Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

President, had a cascading effect on his

President, members of the VT Seva and the guests of Tarangini,Thank you for inviting me. I am honored and humbled to be here with you. I greatly admire VT Seva! They help educate underprivileged and visually disabled children, provide healthcare to underserved communities and promote environmental responsibility. Greatest of all, they plant the seeds of volunteering in the hearts of our youth. After all, “Manava Seve Madhava Seva”. Can you imagine how much impact it’ll have if all the temples had volunteering wings like VT Seva?Humans are social animals. Our lives revolve around receiving and giving. We are what we are today because of all the support we have received from our parents, teachers, community and the collective wisdom of the society. If we don’t give what we can, we feel dissatisfied with our lives. Most of the time we are unaware of the reason for the discontent. It is not our social status or the bank balance or the achievements of our children. It is the lack of giving. The joy of giving is much more profound than that of receiving. I have been very lucky in that I have received much more than my fair share of good fortune. It began with my father. He was a brilliant student but lacked financial resources and family support. He was able to go to college because of a kind sponsor who generously allowed him to live in his house and paid for his college in Hyderabad. His success in life was a direct result of someone’s generosity and it had a cascading effect on his children and grandchildren. My father passed on his love of learning and thirst for knowledge to all of his children. I always remember him saying, “Do not ever be afraid of hard work”. My mother taught me how to be fearless and independent. I grew up on stories of how my maternal grandfather would never turn away anyone who came to his door and my paternal grandmother who was there at the bedside of anyone who was sick in their village. I thank my family for preparing me well to lead a balanced life.I came to the United States when I was 27 years old – married with a four year old child. I was an Ophthalmologist by then in India. When I arrived, I was told that I had very little chance of getting into the same field. I refused to accept it. I was always used to fighting for my place. Growing up in India as a girl made me extra resolute to prove myself. Hard work was not a deterrent. My elementary education was with Chenchu tribals in Eastern ghats in Andhra Pradesh. Our first grade class had kids aged three to eighteen. Whenever a willing tribal girl was found, she would be added to the first grade class and I was the 3 yr old. It was a true Montessori education, there was no pressure. Learning was fun! My classmates taught me many things especially about the forest that surrounded the little village we lived in. Our family moved every three years to a new place as my father worked for the Indian Forest service. We would move in the middle of the school Year. I was the perpetually “new girl” in the class. I remember telling myself on the first day, in the new school, just give me a few weeks, I’ll have plenty of friends. In 11th grade, I switched from Telugu to English medium of instruction. I knew it was a matter of time before I would get comfortable. All these challenges taught me the magic formula for success, hard work, perseverance and fearlessness. After much burning of midnight oil and a lot of support from family and strangers who went out of their way to help, I became an Ophthalmologist again, seven years later. Most of you know the time table of immigrants in this country. We come, study, get a good job, have children and then become their slaves for ever! I am no different. My husband is a physician and we have three children. They are all seven years apart. My oldest is 30 yrs old and my youngest is 16, still in high school. So, in this busy state of affairs, where is the time to volunteer? The only way is to believe that it is a required activity and to plan ahead of time. When my youngest was 3 yrs old, I said to my husband, honey, I can not wait any longer! I just have to start working on my dream. I have to go on an eye camp! Can you please take care of the baby for a week? And he did! From then on, for the last 13 years, I have been going on cataract surgery missions all over the world, to Africa, South and Central America, Asia and the Pacific. I love traveling to new places. When I combine that love with the passion I have for eye surgery, the result is some of the most meaningful moments of my life. Someone I met in Vanuatu, a pacific island, asked, how can you leave your husband and children behind and travel this far, alone? I smiled and said, you are all my family too. We have to consciously redraw the lines of circle of family to include the world, not just our immediate family or the extended family or the city or the country we live in. When you volunteer, strangers, people you just met, open their hearts and homes and welcome you in as if you are their kith and kin. I have so many precious memories of people, a Ghanaian nurse who held my hand to help me cross a busy street in Accra, an old Ethiopian man who gave me a bear hug when we removed his eye patch after cataract surgery, a Honduran child delighting in a new world with glasses on her face for the first time and a young Burmese interpreter who took me to eat at her home, a hut on stilts. They are some of the most tender experiences I have ever had. I learned in the first mission- that I receive much more than I give. It is the best investment, I ammaking towards my happiness. Sure, money is necessary but most of us underestimate the impact of volunteering on our lives. It helps us stay happy and healthy. I believe in passing on our heritage and traditions to the next generation. But there is something else that we have to remember, we have chosen to be Americans. Integration, assimilation and giving back are very important. We are Americans first and Indians later, Humans first and Hindus later. Vivekananda said, “Religion is realization – not talk of doctrines or theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming- not hearing or acknowledging”.So, what is the true heritage we need to pass on? To be aware, to be tolerant, to practice truth and kindness and to share what we have, here at home and with the rest of the world! Only then can we become complete and realized beings. Someone said to me the other day – you are lucky, you are an Ophthalmologist, that’s why you are able to do all this. We can be anyone and still make a difference in someone else’s life. Feeding homeless, planting trees, recycling, mentoring students, teaching English to immigrants, sponsoring orphans, building schools, providing healthcare to the underserved, encouraging girl children to study…..The list is endless. The only requirement is that we believe that volunteering is a necessary part of life. It builds character in our children and makes us better citizens of the world. It gives meaning to our life. When children see their parents volunteering and having fun, it sends a powerful message. For an immigrant desi parent you don’t need any more motivation! We’ll do anything to optimize our kids future happiness. Won’t we!If there is one thing that I want you to remember from this evening, it is – Make time for volunteering. Carve out 1 or 2% of your time and resources and apply 100% of your heart. Make it happen! Then when you look back on your life, you’ll not have wrinkles of guilt on your face but crinkles of content :)To all the youngsters, I say, study as much as you can, work as hard as you can, grow as strong as you can, for only when you are on high ground, can you pull someone else up, only when your foothold is firm, can you give a hand to another.To all my peers, I say, don’t wait, don’t wait to share your time. Today is the day and now is the time. Don’t wait for a deserving person to receive your help, for the Sun shines on all and the earth nourishes us all.To all my elders, the great Sankaracharya, Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Jiyyar Swami and many more,Thank you for showing us the way. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Without you we could never be aware of what we are and what we can do.Thank you!

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