When Shivansh Srivastava was four years old, he saw a man trembling and unable to walk, and turned to his mother with concern and pain in his eyes.
When he was in first grade, his grandmother remembers him consoling a crying child at school.
In ninth grade Spanish class, he tutored a fellow student who had bullied him earlier in the year and helped the youth to ultimately pass his class (Having skipped a grade when he was younger, Shivansh is a whiz in most subjects.)
He goes to homeless shelters on his birthdays, saying that he does celebrate with his friends, but tries “not to make things too big or focused on me.”
“At this age now, he feels the pain, and he wants to do something any way he can to help,” said his mother, Manjul Srivastava.
Shivansh, now 15, and an incoming junior at Catalina Foothills High, has grown from a sympathetic child into a proactive young man. Along with Catalina High School student Adriana Noriega, he was one of two Pima County students recently selected to serve on the Arizona Governor’s Youth Commission. There, he will work to address issues facing today’s teens, such as bullying, distracted driving and civic education.
“I feel like by contributing to the solution, no matter how big the problem might be, at least I can do everything on my part to make sure the problem gets solved,” he said.
The governor’s youth commission is familiar territory for Shivansh, who already serves on the Oro Valley Youth Advisory Council to give the teens in his local community a voice.
Jessica Hynd, constituent services coordinator and management assistant in the Town of Oro Valley town manager’s office, called Shivansh “the whole package.” Hynd said he is quick to step up for volunteer opportunities, and has an uncommon respect for his peers.
“He is genuinely listening to you, and not just trying to mark off his excessive schedule,” she said. “I think that is one of the things that makes him stand out.”
A straight-A student, member of the National Honor Society and captain of the school debate team, Shivansh also volunteers for several charities, including Refugee Focus, Community Food Bank and Northwest Hospital.
His grandmother, Pushpa Srivastava, trembled and came close to tears of joy as she read from a note she wrote about her grandson.
“He always helps others,” she read. “He has very high values in his life. He wants to be a very honest, sincere, kind, God-fearing, obedient person in his life.”
His father, Rajiv Srivastava, agreed.
“He’s very focused and driven,” he said. “I wish I was like him when I was young.”
Shivansh said he feels the inverse: he wants to be like his mom and dad when he grows up.
Shivansh’s parents were both raised in northern India, and began teaching him about Indian culture and the Hindu religion at a young age. These lessons played formative roles in Shivansh’s life. On his 15th birthday, he turned to his mom and said he wanted to start sharing the information his parents always shared with him.
The result was Shivansh founding Saraswati Vihar, a Sunday school designed to teach youth about Asian-Indian heritage. Each class contains a prayer, a lesson by Shivansh and some time for yoga and crafts led by his 13-year-old sister and co-founder, Shreya.
Kertana Konkimalla, 9, is one of the Saraswati Vihar students. She and her brother, Sai, said they joined the school because they wanted to learn more about the culture in which their parents were raised in India.
“I like to learn about my religion with a group of friends,” Kertana said.
It is an opportunity the students would not otherwise have, and both students and parents said they are eager to participate.
“We jumped right in,” said Padma Nair, the mother of two boys who attend the Sunday school. “We are always looking for ways to get the kids into the culture.”
While one seven-year-old student said her favorite part of Sunday school was the crafts, Shivansh had a different highlight.
“Just making sure that the heritage is still alive at the end of the day,” he said, “Even in a Western society that is a totally different culture.”
Shivansh has already developed a lengthy list of qualifications to pursue a career in public policy. However, Shivansh wants to either be an engineer (like his dad) or a doctor (like his mom), two areas where this array of benevolent extracurriculars will do little good to get his foot in the door. Shivansh said he is not doing what he does to build his resume or impress anyone.
“I guess I’m really just open to anything,” he said. “Trying to get involved in anything I can makes me feel like I’m doing my part.”
For information about Saraswati Vihar, visit 2017svihar.wixsite.com/svihar.