Question: Describe an impact you've had on an individual, group or organization. What did you do? Why has this experience been valuable to you or others? (500 words)
Two summers ago, I returned to India to volunteer in Dharavi, Asia's biggest slum. As a first-generation Indian American, I have spent many summers visiting relatives in India. After each visit, I had always promised myself that I would return to help the underprivileged masses whose dark eyes and smiles haunted me.
My extended family, which has always lived in India, was horrified by my proposal. "What is it with Americans," my aunt said, "they think they can save the world." My grandfather asked me seriously, as he shook his head in dismay, "Are you trying to catch a disease and kill us all?" I called my mother in America and told her of her family's reaction, and she advised me, "You just go and do the volunteering you need to do. You will never convince any of your relatives that it is wise, especially your grandfather. No one has ever changed his opinion, and you won't be the first."
Since I lived with my unyielding grandfather in India, I agreed that the moment I returned from volunteering, I would disinfect my body with his specially concocted magic potion--even under my nails and on the bottoms of my feet, he made me promise.
My family in India was terribly disappointed since this was my first visit when my time was not focused on them. But I made sure that I never missed my evening ritual with my grandfather. We sat together on the balcony with a hot cup of tea and watched the monsoon rains flood the beetle juice stained streets. He told me of his elaborate meals at country clubs with our family and friends and then segued to my turn by asking, "So do you feel like you wasted your day?" I ignored him and passionately told him about the people I met. He heard about everyone from the determined weavers who needed a new loom to beautiful Raju, whose parents set him on fire for not bringing home enough money. Soon my grandfather knew them all by name.
Close to my departure day, I took photos of the children, and accidentally left them on the breakfast table one morning. That evening, when I arrived from volunteering, I found my grandfather transfixed on a photo of a large group of children hugging me. "I guess they are just kids," he mumbled to himself. "They look very happy," he said slowly nodding his head, "They'll miss you, Nina." After a long pause, he pointed excitedly to a small boy with a smirk and declared, "I know this one is Cyrus! I can tell by his mischievous smile."
Before my visit, my grandfather would have never imagined touching a street child. But now, he thinks about it. He has shown me that I can have a significant impact on someone who everyone considers fixed. It always reminds me of my power to affect change, a mind-set I keep everyday.
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