This post is part of #GivingTuesday's #WomenWhoGive series, which celebrates women who are making a difference in their communities.
Dr Sailakshmi Balijepally, Founder, Ekam Foundation
What inspired you to start giving?
I come from the school of thought that every person and individual in this Universe is connected and that we are One. It is this strong belief that has influenced most of my decisions since I was very young. When I started practicing as a physician in India, I saw how the inequities in the health system affected human lives. The public health system was ill-equipped and understaffed while the private health facility was inaccessible and expensive. To me, this was an unfair travesty as every life is equal. Evidently, I could not challenge the entire health system. So I thought of putting in my heart and soul into working out solutions which could better the lives of ill children and mothers.
My first patient, Kulsumbi was a homeless, destitute woman. As she lay unconscious on the road one day, a passer-by had the compassion to take her to a Government Hospital and admit her for treatment. Kulsumbi was in a clinically pathetic condition with live maggots crawling from her nostrils. I took up the case as a challenge, not realising the lifelong impression Kulsumbi would leave on me. As Kulsumbi recovered, I began to see myself as an instrument sent by God to heal. I also realised how deeply interconnected we all were in this world. Kulsumbi, without her knowledge, was the great teacher who made me realise that she was part of me and also that “I am just an instrument in the hands of God to heal."
What does giving mean to you? Why do you continue to give your time, talents, money, or more to your community?
I truly believe that giving with generosity comes naturally to the human spirit. We all have this innate capacity to love unconditionally and give without expecting.But, somehow the weariness of life’s banalities has clouded our collective vision, which sees other people as different from us. When we give our time, money, muscle power or strength to another in need, it helps connect people and bring them together.To experience that Oneness is one of the greatest joys of life.
To me, every single act of ours is driven by God’s direction. Today, I draw from my experiences as a doctor and a social entrepreneur, looking at giving not as an opportunity to transform another life but instead, as an opportunity to experience my ownspiritual growth and thank theAlmighty for making me an instrument in this process. I see every opportunity to give as a step forward in my own journey of life. In fact, in giving, I receive much more.
What would you tell others who are looking to start giving back? Share a piece of advice will help them get started.
The idea of giving back is a grandiose thought. Do not wait for a grand beginning. Find a cause or a project that you can identify with and link it with your strengths and skill sets. Try not to get dejected if your work goes unnoticed and carry on with your assignment with passion. Work selflessly and with the sole intention of wanting to make a change.
Lastly, remember that there is nothing like an entire community which joins hands for a cause. When many hands come together, the result is far more beautiful, impactful and definitely life-altering. You could align yourself with an organisation or group with like-minded individuals. This could translate to transformational work.
Please share a favourite moment or story from when you volunteered or donated to an organization.
In the years 2001 and 2004, I volunteered for the relief programs during the Bhujearthquake and Tsunami in India. What I found remarkable was the capacity of those who were personally affected by the disasters to rise above their personal tragedy and work for those around them. The women and youth in particular displayed remarkable courage and conviction. They did not have money or any worldly belongings, but they gave their time and love to the cause. This not only spoke about the strength, resilience and unconditional compassion of the human spirit but also made me realise that one can contribute in so many ways, not just through monetary channels. All it takes is the true desire to reach out and hold hands with those in need.