Adopted from India, this Kidsburgh Hero started a foundation to support orphans in his native land

Photo: Akhil Agrawal on the City of Bridges High School campus.

The Sill Foundation seems like a curious name for a charity that helps children in an Indian orphanage. But Akhil Agrawal, the 17-year-old who founded the nonprofit organization, has a very good reason for the name.

“You know how when you look at a windowsill and usually on the other side there’s sometimes hope or another door?” asks Akhil, a student at City of Bridges High School in Highland Park. “That’s the reason I named it that.”

Founded in 2020, The Sill Foundation raises funds to help kids at Dream School India, an orphanage in Putana, learn about sustainable mushroom farming. The project teaches students skills they can use after leaving the orphanage and supplies money for their education and nourishment.

“It’s an incredible project and Akhil is such a dedicated young man,” says Randy Bartlett, head of school and humanities at City of Bridges. “One of our values is about envisioning a better world and taking the action to make it a reality. He’s doing that every day with this project.”

Akhil was 4 when he learned that he had been dropped off at a Mumbai orphanage a few days after he was born to parents he’s never met. He was adopted at 18 months and moved to America. Today, Akhil is the oldest of four siblings, all adopted from Indian orphanages by his parents Hemant and Julie Agrawal. He got the idea to launch the charity shortly after he traveled with his father to adopt his youngest sister, Amari, now 7.

“I really wanted to give back to children who are sort of like me and my sisters and brother who were in these kinds of conditions,” says Akhil, who lives in Squirrel Hill with his parents and other siblings Abhik, 13, and Anika, 11.

“When I came to America, understanding the value of getting an education and what its impact is and how it can change people, made me start this idea of helping children in India,” Akhil says. “Hopefully, they can use this education and make an impact.”

The first crop of paddy straw mushrooms and button mushrooms.

The first project at Dream School India, which houses 85 kids, required an initial investment of $1,000, including funds drawn from Akhil’s own savings. That thousand dollars went a long way. A single shed was constructed at the orphanage, and students were taught how to cultivate and care for mushrooms. The return on the investment is impressive, yielding $40 per day in profit. It takes $30 per month to care for one child at the orphanage.

According to UNICEF, there are 30 million kids in India who are either orphans or abandoned children. Of those 30 million, only 470,000 are housed in orphanages; the others are homeless or living on the streets, according to the Childline India Foundation.

The next phase of Akhil’s plans requires $4,200 for the construction of another mushroom shed at Dream School India to purchase a straw cutter, seed machine and more land. Akhil calculates that these items will result in an additional daily profit of $30 for supplies and especially the onboarding of kids at the orphanage.

“A lot of kids who come in, they need medication, they need food, they need clothing,” Akhil says. “All those things cost money. We’re hoping the mushroom garden can help with those costs.”

For more information about The Sill Foundation, or to donate, click here. The Foundation also sells handmade jewelry created by older kids at the orphanage to support the cause.