I first knew of Selva via email. He was introduced to me via the Arts Internship Office at McGill University to be my future supervisor for my project in India. I was asked to send an email introducing myself and asking questions about what to expect upon arrival. I started the email by saying “Dear Ma’am”, only to realize that Selva was a guy’s name.
I actually met Selva when I first flew in to India. I had landed in the Chennai Airport in India and I found myself in a pool of dark-complexioned and moustache-rocking Tamil men staring at me at the arrivals gate. He quickly recognized me from my photos and waved at me and suddenly I had a friend in the strange city.
Tamilians, or people from Tamil Nadu are generally very small in bone structure, which made me feel like a complete giant the entire three months of my stay.
Selva was your average Tamil man: small physique, thick moustache hanging over his upper lip, and had a typical Indian man potbelly, which before you get all offended, is a cultural a symbol of prosperity in both men and women. Plus, when rice is your staple food, eating it almost 3 times a day in various shapes and forms, you’re bound to get a belly no matter how much you exercise.
He helped me with my bags, walked me to the car and dropped me off at the hostel for Working Women. That hostel has stories of its own, and if you want to read about my rat and cockroach stories, refer to my earlier post here.
So who is Selva, how do I know him, and how come I’m writing about him. While working with AID India, a not-for-profit, this past summer, Selva was my coordinator. Does Selva work at AID? No, he does not. Infact, Selva works at a Chemical Engineering lab at IIT Madras, a polytechnic educational institute. Infact, he is a fulltime non-paid volunteer with AID India, and offers his services after 5pm on weekdays and throughout the weekend. Without exaggeration, he has spent the past 12 years of his evenings and weekends volunteering with AID INDIA - an NGO that tackles problems from the grass-root level. Since he was volunteering while working full time, he became a role-model in his community and eventually inspired more people to join the movement of volunteerism. In time, Selva and his colleagues at AID mobilized more than 3000 volunteers who undertook over 40 projects in the field of education, environment, women’s rights and social justice campaigns. Additionally in 2013, he won the title of “Volunteer Hero” of the year, an award given by the iVolunteer conferences held in the US – but that’s not why I am writing this blogpost.
I am not writing about Selva to encourage volunteerism (okay maybe I am subliminally) but rather I am using his life story as an example to allow our pasts to make us better not bitter.
Ever since childhood, he showed himself as a self-starter and a self-motivator. Selva has a deep compassion for all humankind, and has showed his acts of altruism through his numerous years at AID India.
He hails from a small town, from an impoverished family with many problems; however, he never allowed poverty to be used an excuse for looking down on his life. In fact, he took his challenges as an opportunity to become a better person.
During his days as a young student, his class teachers admired his hard work and encouraged him to participate in extracurricular activities. Whenever a school play was organized, Selva played the lead role, and won multiple awards for his performances.
Due to financial restrictions, he could not pursue a university degree and had to take up an early job to support his mother and sister. Right after his diploma, he started working in the industry. He took the responsibility of steering his family at the age of nineteen. Something I personally couldn't do.
Once employed at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, he started to give back to his community.
Selva believes volunteerism is a responsibility that must be fulfilled by everyone in society regardless of age or class. He started to coordinate a volunteer movement in Delhi and built a network of volunteers independently.
While at his day job, he excelled by innovating and improvising the laboratory he was working at. He wrote laboratory manuals, which helped students to perform experiments in the laboratory better and renovated the laboratory.
Additionally, He managed to balance his work with volunteering and eventually built a movement of more than three thousand volunteers who worked on forty different projects in the field of education, environment, women empowerment and social justice issues. He managed to coordinate a large group of people without having an HR degree or doing a management course. Indeed, it was not schooling, but rather his life experiences and his volunteering that shaped his life.
He then moved to Chennai and started to coordinate volunteers and international interns for AID India at Chennai. He became a key member of the team, apart being from a skilled fundraiser. He has cumulatively raised more than six hundred thousand US Dollars in the past three years. At the age of 30, he started to practice archery, and is currently a professional archer in the state of Tamil Nadu. There's nothing this guy can't do.
Selva may have been the small boy from the small town of Ambasamudram, but today he is an avid traveler and has traveled across length and breadth of his motherland to understand people and their problems at the grass-root level.
I don't know about you, but I'm thinking "impossible is nothing"
Mina is a multimedia journalist currently based in London, U.K.
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