Neha Venkatesh, founder of Scholarships Without Borders.
The blistering heat pierced through my thin cotton kurti. Speeding rickshaws kicked up the gravel and dust. Stepping out from the comfort of my grandparent’s home, I walked into the streets of Shimoga, in Karnataka, India. The air smelled so different, yet so familiar. As I watched the bustling little town come to life, my eyes were drawn to a group of children on their way to school. With their bare feet kicking up dust, they trudged through the street dressed in rags with a book in hand. This indelible image was scorched into my memory, writes Neha Venkatesh, founder of Scholarships Without Borders. – @Siliconeer #Siliconeer #NehaVenkatesh @NehaVenkatesh #ScholarshipsWithoutBorders @ScholarshipsWithoutBorders #2017CokeScholars #Education #Children
Even when I returned back home, I kept asking myself – What could do I do to help? As a student, I understand the importance of recognizing and acknowledging academic talent.
It was at our school’s Awards Night that I realized the destruction that this lack of recognition can cause. Despite their hard work, some of my friends were not recognized. That’s when it dawned on me that there are kids around the world, not being recognized for their achievements. Without recognition, dreams begin to fade and children start to give up on their future. They start believing that they are not good enough.
Using money I received from my high school scholarship, I decided to donate uniforms and school supplies to the same children I had seen in India. I never realized that this single action could have such an immense impact on someone’s life.
Just a few days later, the teacher contacted me, explaining that she that these children had never owned a pair of shoes. She joyously and vividly explained that when she took them to a shoe store, they reminded her of kids in a candy shop. This left a profound impression on me, leading to the birth of Scholarships Without Borders, my non-profit charity that focuses on helping children around the world. Through crowdsourcing, I raise funds to help give kids the materials for a successful education.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to expand my outreach to Europe. With the help of my school director, I was put in contact with thousands of Salesian institutions around the world.
A halfway home in Valencia, Spain caught my attention. When the manager explained the stories of each of the kids, it brought tears to my eyes and I knew I had to help. That summer, during our family vacation to Spain, I traveled down to Valencia, and donated sports equipment and shoes to the deserving children.
Although the language barrier proved to be a challenge, my high school Spanish came in handy. I hit a few bumps while purchasing and shipping the materials in a different country and at times, I wondered if all the work was worth it. Whenever I felt like giving up, the children’s inspiring stories of perseverance and strength kept me going. I donated a portable amplifier for the school’s sound system and shelving units to a school in Cundinamarca, Colombia, South America. These shelving units kept the students’ backpacks from soaking in the rain.
This summer, I merged my passions for community service and computer science during my Cybersecurity camp at UC Berkeley where I designed, coded and built a butane gas sensor. With this device, homes and communities are able to detect and prevent the calamities of poisonous gas emission. In the future, I hope to expand my outreach through mass-production of my prototype and distributing them to developing countries, like India.
In four years, I have been able to help hundreds of children in India, Colombia, Spain and the U.S. Every year in my own neighborhood, I donate over 100 backpacks filled with school supplies to elementary schools and give out gifts to children at Project Santa, my high school’s annual event for local underprivileged students.
If I can touch the hearts of hundreds of children in such a short period, I can only imagine how much I can accomplish in my lifetime.
I have learned that sometimes even the simplest thing, like a pair of shoes, can make a lasting impression on a child.
As a woman aspiring to be in the tech industry, it is my dream to create a philanthropic tech start-up. My vision is to create an entity that integrates the missions of companies like Skoll and Theranos, but also focuses on the goal of developing simple and affordable smart tools. At times, it feels like society emphasizes more on creating technology only for the sake of technology, rather than utilizing resources to change someone’s life.
The Coca-Cola Scholarship is an achievement-based scholarship awarded to graduating high school seniors. Students are recognized for their capacity to lead and serve, as well as their commitment to making a significant impact on their schools and communities.
This year, only 1,914 Semifinalists were chosen from over 100,000 applicants. Coca-Cola awards 150 students every year a $20,000 scholarship. After the initial application, 1,914 students were chosen from the whopping 100,000 applicants to become Semifinalists for the Coke Scholarships.
Semifinalists were then asked to write additional essays. From there, only 250 students proceeded to the next round, which consisted of interviews. After the interviews, 150 were chosen. The Coca-Cola Scholars will be flown out to Atlanta for the Coca-Cola Scholars Weekend. Scholars Weekend is an all-expense-paid trip for the scholars in late April.
For more information on my non-profit charity, please visit my Web site www.scholarshipswithoutborders.com