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August 17, 2020

Architecture Student Creating “Waves of Change” in India

By Rachel M. Latsko

Faced with a cancelled summer internship due to COVID-19, Aadya Bhartia decided to think bigger, bringing together art and philanthropy to help children in her home country.

Bhartia, a rising third-year architecture student, founded Project Paint a Meal, soliciting the work of artists across India to create and sell greeting cards to provide midday meals for children in welfare schools.

Two greeting cards at $2.50 each funds a month of midday meals, and thus far the project has raised enough money to purchase more than 4,500 school lunches.

The proceeds also helped Bhartia organize a donation drive in which she collected more than 500 cases of rice, lentils, oil and sugar for children in need.

“It wasn’t really about creating a new greeting card. Every artist has paintings or scribbles that don’t ever become a master painting — they’re just lines in a sketch book — but they could be so much more,” Bhartia said.

To help support Paint a Meal, Bhartia conducts boot-camp workshops for high school students who plan to major in design. She teaches them about creating a design portfolio and gives students the opportunity to create an original piece of artwork to include in their portfolio. 

Bhartia said she wants to change the way people think about helping others by creating “waves of change.” In her native language, “lehar” translates to “wave” in English. 

In 2016, she founded Lehar for Change, a program in which she and more than 200 volunteers teach art classes to underprivileged children and teens across India in welfare schools, orphanages and shelters. In the spirit of CMU, Bhartia encourages students to break art boundaries and go beyond painting; papier-mâché, quilling, punch cloth and bubble art fill their curriculum.

One of her goals is to show students their art can be a form of income.

“In India, many children are not exposed to these types of extracurricular activities in school. They’re encouraged to find work as soon as they leave these welfare schools. So, this space is a platform for them to sell this work, and to teach them that this work can be done, and it is legitimate. You are creating art that people value,” she said. 

photo of handmade greeting cardsBhartia founded Project Paint a Meal, soliciting the work of artists across India to create and sell greeting cards. Thus far the project has raised enough money to purchase more than 4,500 school lunches.

Bhartia credits CMU for giving her the entrepreneurial spirit and inspiration to create Paint a Meal and Lehar for Change.

“CMU helped me break boundaries and made me realize that you can do things that haven’t been done before,” she said. “People holding art exhibitions or teaching art has been done before — it’s not something unheard of. But getting artists across India to collaborate is a risk I wouldn’t have taken if not for the influence of CMU.”

Bhartia is a member of Sustainable Earth, a CMU student organization that encourages CMU and the Pittsburgh community to actively practice ways of living sustainably. She takes part in 1000plus Day of Service, an initiative that aims to bring together more than 1,000 members of the CMU community for a collective day of service at various venues in the Pittsburgh region. 

“I love 1000plus,” she said. “You’re sent to places you would never imagine and do things you never imagined you would do. It pushes you. I think this is something the CMU community could do more of.”

She said a reason she chose to attend CMU was its focus on sustainability.

“Much of my curriculum covers sustainability, and it’s something that I can bring back to India,” Bhartia said. “I can help with future architectural projects, and also help the undernourished and the underdeveloped areas of India.”

Bhartia recently had her own humbling experience with sustainability when severe weather ripped through her neighborhood leaving her with no access to the internet.

“Many people live in conditions in which they don’t have enough resources to sustain a basic education. This is why we need to do more for our global community and people in need,” she said.

As Bhartia prepares to study remotely from India this fall, she also plans to stay focused on Project Paint a Meal and Lehar for Change. She said she hopes to connect CMU students and the Pittsburgh community with the projects.

“It can be stressful, but I remind myself that I’m doing so much good. It’s all worth it,” she said.