Aditya Parekh

When I was very young, my family would visit India every summer. Whenever we would go somewhere in our car or walk anywhere in the city, it always struck me how people would come to the windows and beg for money. Not just old and feeble people, but young kids as well. People my own age. Many times, even when they should have been in school, young kids would come to our window and beg for money. My question would always be, “why aren’t they in school?” and the answer would alway be, “because they can’t, otherwise they’ll starve.” Of course, since I was young, so I didn’t really understand much about the situation other than the fact that it was unfortunate. Eventually, I simply got used to seeing these tragic scenes taking place on the street, and stopped feeling bad about seeing other people shoo them off or simply ignore them, and I even started doing it myself.

As I got older, I started to understand more about the situation. I realized that the cycle of poverty was a vicious cycle. Without food, children can’t go to school and get the education they needed to help them escape poverty, let alone find the time to devote themselves to bettering their lives. And without education, it is almost impossible for children to get access to better opportunities in order to escape the cycle of poverty. However, although I understood the futility of this situation, I didn’t act on the information, even when I heard about Akshaya Patra and the possible ways for the youth to get involved. At that point, I was focused on myself and the people I knew, not some distant nation.

What probably spurred me into action was when I had to do volunteering for my health class. I chose to work at Saint Mary’s Food Bank. At Saint Mary’s, I learned that about 1 in every 4 kids suffers from hunger. I was shocked that the number was so high, seeing as we rarely see kids on the streets begging for money. If the situation was that bad over here, then I wondered how much worse the situation would be in India.

Joining the Akshaya Patra youth program, I had my reservations. Most of them were irrational or simply absurd, like the fear of being ridiculed by friends. However, I also feared failing to meet my goal. Speaking to strangers to ask for money always seemed like an awkward thing to do for me, even when it’s for a good cause. Eventually, I accepted all of these things, and decided to focus on the positive things about the program. Working as a youth ambassador has helped me build important life skills, like fundraising and breaking out of my comfort zone. These skills would assist me not only in working for Akshaya Patra, but also in any endeavor I might take up later in life. In addition to fundraising, I’m looking forward to going to India and serving in the kitchen. This will be a hands on experience to see how the organization operates. And of course, I’ll be learning all of this while contributing towards a great cause.

I achieved the goal of raising $1800 by contacting people in person or by email and telling them about the organization. What I found was that when I emailed people, most of them didn’t respond, so I had no idea whether or not they actually donated. The people I met in person were surprisingly receptive towards the idea of donating, and the majority of my funds were raised that way. Even people who had never heard of the organization seemed impressed by what Akshaya Patra was doing. What I learned is that the biggest challenge of fundraising is the fear of rejection. However, if the cause is a good one and the charity a credible one, people will naturally tend to donate to it. And Akshaya Patra is a great cause to donate to.