Aug. 15 was Naomi Patel's first day back at school.

But in June, the New Albany High School senior visited a school very different from her own -- a 10-by-8-foot room built for about 50 students taught by one teacher.

The 17-year-old had traveled with her parents to the Indian village of Mahisagar, Gujarat, to deliver 50 packages of school supplies prepared by Patel and other members of the high school's Key Club, a student organization that serves the community via student-led service projects, according to its website.

The trip also was part of her senior-seminar project. Senior seminar is a New Albany High School graduation requirement in which students research an idea and create a product or complete a project; they must document 80 hours of work.

When she arrived in Mahisagar, Patel said, the village's children, leaders and priests were lined up, playing Indian drums to welcome her and her family.

"It was a pretty special experience," she said.

Patel's delivery of school supplies was the culmination of a project that began her junior year of high school.

Patel said she had suggested that she and other Key Club members work with Ekal Vidyalaya, a nonprofit organization that helps provide education to underprivileged children in rural India.

Patel, the Key Club president this year, said she was familiar with the organization because her parents, Indian immigrants Bhadresh and Hema, donate to the group annually.

To help out the organization, Patel and other students in the 300-member Key Club donated school supplies to create packages of notebooks, coloring books, colored pencils, markers and pencils, Patel said. The students also wrote notes to students in India, she said.

The trip to India was not a first for her; she said she had visited about every four years with her family. She also used the journey for her senior-seminar project, which focused on building a stronger foundation in her religion.

As part of that project, Patel said, she traveled to the Himalayas to be mentored by Hindu priests.

While there, she and her parents were able to drive three hours to the village to deliver the school supplies, she said.

"It was a pretty special experience," she said.

Patel said she wanted to choose a school near the city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, because that is where her family is from and where she was staying. Mahisagar was chosen by Ekal Vidyalaya, she said.

The school to which she delivered the supplies was attended by children ages 3 to 11, Patel said. They are taught by a single teacher, who received a 12th-grade education and instructs them in multiple subjects.

Patel said she would be able to keep in touch with the school through an Ekal Vidyalaya representative.

She said her trip was a way to give back all that her parents had invested in her.

"They were able to do so much with what little they had," she said.

Ritika Sunkara, a 17-year-old New Albany senior and bulletin editor for the Key Club, said her parents and family are from India, as well.

Like Patel, Sunkara visits India occasionally.

"... I see the poverty that some people have to face and it's really heartbreaking," she said.

Sunkara said she was happy knowing the school-supply packages were helping children get a good education that could help them attain their goals.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

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