Students attack cycle of poverty

Student-run nonprofit Any Child Anywhere’s international dinner featuring belly dancers and other performers raised $1,400 last year for underprivileged children around the world.

Eighteen-year-old Mahvash Husain isn't afraid to dream big. After all, that's what gave her father the courage to leave his native India with $100 in his pocket and come to America -- a dream that's since carried him to become an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Mahvash, too, was born in India and lived there with her family for three years before coming to America. Return trips home over the years have given her insight into not only the value of education but also the childhood poverty that stops many from reaching the same heights as her father.

Thanks to those roots, Mahvash said she now has a dream of her own: to do something about the poverty.

"From the beginning, my parents have always tried to show me how fortunate I am," Mahvash said. "Even if you have a good amount of stuff, you have take time to give back to those in need. Between the two of my parents, I really believe in the American dream and that people can do what they want with their lives here."

"Education is the beginning to breaking the cycle of poverty. This is such a large problem, but if I could make a small difference it would be amazing," she said.

In 2010, with the help of her classmates at Academic Magnet High School, Mahvash created REACH -- a club that promotes social change both here and abroad. Through the dedication of its members, REACH has grown to become a certified and student-run nonprofit called Any Child Anywhere.

Mahvash said her desire to pursue nonprofit status was largely fueled by the realization that despite how passionate she was, she would not be in high school forever. This way she can continue to actively participate in the organization even while she's away at college.

Opportunity struck as fellow classmate Jacob Sterling, 16, happened to be looking for a direction for his own nonprofit, Climbing Jacob's Ladder.

"Mahvash approached me and my mother to learn how to create a nonprofit," Jacob said. "At the time, we were looking for something because we didn't want the work we put in to go to waste."

Jacob said his mother had grown up underprivileged in South America.

"She ended up attending a very prestigious school there, which allowed her to come to this country and succeed. So, because of her I was deeply interested," Jacob said.

At first Mahvash's organization focused on sponsoring schools in India, but it has broadened its reach to other poverty-affected areas in Africa and South America. The students have raised thousands of dollars through initiatives, such as the Pulsara Project benefiting Nicaragua and their own unique events.

Any Child Anywhere will hold one of its largest fundraisers tonight -- an international dinner and show. Last year's event showcased aspects of the Indian culture, such as belly dancing and henna tattoos, and raised $1,400.

The students hope to raise even more this year, and are likely to do so after picking up several community sponsors, including State Farm, Basil, Whole Foods and Cupcake.

"We're taking on a lot of things that mostly adult organizations would do, not high school," member Romil Sharma said. "We have large-scale projects because we have this large-scale view of what we're trying to do. Plus, we go to Academic Magnet so we all work really hard."

Like Mahvash, Romil's family is also from India, which has given him the opportunity to see the poverty firsthand.

"I've been really passionate about helping the schools there," Romil said. "I've seen how they take the children off the streets and not only give them education, but teach them social skills that they couldn't get anywhere else. A lot of them would be begging and stealing, but now they have long-term goals."

Proceeds from the dinner will fund scholarships for children in third-world countries.