Tag Archives: #giveback

A Challenging Yet Rewarding Journey For a Desi Jain in Zambia

(Featured Image: Nirav Shah with his family in Zambia, mid-Peace Corps service)

Nirav Shah is a man on a mission.

After his father passed away, 11-year-old Nirav and his mother left India and moved to Chicago. His mother wanted to live near two of her sisters, looking for a better life and a culture where she could raise her son more independently. 

Nirav went on to earn his undergraduate degree from California State University, Long Beach, with the assistance of financial aid. Having experienced the positive influence governmental assistance could be, he knew his path involved giving back and it led to his pursuit of a Master’s degree in Public Health at Benedictine University.

Nirav completed an internship in public health in Tanzania and Kenya, where he met some Peace Corps Volunteers and became interested in following their path. He served as a health Peace Corps member in Zambia from 2013 to 2015. Once he returned, he found his way back to the Peace Corps as a member of their public affairs team. Nirav is keen on spreading the message of seva to his South Asian community.

What does it mean to be a Peace Corps Volunteer?

“It’s all about building bridges of peace and friendship, whether it’s with your neighbors, family, or friends in different countries. It’s about giving back and making sure that when we leave this place, we leave it better than it was,” he said. “During my internship, I recognized that my passion was in serving the global community in the public health sector. It was a turning point in my life. I wanted to use the talents I developed overseas to serve communities that needed them most.”

Nirav followed his passion and applied for the Peace Corps, eventually serving as a health Volunteer in Zambia from 2013 to 2015. Over a period of three months, he learned Chinyanja, one of the local languages in the south-central African nation, with the help of trainers and his community. Nirav lived with a host family in the Eastern Province, working over a period of two years on health initiatives. 

Nirav’s place of service during the Peace Corps

During this time, he was a coordinator for the Stomp Out Malaria project, relaying preventive health messages to the community. He also implemented a USAID/CDC-led project called SmartCare, an electronic medical record system that provided individuals with a wallet-sized plastic card that gave medical facilities access to their medical history. The card helped ensure continuity and improved quality of care at critical times.

It wasn’t easy…

“The whole experience opened me up for challenges and helped me see the world through a different lens. For example, people in my community initially thought I was Muslim in Zambia because of my brown skin. I was able to explain that I was Indian-American and follow Jainism as my religion. Jains don’t eat eggs and meat, so my mother sent me care packages with spices, crackers, beans, and rice every three months or so. My Zambian family took good care of me, making meals with ingredients I gave them,” he said. 

With the cultural pressure of marriage mounting, Nirav began making wedding arrangements with his fiancé whilst in Zambia.

Nirav kept in touch with his fiancé during service through long-distance phone calls; he would bike to the city to recharge his internet service. About midpoint during his service, Nirav took a week off and joined his fiancé in Mumbai, India, where they were married. As Nirav’s service drew to a close, his wife, mother, and in-laws visited Zambia, and he took time off to go sightseeing in places like Cape Town, South Africa. 

He managed to appease cultural expectations and chase his goals. Despite the challenges, he was able to reconcile the two things.

Benefits of joining the Peace Corps…

After completing his service and returning to America, Nirav used his non-competitive eligibility (NCE) to gain employment as an adjudicating officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where he interviewed applicants seeking work permits and permanent residencies. Peace Corps Volunteers are granted NCE hiring status, which makes it easier for federal agencies to hire those who meet minimum qualifications for a specific position. Eventually, he returned to Peace Corps, this time as a federal employee.

“My passion to serve made me come back to Peace Corps. I love this agency, the mission, and the team I work with. I value the opportunity to inspire others to serve abroad, and to be a voice in the South Asian community for this awesome mission,” he said.

Nirav wants to get his global volunteerism message to a South Asian audience. His goal is to inspire South Asian U.S. citizens to explore nontraditional career paths and volunteer in areas they are passionate about.

“As an immigrant, I appreciated the opportunity to excel here in the U.S. and valued the opportunity to give back as a volunteer in a safe and secure environment,” he concluded.

If you would like to apply for the Peace Corps:

You must be 18 years and older to be eligible.

You must be a US Citizen.

Check out their application and website HERE!


