How this 17-yr-old Indian used his coding skills to help hurricane-affected Puerto Ricans

5th Oct 2017
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Delhi student Ahan Sabharwal has created a Chrome Extension 'Donate to Puerto Rico' and wants to use his coding skills to make a global impact. 

When Ryan Hoover, Founder of Product Hunt, compliments a 17-year-old confessing that he just learnt a new thing from him, there’s a lot to be said about the teenager.

A resident of Delhi, Ahan Sabharwal caught Ryan’s and the world’s attention two days ago when his Chrome extension, Donate to Puerto Rico, was featured on Product Hunt.

Ahan Sabharwal

A student of The Shri Ram School, Moulsari, Ahan was inspired to help the Hurricane Maria victims of Puerto Rico when he came across Trevor Noah's ‘The Daily Show’ where he suggested that everyone should donate a dollar each for the relief operations. “I felt I had to do something,” he tells me over a telephonic conversation.

Unable to find a source where he could donate Rs 60, he did the next best thing. He spent the next two days coding and came up with a Chrome extension that displays an array of photos ranging from the stunning landscape of Puerto Rico to drone shots of the aftermath of the hurricane.

People who want to donate money can do so through the app extension. Ahan says that all the revenue earned from this app is donated to charities that are working towards the rehabilitation of Puerto Rico residents.

Posting on Twitter, Ryan, lauded the teen’s efforts, saying that he did not know that one could charge in the Chrome Web Store.

“This is not just an app, I was attempting to start a movement with this,” he says. Putting aside his college applications and preparation for SATs, Ahan concentrated on his ‘Donate to Puerto Rico’ app as he found that often when one donates to charity it is difficult to track the money and know if it was used for the just cause.

Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, the residents of the island nation have had to not only battle for basic amenities like power, water, and food but also apathy from the Trump administration. Recently, Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was quoted as saying, “People are dying in this country. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”

Despite that, media reports indicate that donations towards relief operations have been a trickle. Reportedly, the Red Cross has collected only $9 million for Maria as compared to $350 million for those affected by Hurricane Harvey, and $45 million for Irma victims.

Power in coding

Ahan, who started coding since he was in class V, says coding gives kids like him the power to make an impact. “Programming and computing give me the power to do things I can’t at my age,” he says answering my question to what excites him about coding. “Just take this app for example,” he adds,

“Everything has happened in a span of 24 hours. It has changed the way I think about the world and how it thinks about me. You cannot do something as powerful as this at my age except with programming.”

Three years ago, Ahan had created an app called iParliament (he is the Head of Tech) that brings school kids from government schools and schools in remote areas of India to come together and deliberate on the Indian parliamentary system much like the Model UN. “I realised that most kids my age do not know anything about our parliamentary system and then suddenly at 18 we are given the right to vote,” he says. At iParliament, they also organise offline meetups -- a recent one just concluded in September -- where school children from all across India come together in Delhi.

He has created another Chrome Extension, called Countdown Extension, that has been downloaded 300,000 times and was also featured on Product Hunt. It is a neat countdown/calendar for festivals like Diwali and Christmas. 

An Artificial Intelligence (AI) enthusiast, Ahan has worked as a summer intern in organisations working on AI and Machine Learning and hopes to pursue that in college. He wants to get cracking and start making things immediately, like he is doing now, instead of waiting to finish graduation.

Looking up to Mark Zuckerberg as his role model, Ahan would like to pursue entrepreneurship. “I want to have an impact on the world. Mark Zuckerberg is my role model not because he dropped out of Harvard and started a company, but because of the way he runs things and his company and how he impacts people,” he says.

Ahan, who taught himself coding at eight years old when his father introduced him to a book, Microsoft Basic, says, “I could not understand anything initially. But a few months later I picked up little HTML online and started enjoying it.” Often, his Computer Science teachers at school take his suggestion on how they can get kids excited about programming. “We do not know the power programming can give us. I’ve only figured it out by trying it.”

Increasingly, a lot of teenagers in India are warming up to coding and the proof of this can be found on Product Hunt. In another mention, Ryan tweeted about another 17-year-old Indian who has built an app that does his maths and science homework.

Yes, kids nowadays!

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