Two Arundel High School graduates who are headed off to college this fall have an unusual achievement to add to their resumes. In order to raise money for an online book club for students in Kenya, they held a school-wide Quidditch match, complete with broomsticks.
Quidditch, of the "Harry Potter" book series, may be fictional, but the computers and Internet access that the Kenyan students received as part of the Kenya Venture are very real.
The project came about when Aashi Parikh, 18, attended an Ashoka Youth Venture global citizenship conference at the Kennedy Center in Washington in 2011 and a Vital Voices Global Partnership conference that same year.
At the Vital Voices conference she was able to hear Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden and actors speak about global issues.
"Tickets are $500 but our school got free ones," she says. "I was completely blown away by some of the stories. I was really inspired by this. I wanted to make a difference and be a change maker."
She immediately met with her friend Jordan Luber, 17, who had just came home from the Appalachia Service Project, a Christian ministry where volunteers repair and build homes for low-income families in rural central Appalachia.
The duo started to brainstorm about what they wanted to do as a project and settled on creating an online book club for students overseas.
"We are both book nerds and love to explore different cultures. We wanted to start a cross-cultural exchange; there is so much you can learn if you open yourself up a little," Parikh said. "That is how the idea came about for the book club. We were thinking literacy is important in developing countries - they don't always have access to books, let alone computers."
A teacher at their high school put them in touch with Kenya Connect, a cultural arts and outreach organization in Elkridge. The nonprofit has installed water tanks at more than 50 schools, renovated several schools and constructed two solar-powered learning resource centers.
Parikh and Luber decided to raise money to install $10,000 worth of computers in a community center, called Kenya Connect computer Learning Resource Center in the Wamunyu community, which serves as a computer lab, library and outreach center.
"We told [Kenya Connect] about our idea, they were so excited and enthusiastic that kids wanted to partake in something like this," Parikh said. "They told us about the community center and we told them we will fund the books and computers."
Alicia Wrenn, executive director of Kenya Connect, said she was impressed with Parikh and Luber because most teenagers typically have difficulty sticking with a single project.
"I think the other factor that makes [Arundel High] different is the kids are given a lot of latitude from the teachers and the principal," Wrenn said. "The school itself has connections with others in the global studies community, so they are a pretty dynamic group of educators."
Parikh and Luber created Kenya Venture to raise funds. Luber met with school administrators, teachers, community leaders and local businesses on a weekly basis to planning and stage fundraising events.
Their biggest moneymaker was a Quidditch match, a tournament from the Harry Potter series in which the wizards fly and compete on brooms.
On Arundel's Carrol Field, brooms in hand, the students played three games - two qualifiers and the championship. The games are played like handball with players on the sidelines throwing in balls and trying to hit the opposing team. If a team member is hit by one of these "bludgers," they must drop everything and freeze for 5 seconds.
In addition, there is also a "golden snitch" that is released toward the end of the game.
"In true Quidditch, the snitch is a flying ball with wings, but for our non-magical purposes, it is a really fast runner with a painted yellow face," explains Parikh. The team that tags the snitch first gets 10 additional points.
"The teachers were very involved. They did a great job of play fighting and trash-talking to get everyone excited," adds Parikh.
Arundel's principal, Sharon Stratton, gave students a half-day off school to participate. Students dressed in costume throughout the week. The event sold out, and they raised $3,500 in 2012 and $5,000 this year through ticket sales, entry fees and T-shirt sales.