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Sadhna Gupta: Being Herself In Mombasa, Kenya

Jaya Asthana

When many of us were hiking in the mountains, swimming at the beach or enjoying the latest summer movie release popping popcorn, Sadhna Gupta spent two months in the sweltering heat of Mombasa, Kenya, doing a volunteer internship focused on health education, youth empowerment, and HIV/AIDS. She was only being herself.

Sadhna Didi, as she is known at the Southboro Bal Vihar, lived with a host family and worked at the House of Courage Initiative (HOCI) in Mombasa. HOCI is a small, grassroots organization started within a local community in northern Mombasa with limited resources. Their office is very small and almost all of the 18 members (ages 20-26) volunteer their time to work at HOCI without pay.
"It was a very moving visit," wrote Sadhna, "but very sad to see the conditions the children are living in. Currently there are 32 children living in the orphanage (they have a very small space) and they have a lot of major needs which are not being met. Some of the rooms have leaking roofs and all of the children share a bed with 2 others. Sanitation is poor. They receive no funding and the orphanage was started by a couple who were kind enough to take in AIDS orphans through their church (the kids are all different religions)."

The organization does an extremely effective job mobilizing people within the community and convincing them to get tested for HIV/AIDS. Essentially, HOCI shows up in a neighborhood and draws crowds of people through dance competitions, games, music, and comedic theatre. Throughout this entertainment, HOCI convinces people to get tested and counseled for HIV, which takes place simultaneously during their events. They also educate the general public about reproductive health issues and provide peer counseling services in order to improve health conditions and create awareness.
Sadhna's internship project was to generate materials for HOCI that will help them to expand and mobilize more people throughout Kenya. She created brochures, newsletters, banners, and other written materials which HOCI will use to partner with more groups.

"My biggest concern was creating a project and leaving a mark that will be sustainable beyond the time that I am here." Therefore, all the projects she decided to do for the orphanage were either sustainable or addressed long-term health/hygiene issues for the kids.

Therefore, she designed t-shirts, brochures, and a banner that House of Courage could use to publicize its organization and activities. She provided 100 plastic chairs to the Restoration Orphanage which they will rent out to various events and meetings at a profit. All profits will be used directly to provide food to the 30+ orphans. She bought two computers and an internet modem for the office to use so that they are able to expand and do more positive work in the future.

Sadhna is an alumnus of VHPA Bal Vihar of Southborough, MA. She attended Bal Vihar from the age of 6 till she graduated from High School. As a child, she was always interested in the “Seva” programs of Bal Vihar, and played an active role, whether it was organizing food drives or volunteering to help tutor younger children.

Takchha Singh, a junior student at Bal Vihar, said, “Sadhna Didi was always ready to help us with anything. She taught us Indian games, helped us with our Hindi homework, and made us feel confident of ourselves. She was always very cheerful, hardworking and motivated us to do our best.”

Translating the lessons learned during childhood into actions in your adult years is one of the goals of the Bal Vihar. Sadhna Gupta has demonstrated very ably that she has imbibed that learning. Thus, as a freshman at Duke University, instead of relaxing, she took on the daunting task of helping out the children in Kenya as part of her college internship program.

Working gently with others comes naturally to Sadhna. She motivated the group to paint the Restoration orphanage from the inside. Repaired the roof of the orphanage as well as leveled the ground outside to get rid of puddles, breeding rounds for mosquitoes. Impressed, the Deputy Mayor recognized the donations made and cleared the orphanage's pending water and electricity bill of 20,000 Kenyan shillings (about $250) and agreed that the government will pay the bills monthly from now on.

To do all this, Sadhna raised money from her friends and well-wishers here in the US. The funds were used to buy textbooks for classes 6-8 in all subjects for the orphanage's school, bed sheets for each bed at the orphanage and 24 pairs of shoes for all the children.

Ruma Mishra, one of the mothers in Bal Vihar, said: “I have known Sadhna since she was in third grade and was always impressed by her inner motivation and selfless personality. It was no surprise for me when I heard that Sadhna will be spending her summer in Kenya doing volunteer work with children. This is what Sadhna is all about- a self motivated, dedicated and diligent person. I'm really proud of her."

Bal Vihar is held every Sunday from 2:30 PM to 4:30 PM, in Southborough, MA. There are different levels, depending on the age of the child. The teenagers have a Hindu Dharma group, where they learn about their rich culture and heritage. The Southboro Bal Vihar always extends a warm hand to young boys and girls, pre-teens or teens that are interested in learning Hindi, playing games, doing yoga, reciting shlokas or become community workers and a role model like Sadhna Didi.

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