Started as an initiative to distribute books to the underprivileged children, the past year has seen Orange Leaf take on 13 different projects.

A school reporter, social entrepreneur, artist and a whizkid. This is Varsha Gandikota, a 17-year-old girl who studies at Chinmaya Vidyalaya in Hyderabad. Varsha plays many roles and with ease. A polymath, her tryst with writing began in Std. VIII when she was chosen as a school reporter.

Early initiatives

Since then, Varsha has been involved in many issues and extended her helping hand. Varsha started AWC (Animal Welfare Club) in her school, Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan. She explains how shocked she was to visit the PETA Web site and realise the number of issues affecting animals.

“I grew into an animal activist soon after starting with turning vegetarian,” she says, emphatically. With a motive to bring change and encourage her peers to voice change, Varsha founded the Orange Leaf in her Std. XI. Varsha expresses “I strongly believe that students of my age should take up such projects because we are infinitely optimistic. We have, what you'd call, the adrenaline rush. I wanted to start an organisation to capitalise on that drive.”

Under Orange Leaf, Varsha and her friends drive the Open Books Campaign. They collect books from different schools and distribute them among the disadvantaged students.

They also read stories to the children at orphanages. Apart from Animal Welfare and Education, Orange Leaf also concentrates on Environment and Health. It has branches in Hyderabad and Chennai.

So far, Orange Leaf has undertaken 13 projects in the course of one year—Introduction of Libraries in three children's homes, Weekly English and Computer training to underprivileged children, cleanliness drives, planting campaigns, eco-friendly celebration of Indian festivals, Christmas gifts and celebration for underprivileged children and volunteering at animal shelter.

Many laurels

For her many initiatives, Varsha had been a recipient of many awards including R.Rangamma Award for social service and Letter of Appreciation from Petroleum Conservation Research Association, Govt. of India.

Recently, Varsha has been to Geneva when she won the South Asia competition of Horlicks Whizkid and was invited to the UN Conference. Her journey to being a whiz kid not only displays her leadership and entrepreneur skills but also included many other skills which included oratory, literary and fine arts.

After a series of debates, group discussions, she was declared the winner among over 40 contestants from across the subcontinent. And, Varsha never misses her regular school work or activities. She has been the head girl at Chinmaya Vidyalaya and also has scored extremely well in her exams.

Ask her how she manages such voluminous activities, endeavours and studies, she says ““School is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Evenings are mostly ‘me time'. I watch my favourite sitcoms, read or paint. Even when there isn't any work, I create something.

Be it new projects at school or fests or a new Orange Leaf program, there's always something new you can launch. To be honest, it isn't very hard. We have a lot of time on our hands; it all depends on how we prioritise. “She adds a reminder to her peers “Don't ask yourself what the school has given you, but what you have given back to the school or to the community you live in.”

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