Dancing into the future
Jesuit High senior channels her talent into helping youth in India
Meghana Kalavar started her career planning early.
As best as the Jesuit High School senior can figure, she was the ripe age of 4 when a visit to India, her parents' native country, galvanized her outlook.
'We were waiting in a car in rush-hour traffic,' she recalled. 'There were three children on the side of the road. One was getting up and asking (motorists) for money. One of the three was sick and couldn't get up.'
Saddened by this scene, the young Kalavar handed over what little Indian currency she had.
'I was thinking that someday I want to be able to help that child,' she said. 'I decided I wanted to be a doctor, something in the medical field.'
The 17-year-old Cedar Mill resident hasn't yet gotten around to choosing where she'd like to go to college, but in many respects, the industrious student is well on the way to fulfilling her childhood dream.
She's spent her last three visits to India engaged in volunteer work, including sponsoring a child in an orphanage. Through the Rural Education and Literacy program, for which she once served as president and is now on its board of directors, she tutored in math, English, reading and dance at a school for the blind.
Last spring, she decided to up the ante by organizing a dance performance to raise money to help disadvantaged children in India go to school.
'I've been dancing since I was 6,' she said. 'I really wanted to leverage that aspect. Every child should have an education. If you're poor, education puts you on the same playing field with everyone else. You have the power to bring yourself higher.'
With her sister, Varsha, agreeing to contribute her dance talents, Kalavar - with the help of the local Lions International Club - launched a grass-roots promotional effort for 'A Dance for a Cause.'
The hundreds of flyers and letters she sent out hit paydirt, with the July 22 performance an unqualified success. More than 1,000 people - including Kalavar's mother, Jyothi, and her parents, who were near their home - attended the 90-minute show in Nidadavollu, Andhra. Unfortunately, her father, Vasant, an engineer at Intel, had to stay behind for work obligations.
Kalavar's supporters in India and back home in the Portland area collectively generated $3,500.
'We raised $3,000 in Portland and $500 in India - $500 is a lot for India,' she said. 'I was very happy with what I was able to raise.'
Was she nervous performing for nearly two hours in front of a huge crowd of people she didn't know in her ancestral country?
'Yeah!' she stressed. 'I never performed in front of that many people. I was so excited doing it in India, which is where the art form came from. At the same time, I was so nervous.'
Despite having to squeeze in rehearsals around her busy travel schedule and volunteer obligations, Kalavar said the preparation time paid off.
'We had been practicing all summer. It was really humid. We practiced every day. I wouldn't have picked anybody other than my sister to do it … It came out spectacularly.'
Varsha, Kalavar's seemingly quieter sister, beams at the recent memory.
'Yeah, it was a lot of fun,' she said.
Jyothi Kalavar, whose leveraged her brother's position as president of a Lions Club to help promote the performance, said she was thrilled to see the show and be part of Meghana's achievement.
'It was really good,' she said. 'I'm proud of both of my daughters. It was really nice to see her giving the check to the kids.'
Peter Johnson, Meghana Kalavar's college adviser at Jesuit High School, said while all Jesuit students are required to fulfill 60 credit hours of 'Christian service,' Kalavar's work struck him as a singular accomplishment.
'We certainly develop our students here to be men and women (in service) for others,' he said. 'I believe what she has accomplished in her service to India certainly takes that charge to a great level.
'Anytime we find students with this level of motivation it does translate to an exciting future. It's neat for her to be recognized for all her efforts.'
Now back at school for her senior year, Kalavar has her hands full with classes, various clubs at Jesuit and an internship at Oregon Health and Science University.
Given her passion for education, Kalavar admitted she considered going into teaching, but ultimately decided to stay on the medical path.
'I think education and teaching I can do on the side,' she said. 'With medicine, I feel I will be able to reach more people.'
Although she hasn't thought much beyond studying medicine at a university in California, she knows India is somewhere in her future.
'India has given me the opportunity to see the need and the impact you can make,' she said. 'It can be applicable anywhere.
'The point is, we can all do something.'