Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Parents take photos of students at the Salt Lake City Airport Friday as they prepare to depart for India.

A young idealist, Josh Thacker hasn't built up any illusions in his mind that he will save the world with one humanitarian trip to India.

But Thacker, 16, a junior at West Jordan High School, hopes he'll be able to make a difference in the lives of at least a few orphans. He also knows he'll learn more about himself and a place he's only read about or seen on a map of the world.

"It's a long ways away," Thacker said Friday as he and a group of 19 high school students prepared to board a plane bound for India. "It's a lot different than here — and they need a lot of help over there."

The trip has been 11 months in the making.

A group of Utah teens from four area high schools, which also include East, Highland and Olympus, raised about $140,000 in cash by many means over the past year. That money will help build new bathrooms and develop a fresh water supply for four orphanages in remote, mountainous Chamba, India.

All but one of the original group of 20 teenagers will also be getting their hands dirty in India over the next two weeks by painting walls, building clotheslines and delivering medical and school supplies to children in need.

A 40-foot container of medical and school supplies, clothes and books is already in India, waiting for distribution by the teenagers and their adult chaperons.

In all, students who were part of a Youth Making A Difference project raised, in cash and in-kind donations, about $390,000 to aid some 200 orphans and needy children. The group that left Salt Lake City for India Friday raised additional money on their own to fund their trip overseas.

Throughout the year, the group of hand-picked students divided themselves into teams over areas such as medicine, culture and games. Alex Egan, 17, was on the media team, helping to create a buzz about their efforts and raise funds. The Highland High School senior was inspired by friends who went on the first trip in 2005.

"It just impacted them as well," Egan said. The trip, she added, seemed to make each individual a better person in some way.

Jo Dee Baird is one of the adults who screened applications from teens wanting to get involved. She gets emotional when she thinks about how the first trip impacted her own son, James, who is now 19. Baird recalled how her son turned down Christmas presents that year, asking instead that money be donated toward paying for a child's eye surgery in India.

The way Baird sees it, a trip like this will teach these kids skills "for a lifetime."

Thacker, who earned money aerating lawns all over the Salt Lake Valley this year, has already learned a few Hindi words and phrases, hopeful that "Hi." and "How are you?" and "Do you speak English?" will translate into the start of a few lasting relationships half a world away from Utah.


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