When I first moved to the US in 2002, I was a newly-wed full of ideas and hopes. But professionally, I had also been a journalist for over 3 years with a journalism degree and nearly 100 clips to moot. But my hopes of working in the US were soon dashed. People would respond with enthusiasm to my job application, discover I was there on a dependent visa and reply in the negative.
I spent a couple of months moping and cribbing about stringent US visa rules. But I was never the kind who could sit doing nothing and began to look for opportunities to volunteer in the Bay area. Even back in India, I was already a volunteer for an online NPO, CharityFocus (now Service Space) which was founded by Bay-area based folks and had be-friend-ed many of them. These friends became a huge source of inspiration and support. Though I volunteered for some events with them, I had a lot of time on my hands.
I lived close-by to the California School for the Blind and decided to enquire there if they needed volunteers. Their response was positive! I learnt Braille and assisted the teacher in classes such as Math, time-telling, etc. The Teacher who had severe visual impairment herself stunned me with her knowledge, skill and confidence. She lived and travelled independently, taught the children with unending patience and was a story-teller who mesmerized the writer in me. This experience is among the most valuable experiences of my life. I volunteered with them for over 4 months during which I saw for myself the possibilities for transformation in the life of a person with disability if they were given the right environment to enhance their lives. I learnt about perseverance, about teaching and living in the moment from these kids who could not see and most of whom had other severe health complications.
Soon after my work with the California School for the Blind ended, I found the opportunity to use my media and communication skills for an NPO, Power of Love which worked with AIDS afflicted families in sub-Saharan Africa. The work involved preparing communications material for the organization as well as helping them with their fund-raising efforts. During this time I discovered an organization in San Fransisco which offered free training on fund-raising and proposal writing. I attended both the courses. Volunteering for them made me push the boundaries of my knowledge and skills by making me apply what I knew in a completely different sector. It also connected me with some of the most compassionate and determined individuals I have ever known. What I learnt then proved invaluable and in some ways changed my life, for I began to work as a communications specialist in the development sector once I returned to India.
But it was not these volunteering activities alone that occupied my time. The County library too was within walking distance of my home and I took it upon me to read much as I could during this time. While I was a voracious reader even back in India, that stay in the US opened my eyes to world literature and Indian Writing in English. I also got fascinated with DIY arts during my stay there and taught a couple of little Indian girls in my apartment, who I had befriended, DIY arts and crafts. We also traveled whenever we could to different National Parks across the country.
A year-and-half later we returned to India. Though I had not earned a penny while I was there, I had learned and received immensely during my time there. I brought back, new skills, new friends and a satisfaction about stretching my boundaries and discovering a new world.
Writer, Photographer, Healer