While most 11-year-olds spend their birthday money on toys and games, Melbourne primary school student Anirudh Kathirvel had a different idea this year.
Anirudh, who won the 2015 Great Australian Spelling Bee, used his cash to start making badges to help people with a disability have a smoother ride on public transport.
‘Need a seat? Ask me!’ read the bright blue badges that are designed to be worn by commuters who want to identify themselves as willing to vacate their seat for someone in need.
As Anirudh explains in an interview with Appearance Diversity activist Carly Findlay at the weekend, the initiative was inspired by a recent London-based trial that handed ‘Please offer me a seat’ badges to people with special needs.
“The thing is that some people may feel hesitant to wear [the badges] as it kind of labels them,” Anirudh says, “so what I did was instead of giving badges to people with special needs, I gave them to commuters who are willing to offer their seat to them.”
He adds that some people’s special needs aren’t visible, “such as if you have low blood pressure or are undergoing chemotherapy then you don’t know who’s willing to offer you a seat and people don’t know who needs a seat”.
Unfortunately Carly, who has a genetic skin condition called ichthyosis, knows all too well how Anirudh’s simple idea can help, as her own experience as a commuter has at times been difficult.
“Sometimes when I’ve asked for a seat on public transport people have pretended not to hear and I’ve been yelled at,” she says.
“[People have] told me I don’t need a seat because I’m sunburnt – which I’m not – [and] they’ve told me that I shouldn’t be on the train if I’m that unwell.”
After started his initiative about a month ago, Anirudh has given out close to 300 badges and was recently joined by Victorian Metro Trains staff at Melbourne Central station while handing out more.
He has also set up a Facebook page where he’s received interstate requests for badges. Anirudh hopes his work will help build a stronger "helping culture" in his community, and while his project was originally self-funded, he is currently looking for a sponsor. His local Keysborough dentist was the first to chip in, offering a $150 cheque.
Interestingly, this isn't Anirudh's first time dabbling in philanthropy as he spent his 10th birthday raising money for Melbourne’s Royal Children's Hospital.