Smitha Ramakrishna got a cold, hard reality check a few years ago when she visited her grandparents in India and rode past the outskirts of a city.
She saw slums and, living in them, children her age or younger.
“That’s when I got to thinking there’s such a big difference between how they live and how I live,” said Smitha, 15, a sophomore at Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School. “I saw this line of 30 kids just in front of this can of water. There were no cups or anything. They had to bend over to get it. And it definitely was not clean.”
She thought of her home in Arizona, where water flows freely even in the desert, and it spurred her to action — both locally and abroad.
Soon after, she founded a kids chapter of Asha for Education, a global nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of India’s poor children. Locally, her club holds annual walk-a-thons, raising $5,400 so far. The money has gone to three sites — one outside Delhi, India’s capital, and two in the southern city of Bangalore, where her parents were born.
Her efforts have provided clean drinking water to about 3,000 children and free meals to many others.
Smitha has taken part in numerous international conferences, put on by groups like the United Nations, that focus on environmental problems.
She has become an activist locally, too. In 2005, she founded Arizona Water Activists Karing for the Environment, or AWAKE. Members go to churches, schools and community events to encourage people to conserve water.
“As Arizonans, we’ve been in a drought … but the water still comes out of the tap, so who notices? We’re trying to teach kids because this is basically going to affect us more than our parents,” she said.
Outside of her activism, Smitha also excels in school and is a synchronized swimmer. She has an internship at the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute, where she is researching fuel cells generated by microorganisms.
Science, research, politics, activism — how will she decide what to do for a living?
“I don’t know,” she said, laughing. “Maybe I’ll just have to run for president.”
School: Corona del Sol High School
Parents: B.L. and Pushpa Ramakrishna
• President’s Environmental Youth Award by the Environmental Protection Agency
• Volvo Adventure Award finalist
• Member of the Arizona Governor’s Youth Commission
• 2006 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes