By Ritika Kumbharkar

I had never been exposed to community service until I moved to India at age 13 after living outside of India my entire life. It has been the best gift that India has given me. I absolutely love volunteering because it brings me so much joy and helps me to always be grateful for everything. I have volunteered for several organizations in India, including the Akanksha Foundation, Save the Children, Girl Effect, and Advitya.

I started out in 8th grade where I was introduced to my first NGO, which was Akanksha. Their mission is to impact the lives of children who come from low-income communities and enable them to maximize their potential and take control of their own lives. Students from my high school, the American School of Bombay, had a partnership with Akanksha where we did activities with the children who went to this organization’s programming. We combined arts and education together in order to add a creative twist to learning; it was something that was quite successful. It made the learning more fun for the kids.

 This is the same approach we took for our other partnership with Save the Children, who was literally our neighbors. Save the Children is another NGO whose mission is promoting children’s rights and providing relief and support for children in developing countries. We had clubs such as math club, science club, and swimming club. We brought these children to our campus to share our facilities, which they couldn’t afford or have themselves. This experience truly made me feel grateful and taught me not take things for granted. These kinds of experiences develop a mindset and persona where you are more compassionate, considerate, aware and kind.

Then in my 10th grade year, my group of friends and I decided to bring an organization called “The Girl Effect,” a NIKE Foundation, to our city. This organization’s mission is to unravel the potential that adolescent girls have in order for them to get out of the poverty cycle. In Mumbai, we focused on helping girls be independent enough to avoid child marriage. We did a lot of creative arts activities with them and even taught a whole menstrual educational program.

In this education program we taught the girls how to use sanitary pads and more education about what menstrual periods are. We even raised funds through a Valentine’s Day fundraiser and used those funds to provide the girls with goodie bags, which would help them in starting up their teenage years healthy and fully educated about how their bodies work. There were other fundraisers too, to get the girls supplies like stationary, art supplies, and textbooks.

Lastly, I worked at Advitya in my junior and senior year where we worked with disabled adults. Advitya’s mission is to remove the discrimination that disabled adults face and make them skilled just like any abled person. They encourage creativity, so my friend and I started a club called Share the Music where we used music therapy to increase their confidence and teach them some music, too.

In all my years at high school, I worked with a range of organizations, which each taught me different lessons. I loved every bit of it and I hope to personally have an organization myself soon in India. Working for these organizations really makes you value life and see the world from a different perspective.