A group of six West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North students thought up a charity initiative last summer that would bring educational opportunities to underprivileged students through global connections and fundraising opportunities—that idea has turned into a reality, as efforts continue despite the ongoing pandemic.

The students all share a unique drive towards bettering education for children abroad through partnerships with established organizations as well as chapters of their foundation in areas including India, Yemen, Cameroon and East Africa.

The founders, sophomores Rian Sengupta, Yash Abhyankar, Aarush Sharma, Abhinav Mukherjee, Akshat Agarwal and freshman Ishan Vanjara, have witnessed India’s education system and its failings individually through family ties and travel to the country.

“I always knew I wanted to do something to give back to the community in the education field, because I originally moved from India to the United States in like eighth grade, so I had a lot of exposure to underprivileged children and people who didn’t have the same opportunity with education,” said Aarush Sharma, executive director.

Apollo Foundation founders discuss business on a video conference call. Pictured, clockwise from top left, are Aarush Sharma, Akshat Agarwal, Rian Sengupta, Yash Abhyankar, Ishan Vanjara and Abhinav Mukherjee.

The Apollo Foundation was officially formed by the students last September and has been putting thought to action since the start of 2020.

The first steps for the new nonprofit have been focused on specific goals: fundraising event planning, solidifying initiatives to dedicate time and funds towards and organizing the internal structure of the foundation.

The group officially received its 501(c)3 nonprofit status July 13 after applying a couple months prior. They were already under tax-exempt status as of late May, which helps with the fundraising aspect of the organization. For instance, companies and sponsors may be more willing to donate to an organization that went through the process of achieving both statuses.

Their first major fundraising event will be held Aug. 14 through Aug. 16. The entrepreneurship hackathon hosted by the Apollo Foundation, EduSolve I, will have two competition categories separated by age. The sub-junior category is for ages 10 to 13. The junior category is for ages 14 to 18.

This hackathon has been in the making for months.

First place will receive $500 along with a certificate from sponsors, a chance to get featured on the Apollo Foundation’s website and a video-call with CEO of Presien and former robotics professor at Stanford University Nathan Kirchner, Ph.D. Second place will receive $250 along with a certificate from sponsors and a feature on the EduSolve website. The third-place winner will receive $100 along with a feature on the EduSolve website.

Entry is free and sign up for the hackathon is available on the foundation’s website.

The goal of this event is meant to act as a way to form local partnerships and find sponsors to help with the foundation’s cause.

The Apollo Foundation has a GoFundMe page as well as a bank account, set up by one of the founder’s parents for outside donations from some of the parents’ companies and personal checks from family and friends.

Only the GoFundMe donations are visible to the public at this time. Collectively between the GoFundMe and bank account, the foundation had raised around $1,100 as of July 14. The fundraising goal for the year is set at $10,000.

All funds are intended to go towards the nonprofit’s initiatives. No money has been disbursed yet, as the foundation continues to fine-tune how it will divide the donations among its many initiatives.

“Mostly we want to make sure that all our initiatives are impacted as much as we can and make sure that we make a mark on the world that education for all is very important,” executive director and freshman Ishan Vanjara said.

Monetary donations are not the only method of help that the foundation aims to give to its partnered organizations.

Partnerships with the Roshni Learning Center, Asante Africa Foundation, Area9 Lyceum and the Taleem Doo Foundation all aim to fund and educate impoverished students around the world.

“My primary goal is to create an organization that has the ability to fund and give certain materials to kids all over the world,” treasurer Abhinav Mukherjee said. 

“We are not only just getting money and books, but we’re also creating like curriculums and teaching them more modern new skills like STEM technology stuff, which is really helpful because the world is changing in a much more rapid pace,” he said. “And by teaching them stuff like robotics, and coding, and giving them curriculums, we can focus our education on what really matters.”

The foundation chose to focus on initiatives in India, Cameroon, the Middle East and East Africa through their partnerships and chapters. In India, the foundation aims to help fund the Bagiya School in Gurgaon, a city in northern India. The foundation also looks to support schools in Mumbai, India, that are battling COVID-19.

The Cameroon initiative looks to incorporate education and essential materials in the French regions and rural settlements of Cameroon.

The initiative in the Middle East, specifically Yemen, is working off of the “Inspired Education Initiative” strategy, which includes improving access to quality education and strengthening the protective environment for impoverished students.

The East Africa initiative, in collaboration with the Asante Africa Foundation and Area9 Lyceum, incorporates STEM, robotics and coding in schools in Kenya.

Six outreach directors have been recently named on the foundation’s website, all specializing in a location in need and an academic area of interest.

By opening chapters of the organization around the country and internationally, the group has been successful in securing trusting relationships with those interested in the foundation’s mission.

The foundation is headed out of the High School North main chapter. There are about 15 chapters of the Apollo Foundation in locations ranging from Cameroon and India to Hawaii, Detroit and California. Several chapters are local to the New Jersey area as well.

One of the biggest chapters, with close to 35 members, is out of Gurgaon, India. Another highlighted chapter is in Philadelphia.

Many of the connections were possible through family and friends of the founders. Other first-time communications were held over social media. The foundation’s founders regularly communicate with the chapters through video-call or phone.

The six founders have been meeting remotely since the onset of the pandemic, utilizing Google platforms and Discord to discuss next moves and current initiatives for the foundation. Since the foundation hasn’t been named an official school club yet, the students are used to improvising where to hold their meetings. Before the pandemic, they would meet up at their local library.  

Although each founder holds a specific title, all major decisions are made collectively and unanimously. All six have decided to put their passion for community service and education into this project, in hopes that it will carry on.

“The plan is, I guess, throughout our high school careers to try to find people who are willing to take it on after we leave,” Akshat Agarwal said. “And so over time, we’re just planning on working on specializing on the schools that we’re working on now… And then ultimately, the goal is to start to work just as a board and have the next generation of high school students take this on and work on their own projects that they’re interested in.”