When Community College Initiative (CCI) participants fulfill their internship requirements, they often learn as much from their colleagues as they do from their hands-on work experience. For CCI alumnus Rajesh Shanmugan, a fellow intern’s selflessness opened his eyes to the power of serving one’s community, and Rajesh is now spreading that value in his home country of India.
While studying information technology at Northern Virginia Community College – Annandale in 2016-17, Rajesh interned at a computer training center for low-income community members. There he met a fellow intern who was over 50 years-old.
“While we are having a conversation, I (learned that) he works from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and after that he will present in the computer core center at 7 p.m. and ends at 10 p.m., in which he is doing it unpaid. This thing surprised me and boosted my motivation more,” Rajesh recalled.
His colleague’s example, along with the volunteer work Rajesh did, motivated Rajesh to commit to community service in India, too. In the year since his return, he has been working to provide basic education and promote healthy activities for young children in rural areas. Through a budding organization he calls “Educating Indian Hearts,” Rajesh has organized a series of donation drives and volunteer visits to remote villages in Tamil Nadu.
The catalyst for this initiative occurred in May 2017 when Rajesh went on a day trip with friends to Hogenakkal Falls. Along the way, they stopped in a village in Unichetty District and asked for water. Some of the residents invited them into their home and offered them snacks as well.
“When we looked around we could see how underprivileged they are,” Rajesh said. “And this thing is passing through many generations together.”
To show gratitude for the villagers’ hospitality, Rajesh bought chocolate to share with the children.
“Their joy is amazing, so amazing to feel that I am a reason for those smiley faces, I just loved it with full of my heart,” he said. “This provoked and motivated me to take it to next level.”
In his initial attempts to enlist volunteers for a service event in the village, however, Rajesh faced numerous rebuffs.
No personal benefit.
These responses left Rajesh feeling frustrated, wondering, “Why are people here so selfish?”
But then one friend agreed to visit the village.
Since his happenstance first stop in Unichetty, Rajesh has led three volunteer visits to villages in the district. On these occasions, he and his fellow students led recreational and educational activities for local children and delivered donations they purchased with pooled pocket money.
During their latest visit, Rajesh and other volunteers held sports games and a talent show called “NOVA Talent Day.” They also encouraged the children to dream big for future careers and distributed clothing, school supplies, and food.
Other Indian CCI alumni are among Educating Indian Hearts’ volunteers. For example, Nirmal Chandhni Visvanathan (Northern Virginia Community College – Alexandria, Information Technology, 2016-2017) assisted in event management for NOVA Talent Day, Dhanraj Patil (Northampton Community College, Information Technology, 2015-16) introduced the village children to basic English, and Roman Jenova (Scottsdale Community College, Media, 2016-2017) pitched in on graphic design and filming for the organization.
Rajesh recently earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Bangalore University and started a job at a multinational company. In his spare time, he is working to turn Educating Indian Hearts into a registered NGO.
“I promised my coordinator Kelly Forbes back in USA that I will definitely try to serve my community in India, and I am trying to get satisfaction to that promise,” Rajesh wrote in a March Facebook post about his volunteer activities.
Rajesh’s commitment to serving underprivileged children in India illustrates how the CCI Program empowers participants to become life-long difference makers in communities around the globe.