s national conference in Cincinnati in October. There, he’ll present a detailed status report for the mapping project.
The organization hopes to have 5,000 to 10,000 schools online by May.