Anjali Bhatia, a student at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is one of six people chosen to receive the inaugural National Awards for Citizen Diplomacy.
Instituted by the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy, the awards recognize the honorees 'for inspiring others through their exemplary work as citizen diplomats and for promoting cultural understanding around the world.'
Anjali, 19, is the founder of Discover Worlds, an entirely student-run non-profit organization that aims to encourage and help student leaders across the world raise awareness on various issues of importance and make a difference in their own communities.
The youngest of those selected for the honor, she is recognized for her work on eradicating poverty in Rwanda by enabling orphans of genocide and youth affected by HIV/AIDS to stay in school. The winners will be honored at an awards ceremony at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, next month.
The awards recognize those who inspire others through exemplary work as citizen diplomats and for promoting cultural understanding around the world.
In addition to the award and national recognition, each honoree will give $5,000 in a cash donation to a non-profit organization of his/her choice.
Anjali, a resident of Kinnelon, New Jersey, plans to donate this money to Discover Worlds so that it can promote relations between the US and Rwanda.
With chapters in 12 states in the United States and an international chapter in Rwanda, Discover Worlds, founded in 2005, now works in training youth in communities to raise as leaders and make a difference with whatever their talents are.
In Rwanda, a group of 10 high school leaders were taught in leadership skills and now they are going into rural communities using acting and public speaking to raise awareness on HIV/AIDS, civic and human rights and nutrition -- the issues they saw as most pertinent.
Anjali has also worked to set up other programs in Rwanda such as 'Adopt a School' (sister schools between the US and Rwanda), 'Adopt an Orphan' (sponsoring the healthcare and education of orphans of genocide and HIV/AIDS) and "Adopt a Team" (setting up sister sports and dance teams for street children to get education).
'It is not only the right, but the responsibility of every American to be a citizen diplomat, of the highest quality, for our communities and our country,' said Harriet Mayor Fulbright, board member for the US Center for Citizen Diplomacy and the president of the J William and Harriet Fulbright Center.
'We are particularly proud to recognize Anjali Bhatia for winning the first-ever National Awards for Citizen Diplomacy. Anjali, through her various causes and programs, understands the need for citizen involvement in international relations. This award recognizes Anjali's efforts and highlights her national and international contributions.'
The Des Moines, Iowa-based non-profit organization established in 2006, promotes opportunity for all Americans to be citizen diplomats and affirms the value of citizen involvement in international relations.
"Students can do so much more than is usually expected of us' Anjali told rediff.com, adding, "Issues such as poverty and education are issues we can tackle at any age, instead of just waiting till we are adults."
"Children aren't just the leaders of the future; we can be the leaders now. I am so incredibly honored to have the opportunity to meet the other winners of the award in Washington, DC. I hope that other students see how much of a difference they can also make at a young age."
She said students could get involved in Discover Worlds (www.discoverworlds.org) by setting up their own chapters both in the US and abroad.
"I also hope to spread the idea of students making huge impacts on their community throughout India," Anjali said. "I cannot be more grateful to my parents for their continued support and to the DW executive board," she added.
A world traveler by the age of four, Anjali was exposed to many cultures in her formative years. At age six, while visiting her grandparents in India, Anjali recalls seeing children her own age begging on the streets instead of going to school. She remembers being ushered past poor patients to the front of a waiting room in an overcrowded doctor's office.
Although still a child, Anjali began confronting these inequities with her own acts of compassion, like organizing a school fundraiser at age nine, organizers of the award noted. She continued doing community service, capping her work by founding Discover Worlds when she was 16.
For the past three years, Discover Worlds has worked to motivate students to take action on issues they are passionate about. Its programs focus on education to eradicate poverty by providing college/university fees to enable orphans of genocide and affected by HIV/AIDS to stay in school.
'I have personally seen how the orphan sponsoring program in Rwanda can bud from just a donation to a full fledged friendship where students are able to connect from the US to Rwanda over hip hop artists and love for French fries,' said Matthew W Pease, a fellow student who nominated Anjali for the prize.
'I have also seen how the Discover Worlds chapter of Rwandan students has connected with Discover Worlds student leaders in the United States and they are able to share ideas on leadership, raising awareness, and more. These programs and friendships are due to Anjali's creativity and energetic persistence,' he said.
Discover Worlds does not just focus on public speaking and presentations but shows students how they can use dancing, singing, acting, writing, art and more to make statements on the causes they are passionate about.
At her high school in Kinnelon, Anjali was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, first president and co-founder of the Habitat for Humanity club in her town, lead lawyer and team captain on a Mock Trial, senior gold award winning Girl Scout, and the student liaison to the board of education.
She attended conferences on behalf of her school, including the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Conference. She continued to broaden her international experiences and knowledge by attending an international summer camp in Switzerland for three years and the prestigious New Jersey Governor's School of International Studies.
She graduated as valedictorian from Kinnelon High School and was awarded a full scholarship as a Robertson Scholar at Duke University. She spent her past summer engaged in service work in both New Orleans and Rwanda.
Anjali is studying neuroeconomics (a field applying neuroscience and psychology to further understand human's behavior in economic principles such as game theory and altruism) at Duke University.She divided her first Robertson summer between volunteering at a nursing home in New Orleans and working with orphans and setting up programs in Rwanda. At the age of 17, she toured schools in India (specifically, public schools in New Delhi) and two years later toured schools in Rwanda.