Humans of Harker: Find the kindness within

Rhea Nanavati creates a positive impact on the world through volunteering and research

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Ritika Rajamani

“I want to give back in a meaningful way that not only helps people that don’t have the same resources as me, but also is fun in the process. I know a lot of things can be super overwhelming at times, and everyone experiences it, so I want to create an environment that’s carefree and a safe space for people to just express themselves and allow them to find that passion that I found through volunteering and research,” Rhea Nanavati (12) said.

Sitting under the shade of a tree at Cuesta Park, Rhea Nanavati (12) stares up at the sight around her—numerous large trees on a carpet of luscious grass, children laughing and playing around her. As she watches, her hand moves without thinking, sketching the world surrounding her. In time, her picture is complete and a satisfied smile makes its way on her face. 

Rhea began nature journaling after her research teacher Chris Spenner introduced her to this activity. As a nature lover, Rhea enjoys sitting in nature and doodling, making nature journaling a regular activity in her life. 

“I love being outside in nature … it’s a way to escape. I’m by no means an artist … but I have always liked to doodle. It is a way to combine being outside, being alone and letting everything out on paper without having to turn it in for a grade or use it for a class,” Rhea said. “It helps take my mind off of a lot of stressful things and it’s a way to keep my mind occupied.”

While nature journaling is a way to release her emotions, Rhea also expresses herself through her kindness. Her love for nature and volunteering has made a major impact on Rhea’s life and led her to become a counselor at Walden West, a summer camp that uses outdoors to teach science concepts while introducing students to natural environments, in her freshman year of high school. 

“[Walden West] has been a really big part of my life. It’s the thing I look forward to most every year and it’s the place where I’ve met a ton of my friends,” Rhea said. “It’s almost like having a separate family. I have my friends there who I know I can count on.”

Through her years at the Harker upper school, Rhea feels she has learned to move past the school bubble and to have a new outlook on the world, which has given her a newfound appreciation for volunteering. 

“I was not aware of everything going around in our society and I was more focused on my own life and school,” Rhea said. “A big thing that changed is that my family and I began traveling every summer to different countries. I feel like seeing everyone else’s experiences definitely helped me understand what other people are also going through, things that I’m not aware of.”

With a new perspective, Rhea feels this increased maturity has impacted her decisions with volunteering. She believes that her newfound outlook has persuaded her to make as big of an impact as she can. 

“It encouraged me more and gave me a ton of more reasons to get involved with my community and give back,” Rhea said. “I’ve gotten so many opportunities handed to me, but now, I feel like I have an obligation to give back and somehow use my experiences to help others who didn’t get the same.” 

With the world at a halt, Rhea finds herself even more encouraged to help the families who have less opportunities. She began volunteering at Opportunity X, a nonprofit created by recently graduated Harker seniors which teaches introductory research methods and scientific research in general to underrepresented schools. 

“With everything happening right now, there’s just so much that we could do and a lot of the time we take things for granted. Since we go to Harker, we’re obviously super privileged, and we don’t really see how other people aren’t,” Rhea said. “That’s a way that I have tried to bridge the gap and use our privilege to try to help other people.”

As a volunteer at Opportunity X, Rhea has a lot of research experience. Since the beginning of high school, Rhea has begun researching topics, especially climate change. 

“It was a really good introductory project to get me involved in research, but it was also really fun for me because I am really passionate about climate change,” Rhea said. “This was a way to quantify that and put my perspective and my work into that, which is pretty rewarding.”

Physics and science research teacher Chris Spenner describes Rhea as a strong researcher that tries to make an impact in the community, 

“Rhea is a persistent, patient, caring researcher. She picks the projects that she does very aware of the larger context. She wants to do things that are meaningful to the natural world and humanity in general, but she finds where that realm overlaps with her own interests,” Spenner said. 

Rhea’s interest in helping others begins first with the Harker community. Priding herself in always being there for others, she hopes to be remembered as someone who was always approachable and put all her heart into the things she cares about.

“I want to be someone who they can count on and someone who they can always go to when tearing up. I feel like I put a lot of care and work into everything that I’m a part of, and that has become a pretty big part of my life,” Rhea said. “I want to be remembered as a good balance between doing everything.”

Close friend Arya Tandon (12), who has known Rhea since kindergarten, feels that Rhea’s kindness has never changed. 

“We were born best friends because the world can’t handle us being sisters or something like that,” Arya said. “My first impression was that she’s pretty nice and that’s definitely not changed. She’s always been there for me and always someone that I can talk to whenever I’m dealing with something. It’s been nice watching her grow and us grow together.” 

Close friend Zoe Sanders (12) believes Rhea has always been the person she hopes to be remembered for. 

“Rhea is the person that you go to say anything and everything. I tell her about every moment of my day, no matter how big and small. Everyone finds that kind of security blanket with Rhea,” Zoe said. “She is such a lovable person and she makes you feel so special and so loved. Her genuine care for everyone has not faded one bit since I met her in fourth grade.”

In the end, Rhea’s main goal is to make a positive impact on the world by using her own experiences, starting with the people she surrounds herself with. 

“I want to give back in a meaningful way that not only helps people that don’t have the same resources as me, but also is fun in the process,” Rhea said. “I know a lot of things can be super overwhelming at times, and everyone experiences it, so I want to create an environment that’s carefree and a safe space for people to express themselves and allow them to find that passion that I found through volunteering and research.”