Perched atop a dark-wood barstool, she stares longingly at the various colors of rolled paper strewn before her. Aanya lifts her head up from the marble countertop, dark brown hair falling to her shoulders, and glances at the empty kitchen haloed in gold from the early morning sun. A beam of light finds itself upon on the piece of cardstock that she is folding, the gentle crumpling of the paper breaking the tranquil silence that she works in. She picks up a pen and begins to inscribe the words “Happy Birthday” across the front of the card stock in a neat print, each stroke masterfully cast in a vibrant shade of forest green. Papers ruffle as she pulls out a roll of periwinkle blue paper, a triumphant look on her face. Her caramel-colored skin illuminated with a rosy glow, she smiles gently as the warm hue from the sun pierces the darkness within the house. There’s a moment — a slight pause, ever so faint — before she takes a pair of scissors and cuts the narrow strip of paper to her desired length. “Perfect,” Aanya exclaims in a soft breath, her words filling the room with a unique sense of innovation and curiosity. The paper is tightly rolled into a shape resembling a leaf and promptly glued into place as part of a larger design: a flower. Each petal and leaf is hand-rolled out of paper with a meticulous attention to detail and an eye for color.
Freshman Aanya Roy has been quilling and making greeting cards for years, her affinity for art and love of nature perfectly incorporated into this one task. But it’s so much more than a hobby. Aanya is part of an international volunteer organization called Hand in Hand USA, where she raises money for children in India each year by selling her artwork.
She is partnered with the branch of the program that raises money for Balashram, a school for underprivileged children in Orissa, India. Although the school is located in a picturesque village surrounded by terraced rice paddies, students at Balashram face extreme poverty and hunger, a source of great heartbreak for Aanya.
“I think about how privileged I am and how many opportunities we have here, but people in Balashram aren’t privileged and they’re orphans. They can’t pay for their education or live anywhere,” Aanya says. “That’s where [Hand in Hand USA comes] in. And it’s kind of just giving back what you have, showing gratitude that you’ve been blessed with all this.”
She gestures at the room she sits in, pausing momentarily at everything she considers a privilege to have: the tv, the fridge, even the kitchen. This whole idea of thankfulness and gratitude radiates through Aanya’s eccentric personality. Always adorned in simple clothing with bright, bold colors, she never fails to express her appreciation for her parents, peers, and teachers. Her ardent, benevolent nature in not only her schoolwork, but also her quilling, is a unifying theme in everything she does.
“I try to sell at every opportunity I get. From the Blue and Silver Bash to getting the word out through family friends, I’m constantly searching for a way to raise money for these kids,” she explains, fanning out an assortment of cards that she’s currently working on. “I also sell on Facebook using a more digitized approach and I’m super happy about the positive response I’ve gotten from so many people about what I’m trying to do.”
A smile creeps across her face as she begins to delve into the details of the fundraising. She essentially has to raise $3 dollars every single day for a grand total of $1,095 per year. These funds cover a child’s entire food, housing, and education for an entire year. Aanya shifts in her chair upon this topic, a more solemn expression beginning to settle across her golden-brown skin and defined brows.
“It may not seem like a lot of money to us, but to the orphans in Balashram who have known nothing more than hardship after hardship, it makes all the difference. I know that I am changing the way a child lives, giving them something to smile about and, regardless of the money I raise, I find happiness in that fact.”
The fundraising in a great source of pride for Aanya, who follows in the steps of some of her family friends who had joined Hand in Hand prior to her. The joy that is plastered across her face is infectious — especially for both her parents, Shabri and Samar Roy.
“I’m proud that Aanya is out there every day trying to make a difference. It gives me such a strong sense of pride in knowing that she is changing the lives of kids that need help,” Samar explains. “I am beyond proud of what she has accomplished.”
Both Samar and Shabri have played a key role in helping Aanya get involved with the charity. By introducing her to family friends that were actually regional leaders of the charity, they created an inviting forum for Aanya to use her hobby as a way to help others.
“Many of our friends sell plants, jewelry, or cosmetics as part of the charity and we thought Aanya would like taking part in it. Four years later, today, she is using quilling to really make a difference in the world.” Shabri recalls, a wistful look drawn across her face.
It’s evident that both her parents are still in a little bit of disbelief that their daughter, the very child that they’ve raised for the past 14 years, is giving back the same love and devotion they gave her, to other kids. In fact, it also took Aanya a while to truly understand the importance of the charity.
“The actual process of getting involved is relatively simple. You just have to reach out to one of the leaders and you become a vendor and that’s just kind of it for most of the people involved. But the turning point for me was actually two years ago when I got assigned a specific child to help,” Aanya says, a reminiscent smile forming upon her shimmery lips. “Now I didn’t get to know the child’s name or any information aside from the fact that they had lost both of their parents and had two young siblings to care for. Although this information was given to me in a video, it was the first time that I felt like I really had an intimate connection with a child. It was really the first time where I … felt like I was helping someone.”
This critical point in Aanya’s life lead to the start of an extremely challenging, yet rewarding year in her life, she explains. Countless nights and days went into the transformation of her hobby of quilling into a business, but all of it was out of passion. Quilling, to some extent, can be seen as a representation of Aanya’s life and truly defines everything that she stands for.
“I see myself in quilling because the way the paper is tightly rolled and bent into different shapes shows how I am very flexible in any situation and the beautiful design that is formed at the end represents how I try to make the best of everything. Even if I am forced to do something I don’t want to do, like how the paper is formed into various shapes against its own will, at the end of the day, I try to make the best of everything.”
Drawing inspiration from all things beautiful – plants, animals, and any other kind of nature – Aanya has a very clear vision when she quills. It’s the image of that one child she helped two years ago that keeps crossing her mind, it’s something she’ll never forget.
“Before I knew who I was raising money for, I was just doing it for service hours, it wasn’t anything really special. But the moment I was able to put a face to the kids I was helping, everything became clear,” Aanya says, a clear passion evident in her firm, yet endearing tone.
There’s a fire burning inside her. A fire that will never die until she knows that all children in need have been helped.
“I’m here [in America] but somehow at the same time I know that I’m Indian, right. I’m American but I’m also Indian and I can’t ignore that fact. There are certain parts of India where I come from where we’re privileged and we have everything, but there’s another entire side to India too and that’s the not too privileged side and it’s not too great there. And I guess I’m lucky that I was born here because I’m a first-generation American with a little more opportunity, but they aren’t. And that juxtaposition between the two sides to India, that someone doesn’t have the opportunity to thrive just because of where they were born, is what I see when I help … We [Hand in Hand USA] are trying to give those people an opportunity to grow. We are giving India an opportunity to grow.”
Aryav Bothra is a personality writer and food critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl