Harrison High School junior Rajan Mehra has taken on the task of teaching kids the importance of making informed decisions in their community and beyond.
His mission is to preach volunteerism and activism to young people at a time where many feel youths are not as engaged as they should be. Mehra, 17, started a program called the Civics Workshop at the high school last fall to fulfill the 150 hours of community service required by the International Baccalaureate program.
“If you have the will to get involved, it doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 100 years old, there is nothing stopping you.”– Rajan Mehra
At first, Mehra struggled to appeal to the 10-13 year old demographic, receiving only a small portion of the participation he hoped for. But he soon discovered that treating his subjects as if they weren’t 10-13 years old fostered the back-and-forth discussion he had wanted.
“Kids are a lot smarter than people think… I feel when kids are given the chance to learn, nine out of 10 times they’ll seize it,” Mehra said. The message itself may be more effective when children look at the speaker of someone closer to their own age as well.
After giving a lecture to the Scouts of Rye Troop 2 last December, Mehra received a letter from Scoutmaster William Haigney. “It was very informative, lively and kept the attention of the scouts—which is no mean feat, given the ages involved were between 11 and 16,” Haigney said, “It was the perfect addition to our work on the Citizenship in the Community merit badge.”
It wasn’t until Feb. 22 that Mehra faced his biggest challenge, flying out to New Delhi, India where he spoke to hundreds of teenagers. His parents were born in India and the family was abroad with relatives, which fit perfectly with the speaking engagement.
“Before my presentation, I thought, ‘what can I them them about their country that they aren’t already aware of?'” he said.
At the Bal Bharati School, Mehra addressed an auditorium filled with over 350 students between 14-16 years old. Discussing an issue of specific importance to his audience, Mehra found the young minds eager to hear some of his ideas on combating corruption through civilized grassroots action.
“We take for granted all our technology and social media that helped drive the Arab Spring and played a key role in toppling autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya,” Mehra said. “With 1.3 billion people in India, it isn’t that hard to achieve change.” During the trip to India, his mother, Sona Mehra, watched the reactions of some of the teens participating. “He has come such a long way,” Sona Mehra said. “He had wanted to reach out for some time before the IB program, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.”
Mehra approached the Harrison-Mamaroneck Rotary Club in order to fund a website for the Civics Workshop.
“Hopefully, the school will let us mentor the next batch of IB students to ensure the continuity of our programs,” Mehra said. “I don’t want to see it die after college.”
Although Mehra does not anticipate a need for an internal structure, he said he will approach the need for expansion realistically and will perhaps be lucky enough to find a few kids eager to learn and continue the workshop.
And Mehra, who will begin his college application process upon entering high school as a senior this fall, said he will give much thought about schools that offer programs in public policy.
“Whatever I wind up doing, it won’t be for the paycheck,” Mehra said. “It’s not about the money or comfort, I want to do something more significant.”
From talking to 150 Boy Scouts in Rye to his international venture at the Bal Bharati School in India, Mehra has addressed more crowds than many people that are years his senior.
He feels proud of his accomplishments over the past year and looks forward to the next. “If you have the will to get involved, it doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 100 years old, there is nothing stopping you.”