There is a constant battle going on within each of us – between the voice in our head and the voice in our heart. The voice inside the head keeps us within our comfort zone –cozy, safe , cautious, while the voice in our heart propels us to step out – brassy, spontaneous, bold. Friends , twelve years ago, I found myself in a situation when life demanded an immediate action from me. While my head was telling me “let someone else do it, you better wait” my heart was telling me the exact opposite, ‘'If not you, who? And if not now, when?' It was a pivotal moment in my life when I was able to break the shackles and step out freely. Friends, it was because I listened to the little voice inside me - a calling from my heart.
In the year 2009 while visiting a school, called Parijat Academy, I met a visitor from America. I was there to meet my friend Uttam who had founded the school in his remote village where no children had access to education. I was a board member of a non-profit based in Texas through which we raised money to pay the teachers’ salaries as well as meals and boarding expenses for some of the students of the school. I also helped Uttam to create the website for the school https://parijatacademy.org. As the school became well known, student interns from abroad began to visit Parijat Academy. Thus in the summer of 2009 I met Dhaujee Kelly. When I asked why she choose to come from Baltimore to India instead of working at home for the summer to make money, she replied, “the answer is simple to me. I chose a rural environment because I wanted to fully understand the children's struggle, and I am passionate about helping children. When I heard her story - a 19-year-old girl travelling all the way to India, paying international air fare from her own pocket to teach children whom she has never meet, I was dumbfounded.
That afternoon there was a meeting at the school about the challenges faced by these visiting international interns. There was not a proper facility for them; they were staying in makeshift accommodations without running water or electricity. “Can there be a permanent structure – a guest house where they can stay comfortably ?” Uttam asked. Everyone applauded but then we came to recognize the elephant in the room. “How to raise the funds?” I had been leading the fund-raising effort for the school in US and everyone was looking towards me. But the voice in my head was telling me, “The guesthouse construction requires tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t get into that- let someone else do it.” As I stood at the crossroads, I looked into the audience. There was Dhaujee Kelly adored by the school children– a nineteen year old who had travelled thousands of miles to an unknown country, unfamiliar people, unaccustomed summer heat. This young courageous girl broke down the barriers of language, culture and geography that divided us, she bought so much joy to these children, yet we were not able to provide her the basic necessities – water , electricity, shelter. “You must act ,” my heart was telling me ‘'If not you, who? And if not now, when?' Friends, it was the defining moment when my heart won over my head, and I declared to the audience, “Yes , we will raise money and will do everything for the construction of the guest house.”
When I returned to the US , I along with a few others from our non profit began the fundraising campaign. Our community supported whole heartedly but after six months of intense campaigning, the fundraising came to a standstill; we were only halfway to the target – we still needed money, tens of thousands of dollars. We realized that we needed to go beyond our community–reach other non-profits and the corporate world. None of us had any such experience but it was the need of the hour - someone must explore and find a way and who was that going to be? I found myself at another crossroads – Would I be able to spend the time, energy, and effort? I again listened to my heart. ‘'If not you, who? And if not now, when?” Thus I started researching funding opportunities provided by private, corporate, or government agencies. During that time I was working at Microsoft and the company had a unique program - every employee who volunteered for any nonprofit could earn $17 per hour for that nonprofit. Over the course of a year, I had spent hundreds of hours for the school creating the website, running a fundraising marathon , conducting meetings and campaigns for the school guest house and I decided to apply for those hours. It was around three months after my submissions when I received a long distance call from Uttam. “Brother”, he said ,“ the guest house construction has started - someone from Microsoft donated the remaining money needed.” The turn of events rendered me speechless. I realized Microsoft Human Resource approved all of my submissions and thus there was enough money for the construction of the guest house. It was so quick, seamless, and pleasant that I felt as if Bill Gates had heard me and like a magician fulfilled my dream. I marveled at the sheer beauty of the program and the mission and vision of Gates.
There is a constant battle going on within us. Twelve years ago , when faced with a challenge, I experienced this battle of two opposing forces - the relentless voice in my head working hard to discourage me and the little voice in my heart encouraging me to go for it ‘'If not you, who? And if not now, when?” I listened to my heart, stepped out of my comfort zone, and life surprised me as I met especial people along the way, a daring young girl and the greatest philanthropist in the world. Friends , in the journey of life, you will also face situation like me , everyone will – when the little voice in your hear will ask ‘'If not you, who? And if not now, when?”. Friends , what will be your answer?
YouTube Video link to the Speech
District 25 Newsletter: Bill Gates, Toastmasters, and the Pursuit of Happiness