“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I started thinking of volunteering/Community service as a mere requirement for school. So this summer instead spending time home enjoying, I decided to get done with this mere requirement. But never realized how it was going to change my perspective towards life, how much more it was than just that mere requirement.

My name is Divya Pendyala and I volunteered at the Vegesna foundation for two weeks in Hyderabad, India. I heard about the program through family friends and was immediately intrigued. The school offers education to those who are physically and mentally challenged as well as provides a dorm/residence for those who need it. The school prepares kids to fend for themselves by providing educational and vocational services up to 10th grade.

When I first went into the school I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous and excited - Mixed feelings. But when I saw this girl smile and come to me, my heart melted and the two weeks just flew by.

During my two weeks there, we taught the students math, english, and science in the morning and engaged them with crafts in the afternoon. I was amazed at their ability at various activities. We watched them as they worked hard in physical therapy, determined to get better. We did case studies on individual kids and tried to identify/understand the source of their disability.

We also visited the villages from where these students came from. It was a heartbreaking yet valuable experience. It was hard for me to see people living in such conditions. It made me appreciate how fortunate I was, but also that I should take advantage of my resources to help those in need.

One of the challenges was to interact with these kids in the local language, Telugu. I barely knew how to speak as I never did at home, though my parents insisted but eventually gave up. To my amazement, it went very well. Those kids made me feel so comfortable and I never realized I was struggling to speak in Telugu.

Their positive attitude towards us and our activities was remarkable. Every single day when we went to the school, they were happy and joyous, and excited to learn new things. This motivated me to teach them and make it a memorable experience for them. The spirit of the kids, the smiles on their faces, their optimism, enthusiasm towards life - I think I learnt a lot from them rather than teach them. Having everything in life I still have moments that I wished I had more. This program taught me the importance of not just having but giving back. I hope to spread awareness and raise funds to help these kids. It is my aspiration to see the school grow bigger with better facilities and resources.

I do not want to show sympathy or say that they are underprivileged. They are truly differently abled kids. There were moments of sadness, there were moments of joy, there were moments of laughter and happiness. Which is what life is all about. My experience was so joyous that I came back with a promise to see them again next year and hopefully every year and watch these kids grow and learn from them the lessons of life , being happy with what you have, being optimistic about what you can achieve and to dream that nothing is impossible if you try.

I would like to thank Rama Raju garu for giving me this opportunity to explore beyond my community. I highly encourage kids to visit the school, as they will walk away gaining a new perspective. Stepping out of my bubble and exploring new things has changed my life, and that of others as well.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi

My definition of Community service - You give a lot, gain a lot, learn a lot about others and yourself.

Divya Pendyala, Gr. 11