Tag Archives: #volunteerism

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.  

Bay Area Sewa Chapter Distributes 28,000 Masks

Sewa International’s Bay Area Chapter donated 28,000 surgical, N95, and KN95 masks to first responders such as healthcare workers, police officers, firefighters, and hospital staff. They also distributed 1500 meals to families in need on Sunday, May 3 in an invitation-only drive-through event as part of its COVID-19 relief efforts.

“We wholeheartedly pledge to support the courageous healthcare workers, firefighters, police officers, and many others who are working hard to make our community COVID-19 free.  As part of our pledge, Sewa International has committed to providing these front-line workers with the personal protection gear (PPE) they need to stay safe,” said Sewa International Bay Area Chapter President Jayant Somani.

Supplies were distributed to 20 agencies including San Mateo Medical Center, Oakland Children’s Hospital, City of Sunnyvale, City of Cupertino, and the Mountain View Police Department. Ten volunteers and key donors were at the event to ensure that the event was a success.  “We pledge to continue to support these essential workers each week until the situation improves,” said Mr. Somani.

Mayor of Cupertino Steven Scharf, Mayor of Sunnyvale Larry Klein, San Mateo Medical Center CEO John Jurow, and the City Manager for the City of San Mateo Drew Corbett were present during the drive.

Volunteers at the Sewa International Bay Area Chapter’s drive-through mask drive on Sunday, May 3 in Milpitas, CA

Building Community

“I appreciate what Sewa is doing. It is bringing people together in our communities.  I especially appreciate what Sewa is doing today in handing out these masks and food to organizations and different people in our community who really need it.  I appreciate Sewa’s building this community which is a critical thing, and I appreciate everything they’re doing around the bay and around the world,” said Larry Klein, Mayor of the City of Sunnyvale. 

“I just wanted to say thank you to Sewa for the masks for the community. We are currently seeing a tremendous need out in the community for all the folks who need masks to do critical things, even go to the grocery store. For instance, all the cloth masks Sewa donated today will be delivered to our vulnerable senior population who are not necessarily able to get their own masks right now. They are helping serve a tremendous need in our community, and, on behalf of the city of San Mateo, I would like to thank Sewa for its generosity during this difficult time,” said Drew Corbett, City Manager for the City of San Mateo.

Food to the Homeless

In addition to the protective gear, Sewa volunteers also distributed over 1500 food packets and meals to the Oakland and Mountain View homeless communities, Fremont families in need, the Muslim Community Center of Pleasanton, the Alcosta Senior Center in Livermore, and many others.   “Sewa International and the Mountain View Police Department have been partnering for about three weeks now to help our homeless population get the food that they need and the masks out to the vulnerable population, and we really appreciate this partnership,” said Police Sergeant Wahed Magee with the City of Mountain View.   

Prior to this event, the Bay Area chapter had distributed almost 20,000 KN95, N95, surgical and hand-made masks and face shields to the United States Postal Service, Valley Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, San Ramon Police Department and many other medical and emergency service responders.  

Nationwide, Sewa International has donated over 300,000 masks, 1000 liters of sanitizer, 4000 hot meals each week, and over $100,000 to food pantries during this COVID-19 crisis.  Through the hard work of more than 2500 volunteers across 43 chapters and 22 metro areas and in collaboration with over 250 organizations across the country, Sewa International has committed to supporting all essential workers and service industries in these trying times.  In addition, Sewa International has set up eight national helpline centers to the field and monitor all calls for help and information. Through the information received via these helplines, Sewa International launched the Plasma Registry Drive which led to successful registry matches for four COVID-19 patients.  

For more information on Sewa International’s efforts to support communities nationwide during the COVID-19 crisis, please visit https://sewausa.org/covid-19.  

Sewa International is a Hindu faith-based, humanitarian, nonprofit service organization.  Founded in 2003, Sewa strives to serve humanity irrespective of race, color, religion, gender, or nationality.  Sewa’s development programs focus on family services; child, tribal, and refugee welfare; women empowerment; health; and education.  

For more information on Sewa International and its activities, please visit www.sewausa.org.