All my life, I have always wanted to help others. I have seen persecution, racism, and blind hatred for those who are different or deemed unworthy. I have seen these people for what they are, and they are not animals. They are human beings. I have tried to dedicate what I can to these marginalized groups; whether its refugees, Muslims, people who are severely impoverished, or who have immigrated illegally. These people deserve respect and opportunity.
I grew up in India in the 1980s. I lived in a southern village close to neighboring states, so it was filled with a variety of people. My mother was very involved with music and I received many of my traits and talents from her, including her kindness. My father was a bank employee that traveled often for his work. He was usually only home once a week, but I never felt like it affected my childhood. I did miss him though. Much of my childhood was spent around my extended family like my cousins and grandparents. We all lived in our own houses, but they were very close together.
I had a happy childhood. Many adults would have described me as naughty, but I was just enjoying my youth. I liked joking around with my classmates, especially with my friends. One day, I ate my friend’s lunch because I was hungry. When she went to look for it, I offered her my lunch and casually informed her that I had eaten hers during class. She found it funny, but my teachers did not. I had to keep many of my pranks under the radar, so my teachers wouldn’t find out and punish me. I never bullied other kids. I just liked to make people laugh. I never thought I was better or worse than other kids.
My family was considered “upper caste.” For those who are unfamiliar, in India, the caste system has been prominent for centuries. It is a discriminatory system based off one’s religion that decides which people are more intelligent or desirable. Upper caste refers to those who are on the top of the stack, while lower caste are those individuals who are not favored and are often looked down on. My whole life I never understood it. I had friends at all levels of the caste system, and I did not discriminate. I have always thought that everyone should be allowed to be who they are, and not looked down on for their place in the system.
I grew up in a time that India was experiencing mass economic growth. This meant profound changes for a lot of the country, especially in my state in southern India. While the north stayed mostly the same, economic opportunity in the south was able to alter generations of intolerance. Many of my friends could finally get into better schools, and their parents had chances at better jobs. The reward of seeing these concrete changes was unforgettable.
Though it was common for children of higher castes to receive better opportunities or special treatment, I never had this happen to me. The opportunities I received came from my own hard work and skills. This was the case for people in lower castes, so I didn’t see why I shouldn’t be held to the same standards. My parents raised me to treat everyone equally despite their class rank. My mother was my primary influence and inspiration to pursue volunteering. She taught me to be kind to anyone that I meet and respect them. She also instilled the importance of thinking positively. If something doesn’t work out, then it’s probably for the better. I cultivated my own standards for how I view the world and treat people thanks to my progressive upbringing.
After graduating high school in 2001, I went to the SSS Institute of Higher Learning for my undergraduate education to learn about finance and systems. Following that, I got my MBA from Shri Nehru Maha Vidyalaya College of Arts & Science. By 2006, I was entering the workforce. I started out at a broking house in India, managing finances for clients. After a few years, I left to become a business analyst for an information technology company. While I worked that job, I was given the opportunity to travel to Europe to meet with our European clients. My trip there made me realize how much more of the world there was for me to see. I caught the traveling bug and wanted to continue exploring the world as soon as I could.
On this trip, I had spent three months in different European countries including Poland. There I saw that a lot of the youth were getting involved in drugs. Going there opened my eyes when I returned to India to see similar issues happening. I began volunteering for an organization to help citizens in poverty. I also started to mentor the new generation of kids. I didn’t have the luxury of someone warning me about the harsh realities of life, so I wanted to be that for the teens in India.
I had also seen Europe during the former soviet bloc and saw the effects that hatred and cruelty could have on individuals. I witnessed people mistreated based on prejudice all my life, and I wanted to change that. I realized that I was destined to help those that had been forgotten.
My degrees and newfound interest in volunteering wasn’t all that I wanted out of my life though. I was still young. There were still parts of the world I wanted to experience. I decided to pursue a career in information systems. I was fascinated by what I could do with the technology. I continued learning so that I could use my knowledge to help boost my career.
In 2011, I moved to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree in Business Informatics. The move promised to put me in a place where I could grow my career, while supporting my passion to explore a new culture. It also acted a freeing force from the traditions of India. Not only does the caste system still play a major role in perceptions of people, but arranged marriage is still commonplace. If I had lived in India I would be eventually forced by my parents to pick a husband. This would mean not only sacrificing my career, but more importantly I would have to put my volunteer work aside. Those are my two passions, and nothing is worth paying that high of a price.
I went to Northern Kentucky University for my degree and landed a graduate assistant position to help with the tuition. I only bought necessities and never asked my parents or anyone for money. I’ve always felt that I wanted to get what I wanted on my own with hard work and effort. I didn’t want things handed to me if I didn’t earn it. I believe this came from my background of wanting to be treated the same as lower caste students. I worked to be independent, but also look for ways to help people.
I started volunteering at organizations whenever I could after I graduated. I found a great sense of purpose through volunteering that made me feel whole. I also began an internship to get computer technology experience. Soon enough, I became a project manager before I left to begin at my current job at a supply chain technology company. I’ve remained unmarried and independent. I’d like to work toward creating my own organization to help those in poverty around the world. I’d also like to be a source of aid during natural disasters.
I know that there will always be hate, anger, and jealousy in this world. The smallest change could make the biggest difference. It’s how movements are started, opinions are changed, and the world becomes a better place. Helping is like a feedback loop. If you help someone, one day you will receive help at a time that you need it. I may be one person, but I hope to work toward a world where everyone is accepted.
This is the story of Divya Viswanathan:
Divya currently lives in Ohio. Divya lived in India until she was in her late 20s and moved to the United States to further her education. She saw first-hand the unfair treatment of people from lower castes/classes in India but never understood the reasoning behind it. She always saw everyone as equal. As she grew up, her desire to help those disenfranchised grew stronger and she began to volunteer when she could. She hopes that one day prejudice will be eradicated.
Making a Difference
All my life, I have always wanted to help others. I have seen persecution, racism, and blind hatred for those who are…
Life Log #12.