Rajiv Kumar, a scientist at the National Institute of Health in Washington D.C., got pecuniary help for his studies while growing up in Lucknow, and also a fellowship for his Ph.D.
Years later when he moved to the U.S. to work in the faculty of Emory University in Atlanta, Kumar had not forgotten how he completed his education. In 1999, when the Ekal Foundation was established in the U.S. Kumar, then the president of the Atlanta chapter of Vishwa Hindu Parishad involved himself with its voluntary work whose mission was to provide literacy among the rural and underprivileged people, including in tribal areas where there is no government school.
“I remembered how I got my education for which I never had to pay and thought here is my opportunity to give back to the society that helped me in my formative years and help provide education to children and even adults. In my mind that was a great cause for which to work,” Kumar said.
That enthusiasm for Ekal’s mission increased to a great extent after he moved to Maryland in 2003, working with fellow volunteers of the Ekal D.C. chapter to raise awareness about the nonprofit and its work. He also became involved with Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign which is an on-the-job fundraising program in the federal workplace.
Kumar not only organizes fund-raisers for Ekal, as a federal employee he also makes personal donations for Ekal every year, which is registered with CFC as a nonprofit. There are about 20,000 charities like Ekal which are registered with CFC as 501 (C) organizations. “If one wants to donate for a particular, for example like Ekal, all one has to do is to select Ekal as a beneficiary and the money goes to the charity,” Kumar explained.
But he laments that although Indian Americans have the highest median annual household income at $100,000, they give far below their potential and capability. And one of the reasons for that, he said, is that Indians have not fully developed the American attitude of giving.
“We tend to always think if we give $10,000 for a noble cause, what would we get out of that, what would be our own benefit. That kind of attitude is still there among many people if not all,” Kumar said.
Nonetheless, he acknowledged that the temperament for charitable giving is changing albeit slowly. “For instance, when Indian Americans visit our homeland and come back to the U.S. after seeing Ekal’s work, many of them get highly enthused about our mission and the genuine work we are doing there. That sometimes translates into more giving for the cause,” Kumar said.
Acknowledging that there is a tremendous sense of pride among Indians to be able in their own ability to do things on their own, Kumar, who describes himself only as a volunteer for Ekal, said that besides doing annual fundraising musical program every year, the D.C. chapter has road cleaning drives by adopting a highway. The D.C. chapter, he said, is currently sponsoring four Gramothan Centers, each with a cluster of 30 villages in Madhya Pradesh, education and health, computer-training in Uttar Pradesh, and tailoring and computer training centers in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.