14-year-old Virginia Beach student wins trip to India to help fight childhood obesity

Posted at 9:46 PM, Jun 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-17 23:29:25-04

VIRGINIA BEACH - A 14-year-old student from Virginia Beach won a nationwide contest centered around global change. Sai Senthilkumar has an idea on how to fix childhood obesity in India and this summer, he'll travel there to try it out.

Senthilkumar went to his homeland of India two years ago, where he was shocked to see childhood obesity, which he calls a ticking time bomb, in the city. A sharp contrast to the malnourished kids living in rural areas.

"I was surprised to see many obese people too. I normally associate India with the malnourished population and hungry population.," said Senthilkumar.

In December, Senthilkumar's teacher told him about AFS Project: Change, which was looking for ideas about a volunteer project that could have a meaningful impact abroad. Senthilkumar spent time during his winter holiday researching and developing his plan. Instead of essay form, Senthilkumar's entry was a video.

The video is voiced by Senthilkumar, who says, "A rise of obesity is tied to an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that can impact growth of a healthy workforce. Through social media I can reach a larger population with a greater effect."

Senthilkumar believes one day, childhood obesity will take up federal resources, which he wants to focus on the malnourished in rural areas and improving the country's workforce.  Senthilkumar and his parents never thought he would win the grand prize: a full scholarship for two weeks in India to bring his idea to fruition.

"I was elated. My family was elated and we immediately thanked the people at AFS and thanked my teachers for giving me for this opportunity," said Senthilkumar.

His Dad Senthilkumar Rajasekaran said, "We were delighted. We read the other entries too and they were all very impressive and we were really excited and felt honored Sai's entry won the grand prize."

The grand prize, which Senthilkumar's parents believe is in part because of the education he receives at Kemps Landing Magnet School.

“He got a lot of inspiration from his peers and teachers, I could see a lot of difference in Sai. His goals were really high and he was self-motivated," said his Mom Uma Senthilkumar.

Senthilkumar and the other 10 finalists will depart for India August 1st. They will stay with host families, get to visit schools and talk to policy makers.

"I'm hoping for a successful project. I’m hoping to gain some leadership skills along the way, learn the language Hindi, and also gain more cultural understanding. And mainly raise awareness about childhood obesity and when I get back to the U.S. see that I planted the seed for change," said Senthilkumar.