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On weekends, preserving a culture

Nichanan Agrasuta on a recent visit to the Buddhist temple. Nichanan Agrasuta on a recent visit to the Buddhist temple. (George Rizer for The Boston Globe)
By Sarah Corrigan
Globe Correspondent / December 23, 2010

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Every Sunday, Nichanan Agrasuta, 17, of Framingham, drives 45 minutes to Raynham to spend two hours tutoring patrons of the Wat Nawamintararachutis Thai Buddhist temple in both English language and Thai culture studies. Like many other volunteers, Agrasuta finds value in helping others, but what she receives in return goes deeper than just personal satisfaction.

“The teachings of Buddhism focus on the idea of what goes around, comes around,’’ said Agrasuta, a junior at Framingham High School. “I believe in karma and that if you do good, you can get that good back. To me, that’s really important.’’

Agrasuta, who is known as Grace, moved to the United States nine years ago when her parents, Panupong and Daungkamon, relocated from Bangkok, Thailand, to give Agrasuta and her younger brother better educational opportunities.

At Framingham High, Agrasuta’s schedule is filled with extracurricular activities, such as the International Club, the class of 2012’s Steering Committee, Model UN, National Honor Society, and a mentoring program, Step Up to Excellence.

An aspiring dermatologist, Agrasuta also serves as vice president of the MetroWest Medical Center Explorer Post.

In her spare time, Agrasuta volunteers at the Salvation Army and Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine.

“Helping at the Thai temple is the most rewarding to me,’’ said Agrasuta, who has logged hundreds of hours volunteering. “I like teaching the kids because they’re the next generation of preserving Thai culture.’’

Wat Nawamintararachutis, which incorporates the NMR Meditation Center, relies on bilingual volunteers like Agrasuta to help tutor the Thai monks who live there as well as local children who attend a temple school program taught by Thai teachers.

Agrasuta primarily translates important information from the teachers to the students and helps them with their studies.

“A few times, my friends have invited me to go to the movies, but I couldn’t do it because I volunteer,’’ she said. “Those little kids need my help to understand what they’re doing, so I can’t just give it up to go have fun.’’

Agrasuta’s mother said her daughter is an inspiration to her and those around her. “I’m really proud that Grace can speak two languages and help two different diverse cultures, Thai and American,’’ she said in Thai, aided by her daughter’s translation. “I’ll be even more proud if she becomes a doctor and can help even more people.’’

Agrasuta said she has her mother to thank for encouraging her to help others, and is also grateful for her teachers and mentor at Framingham High.

“Each hand is a big help,’’ said Agrasuta. “If one person in a million helps out, it would make this world a better place. Right now, I can just help a little bit, but once I have a higher education, I can help more diverse populations.’’

giving spirit

Some volunteer because of challenges they themselves have faced. Others look out on the world and see a need they can fill. But whether providing aid to rural villages in Guatemala or bringing a smile to a sick child close to home, these local teenagers are making a difference.