Tag Archives: #publichealth

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.  

Adopting Impermanence as a COVID Response

“All conditioned things are impermanent – when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”

-Gautama Buddha

In times of chaos and tribulation, it seems wise to refer to the teachings of those who sought to understand suffering. Impermanence is the word that comes to mind, yet humanity finds comfort in permanence. 

At the August 14th Ethnic Media Services briefing on the science behind COVID-19, doctors on the frontlines reaffirmed the motif I had been seeing – a contradictory society seeks change, yet is resistant to it.

This moment of truth in American history requires quick and consistent change. I wonder, can we rise up to the challenge?

Dr. Ashish Jha, Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute remarked “America may have the worst response of any country in the world, to this pandemic” and added that we were in the same position, if not worse condition than Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. Further, he stresses that success with outbreak control has nothing to do with imposing government structures, the culture of the country, or the wealth of a nation. 

Government: Russia’s authoritarian government is struggling with containment.

Culture: East Asian and European countries are dissimilar in their cultural practices but both have managed to lower their COVID rates. 

Wealth: Vietnam, a developing nation, until recently, had avoided COVID-related deaths.

“It’s tempting to look for explanations for why other countries are doing better”, cautions Dr. Jha. He logically builds to the conclusion that where we have failed is in deploying ONE action effectively across all states. That is all that is required. With one-third of the U.S. population on the brink of succumbing to the pandemic, one third already fully at risk, and one-third managing to keep the pandemic at bay, mismatched messaging is wreaking havoc. Without a coordinated response from strong federal leadership, the COVID death numbers will not plateau. 

The onus of information dissemination and access to resources lies heavily on those in positions of power but behavioral change can come from the top-down and the bottom-up. 

Impermanence. The ability to adopt thought that lasts for an undetermined period of time. 

No one wants to be in lockdown. No one wants to wear a mask outside. No one wants to continuously get tested.

Just one of these, fully implemented and enforced, could be the key to end suffering. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, Senior Scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, informs his research from the positive COVID control he has seen in Asian countries where schools remain open. He notes, “Right now there is a false choice between lives and livelihood.” That choice drives contention and spreads misinformation.

What is needed to re-open safely?

Early warning systems, broad & efficient testing, effective quarantine/isolation, adequate treatment capacity, actionable data collection, and vaccines. 

He brings forth antigen testing as the cheaper, faster method to detect COVID. Cost-effective and almost instantaneous results, I am feeling more optimistic as he continues to speak.

Source: U-T reporter Jonathan Wosen

Early warning systems and actionable data collection rely on the immediate transfer of information to an online database to make it accessible. Temperature monitoring using a thermometer linked to the internet would increase the efficiency of detecting COVID hotspots and roll out timely mandates required to limit spread. Dr. Shah’s blend of technology and the pandemic is the obvious way to move forward. Daily reporting is the necessary next step.

Source: Covid Act Now

So why haven’t we already been using this technology?

“We really need to start to think about a fundamentally different approach that protects privacy and lets public health [professionals] do their job”, Dr. Shah frustratedly shakes his head.

He is moving fast and hits a wall with effective quarantine/isolation and vaccines. The U.S. has expended no energy to strategize or provided resources for isolation and most vaccines are a year out still. 

“We are not anywhere close to doing well”, ends Dr. Shah. 

It seems Dr. Shah and Dr. Jha come to similar conclusions – the United States has the resources and the intelligence to rewrite the course we have taken with regards to the pandemic.

A grim message but I leave with positive outcomes. Testing is changing and so is data collection. Mitigation and prevention of COVID is plausible.

Can we adapt? Can we change? Can we make space for impermanence in our lives to end suffering?


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.