India’s top two youth volunteers of 2012 were honored at a gala awards ceremony during the 17th annual American presentation of The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Mani Makkar, 18, of New Delhi, and Jyoti Yadav, 11, of Rajasthan, were presented with special commemorative trophies by Prudential Financial CEO John Strangfeld during the evening event, which is held each May to present awards to 102 outstanding American youth volunteers from every state and the District of Columbia. The honorees were also personally congratulated for their outstanding volunteer service by New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Eli Manning.
Mani, a student of St. Marks Senior Secondary School in New Delhi, was honored for undertaking a variety of ambitious projects and initiatives to protect the environment. Mani is deeply passionate about protecting the environment and, in his words, is “fighting an ongoing battle to secure my right to clean air, safe water and a greener planet.” In eighth grade, Mani discovered that some people lacked awareness about environmental issues — and he decided to change that. He joined his school’s Eco-Club and participated in tree plantation drives and anti-firecracker campaigns.
Within a year, he was selected for the Bright Green Youth Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he joined a team of young people from Australia, South Africa, UK, Denmark and Tanzania to discuss the climate change with global leaders. In 2010, Mani helped organize Earth Week for 3,000 children to spread awareness about conserving natural resources. He also became involved with the Asia Europe Classroom Network where about 100 teachers from across Europe and Asia gathered to discuss biodiversity loss and how to promote environmental education. Recently, Mani was also chosen to become an “Eco Warrior” with Greenpeace. He hopes to continue his efforts to promote the conservation of environmental resources for future generations.
Jyoti, an eighth-grade student at Satya Bharti Government School, was honored for spearheading a grassroots campaign to changing perceptions about widows, who are believed by some to be harbingers of bad luck. Jyoti, who lost her father a few months before she was born, had her own mother in mind when she decided to do something substantial to change how people think about women whose husbands have died.
Under the guidance of her school principal, Jyoti went from door to door to spread the message of widow empowerment, working closely with the village heads and elders in her own village and surrounding areas. This grassroots initiative instilled confidence in several widows, who today actively participate in social events and lead Saksharta Mission (an Indian government educational initiative) and manage several aanganvadis, or shelters started by the Indian government to combat child hunger and malnutrition. Encouraged by the positive response, Jyoti is determined to keep working towards changing perceptions of widows so that they are accepted with dignity.
“Through their extraordinary acts of volunteerism, these students are powerful examples of the way one young person can make a big impact,” said Strangfeld. “We are proud to honor them for their achievements, and hope their stories inspire others to consider how they, too, can make a difference.”
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards was created by Prudential in 1995 to encourage youth volunteerism and to identify and reward young role models. So far, the program has honored more than 100,000 middle and high school youths in the United States at the local, state and national level. The awards program was introduced in Japan in 1997, in South Korea in 1999, in Taiwan in 2000, in Ireland in 2006 and in India in 2010.