Tamim Choudhury is a public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps. Having volunteered as a guest lecturer at a rural school in Bangladesh, he knows the value of community building and has witnessed how Peace Corps Volunteers have made a grassroots development in South Asia.  

Commencement 2020: A Letter to Our Future Leaders

Dearly Beloved,

We are gathered here today, to join this Class of 2020 with the World.  2020 has been such a surreal year that your graduation will certainly remain remarkable.  Staying in place has made in-person toasts a tedious task, so we raise a symbolic glass in your honor.  Congratulations!

Finally, it is your commencement

I remember when I was in Second Grade when studies seemed endless and I asked my teacher how long it would be before we stopped learning. The answer has stayed with me till today – “NEVER!”  What a shock when you are 7 to hear that studying is never over!  She said life is a continuous learning process. And perhaps that is what has inspired me to keep learning till today. 

University of life

Of course, one does not have to sign up formally to any course for learning.  You are automatically enrolled in the University of Life which gives admission to people from all walks, irrespective of their grade with no discrimination of age, color, creed. 

Sometimes you get a gentle guru and at other times a tyrannical taskmaster. Both teach you different things.  Keep an open mind so you learn from your experiences.  Keep an open heart so that you take others under your wing and give to those who might need a hand.  And never forget those who have extended you a hand, in your time of need.

Speak up

Recognize other’s struggles. The role of being a Knight in Shining Armor has become less dangerous and genderless. It doesn’t require the skill of horse-riding, or slaying dragons – just that you raise your voice with and for others when you see injustice.  

Never let someone tell you your place. Never have someone have you questioning your self-worth or your worth as an employee. 

Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your sisters and brothers. Stand up to injustice. Just be upstanding and outstanding in whatever you do.

Don’t undersell yourself, but don’t be a sellout either.  It is better to rise to the top with others rather than alone. 

Lift each other up. Remember you are stronger as a tribe.  

Changemakers

I have great hope for the current generation.  It is more open, more accepting, and more tolerant than the previous generations.  We are headed in the right direction.  Your asset is your idealism – guard it against a cold and cynical world.  Idealism is what leads you to fight for changes – big or small. 

Recent events, such as Black Lives Matter, have shown us that the world still needs radical change. You are the changemakers. Do more than sharing news on social media. Sign petitions, protest, talk to your City Council Members, get involved in politics – find ways in which you can make a difference.  

We must look beyond the comfort of our own communities to speak up for others facing dire situations.  While there is a sense of belonging within any individual culture, there is no greater strength than feeling a sense of oneness with the larger community of the world – a recognition, that we –despite our color, race, gender identity, nationalities– are all human. Our happiness and freedoms come from the happiness and freedoms of our brothers.  A cry for help must not be quelled. 

Money talks

You have all been blessed to have an education. Some of you will be earning sooner than others. You’ve earned your right to spend!  Money used for yourself gives you pleasure.  Money used to buy someone else a gift doubles in value.  Money invested wisely in the stock market may triple in value. 

But money given to someone in need or money invested in humanity, now that is priceless!  How much is the value of your money multiplied by Infinity? 

Money has great buying power.  But know also that what cash CANNOT buy is what is TRULY valuable.  Love, peace, happiness, friendships, and health – invest in these. 

It’s your life

You have one life – so live it up.  Live it to your fullest!  Yes, you have one life – make sure what you do counts.  Some of you will no doubt create huge waves, but others will affect the world with gentle ripples. You get no certificates from the University of Life, except for the Karmic kind, and the satisfaction that you have served. 

To quote from the poem Incredible Woman written by Yours Truly, “Your beauty is not in your height, but the heights YOU will reach…”  So, be inventors, game-changers, set a spark – no, not as arsonists!  Spark debates, spark changes, make your mark on this world.  And while you are blazing trails, we, your Bay Area community, will leave the light on for you. Shine on!

Yours truly,
Meera Rao Prahlad

Meera Rao Prahlad is a freelance writer, community organizer, and volunteer with a variety of interests.  In addition to writing and teaching Language, she wears the hat of Director of Top Form Academy, which provides training in Business Communication and Etiquette to professionals, as well as life skills for youth. She is currently working on writing a book on Etiquette.