It was not an enticing lecture that lured Kush Parmar ’02 away from his classroom and toward McCosh Hall on a cold, sunny November day in 1999; not an appointment with a professor. It was, instead, a project that Parmar and his sister Sheila ’01 had begun planning six months earlier — a project that was now in serious trouble.
The Parmars had formed a student group that would kick-start construction of public facilities in poor, remote Mexican communities not far from where they grew up. The first project was to be a middle school in Cruz Blanca, a small mountain village in the coastal state of Veracruz, where youngsters typically finished their formal education at age 10 to begin picking coffee beans in nearby plantations. But the plan was about to fizzle, unless the students could raise what seemed like the monumental sum of $15,000. The Parmars recruited their musical friends to perform at a concert in the Chapel, and Kush Parmar opted for some low-cost advertising: He skipped his classes, donned a sandwich board, and stood by the busy path near McCosh, shouting as he promoted the students’ concert and their dream. Among the passersby was Parmar’s art history professor. “Kush,” he said, “you should be going to class.”
Parmar learned several lessons that afternoon — including the challenge of balancing academic work with an all-consuming extracurricular activity, and the fact that he and his sister would need to master much, like fundraising, that is not taught in Princeton classrooms.
Eight years later, the Parmars have learned those lessons well, and their project, called the Cruz Blanca Initiative (www.cbinitiative.org), is thriving. A Princeton Township resident who wandered into the chapel concert later that evening made a donation, introduced the students to his affluent friends, and taught them how to go about raising the cash they required. The Student Volunteers Council showed them how to arrange student travel, including how to deal with issues of liability and legal waivers. Others helped them learn the ins and outs of IRS paperwork when they formed a nonprofit organization. “We knew we were in over our head sometimes,” says Sheila Parmar, but at the same time, she notes, the students were like sponges, learning from anyone who had something to teach.