Planting Pencils: Middle School Student Sows Seeds of Education

Ishaan Patel
8th-Grade Student, Southington, CT, USA

 Ishaan Patel of Southington is the founder of Planting Pencils, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to providing school supplies to underserved children around the world, particularly in South Asia. 

Ishaan Patel of Southington is the founder of Planting Pencils, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to providing school supplies to underserved children around the world, particularly in South Asia. 

I am 13-year-old Ishaan Patel. Having emigrated from India in their childhoods, my parents both work in Connecticut as doctors specializing in pediatrics and internal medicine. They have always told me and my sister that nothing we see came easily. My mother often shares stories of children in India who live in homes with no running water and crumbling foundations. She has always encouraged us to help others.

Two years ago, my aunt, Hema Shah, volunteered to teach impoverished children in Jaipur, India. Hema shared stories about children who were eager to learn, but lacked the basic tools they needed to do their work. She showed me pictures and told me stories about underfunded schools. The students attended class with no desks, no pencils, and no books. I was amazed and thought about all of the things available in my school. At the private school I attend (Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford, Connecticut), lessons are taught on smart boards and assignments are completed on laptops. When I saw the pictures from India, I wanted to do something to help. She asked me and my friends to donate school supplies. She described her students’ joy and delight when they received something as simple as a pencil.

That’s when I decided to create a new charity called Planting Pencils. The charity will raise money and collect school supplies for underserved and underfunded schools in the United States and around the world. We are the next generation and I see it as the job of privileged students to help those who are not as privileged.

After doing some research, I found that less than 2% of humanitarian aid goes toward education. More than 700 million adults in the world are illiterate and do not have the skills or awareness to improve the living conditions for themselves or their family. According to a 2014 United Nations Report, 57 million children around the globe do not even have access to a school.

My parents helped me submit a 501c3 IRS application and create a website. I was able to establish a permanent collection site at a Staples store in my town to ensure steady donations of pencils, pens, crayons, rulers, used calculators and computers, and books. ReBoot Computers in my home town agreed to collect and refurbish donated old computers so we can give them to students who cannot afford to buy their own new ones. In honor of Read Across America Day on March 2nd, we delivered the charity’s first donations to two non-profit schools in Hartford, Connecticut. 

On February 5, 2016, I was recognized and honored for my efforts by the Milan Cultural Organization at the Republic Day Celebration held at the Connecticut Legislative Office building in Hartford. Additionally, the Syracuse University Graduate Student organization chose Planting Pencils as the beneficiary of its annual weekend fundraising MBA Olympic games from April 1-3, 2016. I served as a guest judge for the competition and spoke at the event dinner. The university placed supply collection bins around campus.

On May 22, 2016, my family helped me plan the first Planting Pencils Family Fundraiser event. A local radio station came with their van to play music. Families enjoyed an afternoon of activities and donated over $1,000 and enough school supplies to completely fill a police car.

 Volunteer teacher Hema Shah photographed the students she taught in a classroom in Jaipur, India, that lacked basic school supplies.

Volunteer teacher Hema Shah photographed the students she taught in a classroom in Jaipur, India, that lacked basic school supplies.

I know that in some areas of India, problems such as malnutrition and lack of clean water prevent children from learning. One day, I hope to build a school in India, where I plan to supply clean water for showering and drinking, and to serve students breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I believe that if students are healthy and comfortable, they will benefit even more from the internet access and computers I plan to provide for them. If we provide food and water in the schools, students wouldn’t have to worry about those needs during school or back at home. If people are educated, they’ll be able to be self-sufficient.

I am currently planning a trip to a school in India to explore a potential partnership with my school in Connecticut. I hope to provide the students with the technology needed to have digital pen-pals in Connecticut. I think that if students in India can communicate with my classmates over Skype, we can offer each other tutoring and peer support. I also think it might inspire my classmates to give back to those less fortunate. I hope I can help students everywhere become “up to speed” with their peers at schools such as mine.

Education for every child would mean a brighter future for the world as a whole. It is my belief that we can make a difference—one pencil, one book, one child at a time.

Planting Pencils is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to raising awareness and collecting school supplies to improve access to education in underserved parts of the world. The goal of the charity is to use the seed of education to grow empowered children. The founder believes that education gives a person power; power to change his or her destiny, power to protect one’s family, power to enlighten, power to fight poverty and hunger, and power to fight hatred and bigotry. For more information or to donate, visit www.PlantingPencils.org. Follow us on https://www.facebook.com/PlantingPencils/ or https://twitter.com/plantingpencils.