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Local student raises money for marine life through DIY diya kits for Diwali
Marine girl fundraiser
Fourth-grader Riya Patwardhan sold DIY diya coloring kits for Diwali to raise money for the Marine Mammal Center in California. She will be donating all proceeds on her 10th birthday to celebrate. - photo by For the FCN

Riya Patwardhan, a fourth-grader at Shiloh Point Elementary, has been wanting to find a way to raise money for the Marine Mammal Center in California since she visited the facility late last year. With Diwali right around the corner, she decided she would combine a fundraiser with the Indian holiday to create a long-lasting memory with her family. 

Riya and her family traveled to California last year to visit the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. They saw sea lions and all the center had to offer regarding rescue and rehabilitation. Pallavee Patwardhan, Riya’s mother, remembers her children taking part in games that taught them about proper rescue techniques. 

“My little one was a seal or something like that, and she [Riya] just came over and helped him,” Pallavee said, explaining the types of games the center had for children. “They have really cool exhibits there.”

After her visit, Riya wanted to raise money for the Marine Mammal Center. She got to work thinking of different ways to fundraise, starting with a lemonade stand. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, she had to come up with a different idea.

“I was talking about Diwali preparations,” Pallavee said, “And she [Riya] said to me, ‘Why don’t we make a coloring kit for Diwali? And then I want to donate all the money to the Marine Mammal Center.’”

The family began researching different supplies they could use in their coloring kit. Every year, celebrants of Diwali will decorate their houses and workplaces with diya, or oil lamps. Diyas are often decorated clay or brass pots that are lit for celebration on Diwali.

“[Riya] is more of an artistic mind,” Pallavee said. “She likes to color, so that’s how she came up with the idea.”

Typically, oil and cotton wicks are placed inside diyas, but Riya is doing tea lights this year so people can turn them on and off to celebrate.

“When I started the fundraiser, I was really nervous, like when my mom sent my flyer around. Would people just look at it and do nothing?” Riya said. “But then there was a lot of requests for the order, so then I just got a lot happier.”

Riya has been passionate about marine life conservation since she was little, having gone to aquariums and zoos many times. She and her family have visited the Georgia Aquarium on multiple occasions and Riya says she likes the whale sharks and octopuses the best.

She also dreams of one day becoming a marine biologist. Just like the Marine Mammal Center, she wants to help sick and injured marine life.

“Being a marine biologist can be tough,” Riya said, “But the fun part is you get to see animals every day in the water.”

Riya’s goal was to raise $500, and by selling each coloring kit at $8 a box, she was able to reach $420.

“It will be a surprise donation,” Pallavee said. “The center doesn’t know that it’s coming.”

Riya will be donating the money to the Marine Mammal Center on her 10th birthday Nov. 17, in the middle of Diwali celebrations, to commemorate her birthday, Diwali and her love of marine life.