Montco High School senior uses technology to empower other young immigrants

    The 17-year-old Spring-Ford Area High School senior is founder of several nonprofits designed to close the education and technology gap.

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    (Courtesy of Vidya Shettar)

    (Courtesy of Vidya Shettar)

    “A good soul is a person who finds a problem and then they want to fix that problem by doing whatever they can,” said Sai Shettar, a senior at Spring-Ford Area High School in Royersford.

    Shettar, 17, has spent the past four years fixing problems in his community. The self-described tech lover runs the Philadelphia Chapter of World Computer Exchange (WCE). The Boston-based non-profit takes donated laptops, desktops, iPads, and other devices and refurbishes them. They outfit the technology with educational software and then ship them to those in need all over the world.

    (Courtesy of Vidya Shettar)

    “One of my main goals with this was to bridge the educational gap that some kids face,”  Sai said.

    Shettar got the idea after spending time in middle school volunteering for Team Children, a Philadelphia-based organization that distributes computers to families in distressed neighborhoods throughout the city. There, he learned how to refurbish laptops and install open source free educational software. He honed his skills when he launched WCE from his Montgomery County basement.

    (Courtesy of Vidya Shettar)

    “Our basement became his WCE headquarters,” Vidya Shettar, Sai’s mother, said.

    She nominated Sai for the Good Souls Project after watching him grow his efforts the past four years.

    “He was on the quieter side,” she said, “but he kind of opened up as a person and he has grown in his journey reaching out to strangers getting donations.”

    It took months for Sai to get his first batch of donated laptops, but soon they began pouring in. His family were the first volunteers — but once Sai got 100 laptops, he recruited others. So far, Sai said he’s refurbished more than 200 devices for shipment worldwide.

    Empowering Immigrant Youth

    The Shettar family immigrated to the U.S. about a decade ago. Originally from India, the family made a stop in the Middle East before landing in the U.S. — but the transition was tough. The family lived in hotels for months, and Sai missed time in school.

    “When I enrolled in a local school, I had to repeat the second grade because I had been out of school for three months,” recalls Sai.

    The experience stuck with Sai. Then, last year, he learned education interruption is a major issue among immigrant kids. A study from the American Educational Research Journal found that more than 10% of immigrant children arriving in U.S. schools have “gaps or interruptions in attending school.”  As a result, many of these young people end up roughly two grade levels behind their American-born peers.

    “I realize now that if I didn’t have to repeat second grade, I’d be in college right now,” Sai said.

    (Courtesy of Vidya Shettar)

    Sai decided he wanted to help immigrant youth in his community, so he launched Immigrants4Immigrants. The goal is to help newly-immigrated young people get up to speed in school. The effort started slow, but Sai recruited volunteers, and now they support more than a dozen youth by providing free tutoring sessions at the Phoenixville Public Library.

    “The word got out, and now the kids come,” he said, “So whether it be math, science, learning English,” said Sai, “The overall goal is just to help out with immigrant education.”

    An Inspiring Trip to India

    Belgaum is a city in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka. The Shettar family took a visit to their ancestral village near there. Before that time, Sai had heard stories about how his father grew up, but it didn’t really resonate.

    “I didn’t really think much of it before I went there,” said Sai. “I didn’t know it was as bad of a situation before I got to see it myself — it really opened my eyes.”

    (Courtesy of Vidya Shettar)

    Sai knew that his family benefited greatly from education. When he saw young people packed in classrooms, with little technology and few options to pursue their interests, he wanted to help.

    “It helped me realize that kids in other countries don’t have access to the stuff I have, so that’s what kind of inspired me,” said Sai.

    (Courtesy of Vidya Shettar)

    Sai offered a workshop during his visit and donated three laptops, with a desire to send more. When he got home, Sai launched, an online portal providing tech tutorials for young people who want to learn various types of computer coding.

    Using Technology to Empower Others

    “It doesn’t surprise me that he’s doing so much,” founder of Team Children, Robert Toperek said. “Many of our teenagers have gone on to make a difference in the world.”

    Team Children group has distributed more than 17,000 computers to families in need. Sai’s work with the group sparked his current effort with WCE. Toperek remembered Sai as a hardworking volunteer.

    “There’s so much grief in the world, so to have a teenager still in high school making a difference in his home country is amazing,” he said. “There’s nothing that can make me prouder.”

    Sai’s mother, Vidya, believes his work comes from the heart.

    “In Hinduism there is a concept of karma, like, ‘You do good karma.’ And it’s always been there,” she said. “I feel it somewhere relates to that good soul and it has to come from within and Sai, it’s in him, he’s done this for four years and has gone above and beyond and I know he’ll continue doing it.”

    Sai graduates in May. His ultimate dream is to create a business that will use technology to close the education gap and help people live their best lives. First, he wants to go to college, and hopes to keep WCE going while he’s there.

    “That’s why I created non-profits,” he said. “So whether it’s me or someone else who wants to take over — the ultimate goal is to keep things going.”

    If you know someone who has performed an act of kindness, whether it be big or small and you think they serve as an example of compassion, generosity and service, nominate them here:

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