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Janani Maheswaran organized a virtual benefit concert to help children she reads to over Zoom in Sri Lanka.

COURTESY PHOTO: JANANI MAHESWARAN  - Janani Maheswaran

It's 5 a.m. and Westview High School student Janani Maheswaran turns on her laptop and sees waving hands and friendly faces looking back at her.

Maheswaran, 15, along with her cousin Aarani, wake up early to volunteer for a reading program for kids living an orphanage in Sri Lanka. The two were first connected to the orphanage through their grandmother, who currently teaches there.

As time went on, Maheswaran realized an interesting detail while reading to the children over Zoom. COURTESY PHOTO: JANANI MAHESWARAN  - Janani Maheswarans grandma, center, is a teacher at an orphanage in Sri Lanka. Maheswaran is inspired by her grandma and volunteers to read to the children over Zoom at 5 a.m. three times a week.

"They always joined the Zoom meeting from one laptop," she recalled. "Then, we kind of investigated a little bit further and their teacher told us that they just have one laptop for all of their meetings and learning."

Maheswaran and her cousin then came up with an idea. With the help of their family, the two organized a benefit concert to raise funds for devices the kids could use.

The two cousins invited friends and family from across the globe to livestream the concert on YouTube. The event included performances from kids as young as 7 years old to perform classical dances and various music from their homes.

According to Maheswaran's mother, there were more than 90 viewers on the livestream and hundreds of views after posting it online. Maheswaran says she received around $5,000 in donations.

"Me and my cousin initially expected a few hundred (or) maybe $1,000, but our parents and friends were able to reach out through social media … and kind of rally the whole community as well," she said.

Maheswaran remembers spending about 50 hours organizing the event over her winter break from school. The sophomore learned how to livestream and edit videos.

The money will be spent on laptops, Chromebooks and tablets for the children, added Maheswaran. She says it was important to have a good mix of portable devices.

"With the remaining money, we'll probably buy them some books too, so that they can just have tangible books that they can flip through," said Maheswaran.

Maheswaran's mother, Vasini Maheswaran, says she's impressed with her daughter's commitment to the children and her ability to organize a virtual event to benefit those less fortunate.

"I always tell these kids that, 'Oh my gosh, you guys are so fortunate' because I grew up in Sri Lanka and so did my husband, and resources are very limited," said Vasini Maheswaran. "I always thought that we should be giving back, and the kids got on board."

COURTESY PHOTO: JANANI MAHESWARAN  - Westview High School student Janani Maheswaran, left, is joined with by her cousin Aarani Narenthiran, right, to read books to children in Sri Lanka over Zoom. The pair organized a benefit concert to help buy the children new devices.

However, she wasn't always convinced about her daughter waking up at the crack of dawn. Vasini was concerned that Janani's studies would be impacted by the schedule.

That was until Vasini saw her daughter light up after each session.

"The days when I would see her during the morning, she would come in and tell me what happened and she was really happy," she recalled.

Despite loving her sleep, Janani Maheswaran says it's easier to give up those extra hours of rest knowing that the kids are eager to learn.

"They're willing to spend time and give us an hour of their time in the evening to just listen to us read and talk with us," she said. "It just makes me so happy that they're also interested in learning and reading as much as we are."

Growing up, Maheswaran remembers her teachers making a big impact on her life. She says this experience has taught her that she has a true love for teaching others.

"(The reading program) was definitely a learning experience. I learned how to kind of teach, fundraise and edit and stream videos," said Maheswaran. COURTESY PHOTO: JANANI MAHESWARAN  - A flier for the benefit concert organized by Westview High School student Janani Maheswaran and her cousin. The event was held on Jan. 3.

She added that this is a good time for kids her age to get involved in their own community or helping others across the world — even during a pandemic.

"There are so many ways that you can be creative … and it's our responsibility as more fortunate students to reach out to the less fortunate students in developing countries," said Maheswaran.

As for the future, the Westview student plans to deliver on her promise to get the devices to the orphanage in Sri Lanka. Maheswaran says it won't be easy to coordinate the process but will organize another fundraising event if needed.

For more information or to donate, visit sites.google.com/view/benefit-concert/home.


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