Sneha Akurati Akshaya Patra Youth Ambassador
Guntur, a small village in India, is a haven of family and memories. It is where I am always treated like a princess by my grandparents. It is where I climbed guava trees to find the best tasting fruits. It was where my cousin and I got our first friends, Seaweed and Splash, our pet turtles. Guntur is an Akshaya Patra of memories, appropriately translated to an endless pot. India has given me timeless memories. It is time to show gratitude back to the place that have endlessly poured out memories for me. Akshaya Patra has given me the tools to do so. Its mission is to feed millions of kids in India who lack the means but have the zeal to learn and achieve. Just by feeding them one wholesome meal a day, the kids are encouraged to stay in school and continue their education. However, the impacts go far beyond that. One meal may lead to education, but education leads to life of opportunities and wonders.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam means one world, one family. My parents have instilled the value of community and service within me. This past year, I could put these values in practice when fundraising for Akshaya Patra. As I ventured on different avenues, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam guided me to my end goal. One path I took happened every summer on Friday evenings from 5-7, painting with middle school kids. With the help of my best friend, we taught art classes for local middle school kids in her family’s garage. When our classes first sprouted, we began with three kids. They were so happy, that they brought their friends. Soon, the class grew until there were almost 15 regular kids. We set the prices modestly and felt that it was appropriate to support other kids, so they could feel the same happiness in their art education.
Another path I ventured on to support Akshaya Patra was pet sitting. I made sure it was known to all my friends and family that my family’s home would be place where their pet would be loved when they are away. From a little maltese(dog) named Natsumi to a white haired named Robert, my home loved and cared for all animals. I asked the owners of these pets to go to my Feed Education Campaign on the Akshaya Patra Campaign and donate any amount they feel is appropriate. Often, they donated a generous amount to support kids in India, only to confirm that we are one world, one family.
Prairie Farm Corps became a valuable supporter in my efforts. Prairie Farm Corps, a local farm based in the tight knit suburbs of Chicago, helped me support kids across the Atlantic Ocean, through which they painted the true picture of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The farm let me share their small plot of land granted to them in the Farmer’s Market where I could set up a Henna stand. Here, I sat from 9 am to 1 pm, every Thursday of Summer, and decorated the hands of passersby. As I drew natural, temporary henna tattoos of flowers, suns, and traditional Indian designs, I raised money to support Akshaya Patra. The Henna stand allowed me to explore and share the beauty of my Indian roots in America, so I can bring back gratitude to kids in India.
As I dabbled in different avenues to achieve my bigger goal, it was the immense support and encouragement that made the journey joyful. The essence of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam showed its true colors when the local Belgium Waffle Stand gave me a free waffle to support me at my henna stand. My teachers came to visit my stand and donated money just to show support. That support was shown when even strangers didn’t hesitate to pay more than what was priced. It was shown when three kids brought their friends to enjoy our art class. Time and time again, the practice of one world, one family shown bright through all those that supported me along my journey.
Last winter break, I was excited to visit my grandparents in India once more. I was excited to swing under the guava tree while the smells of my favorite curries waft through the air. However, this trip showed me another perspective of India when I spent a day with students at a small governmental school in India. Here I met students studying the same subjects in the same grade, only 9,000 miles away. Yet their hospitality and inclusion never matched the physical distance, as they would be ecstatic to show me around, play games with me, and learn with me. I remember I shared a unique connection with one girl, Sneha, because she had the same name as me. She eagerly took my hand in hers and ran me over to her favorite spot under the gooseberry tree. Here she taught me how to write “Sneha” in Telugu, as she scribbled in onto my hand. When lunchtime came, I followed the students into the classroom, where we settled ourselves in a circle on the floor, holding our steel plates filled with sambar, rice, and ragi cookies, from Akshaya Patra. It was this food that connected our universes together and gave me an experience that I shall cherish forever.
India is a universe that wraps me in the values of community and family. Every trip I make, I am showered with a sense of inclusion and belonging. After spending a day with kids that are studying to achieve dreams just like me, showed me that we live parallel lives in our own ways. The Sneha in India deserves the same opportunities as me. Akshaya Patra has given me the tools to reach out Sneha, and other students in India. It has allowed me to practice Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam; one world, one family. I was taught that to get to India, it may be trip of 9,000 miles, but to give back to India, it is merely a trip to my heart. My childhood is in the junction between two worlds, but it is in this small space where I have learned to flourish.