A New Jersey Teenager Making a Global Impact
As you know, from time to time I like to take a break from writing about world events to talk about people and organizations that are important to me.
So let me tell you a little bit about Radha Godkar.
Radha is an incredible teenager in Morris County, New Jersey, who I had the privilege of meeting a few years ago.
She decided from a young age that it was important for her to make a difference in this world.
After watching her parents — who are both wonderful doctors and humanitarians based in New Jersey — work so hard to help others, and after volunteering with her parents and grandparents for years at medical camps, hospitals, and orphanages across the country and the world, Radha was inspired to start KANYAA.
So what does KANYAA do?
Here is Radha in her own words explaining her inspiration and her mission:
While working with my parents on their projects in the USA and India (which is native to our family) I realized that although there was a disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have- not’s’ there was an even wider disparity between boys and girls in India.
Every School/Hospital/Orphanage I volunteered in India with my parents I saw a distinct disadvantage against girls, something I did not see as much in my home country the USA.
The ratio of girls to boys in India is lower than most of the developed world and a lot of this is by design rather than chance.
A starker disparity is seen in schools (specifically in rural areas) where boys far outnumber girls.
I learned that girls are frequently confined/restricted to limited tasks like housekeeping and domestic upkeep. A lot of basic amenities like education and hygiene which I grew up with as a birthright was a privilege many girls were not privy to in the places where I volunteered my time.
So my mission was to reduce / eliminate this disparity to the best of my ability.
Kanyaa literally means ‘Girl Child.’
The theme, the heart, the soul and the goal of my mission is empowerment of the female child in every way possible.
My double digit years (I am a teenager finally) were influenced by the work of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey and just as they both championed female empowerment nationally and internationally, I too thought I should do this within my parents mission.
At first I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task at hand but was inspired by the quote from Mahatma Gandhi. ‘In a Gentle way you can Shake the World.’
That inspiration has led her down the path of some incredible philanthropy-based projects, a remarkable undertaking for such a young person.
Radha went into detail with me about the specifics of what she is currently working on:
‘Operation Michelle’ in a small village called Ratadia in Kutch, India and the second is ‘Operation Oprah’ where I am dedicating my resources to a Blind School in Mumbai India which specifically caters to the education of blind girls.
What is ‘Operation Michelle?’ and how did Radha get involved?
My involvement in ‘Operation Michelle’ was accidental.
While sitting next to my dad one evening, I saw he was going back and forth on his Facebook messenger with his friend.
Apparently the school in Ratadia had minimal to no sports equipment and they were short on funds.
When I learned that the cost to fund the entire sports equipment was 10,000 Indian Rupees ($150), I quickly scrambled to my room and was able to conjure up $200 prize money (gathered over the last 2 birthdays/Christmas/Thanksgiving holidays).
The tears of joy on my dad’s eyes that day was the best gift I have ever received.
I wanted to learn more about the school and so after a few emails back and forth and a visit to the school, we were told that it takes $200/year/child to cover expenses/ lodging/ boarding and education.
I had just received $1,000 from my grandparents for successfully passing the level 5 piano theory and practical exam in record time and I had absolutely no hesitation in pledging these funds to financially adopt 5 girls about my age.
My goal in this mission is to generate funds which will support food, education, hygiene, shelter and eventually a purpose to the lives of girls my age who were not as lucky as I was to be born into a privileged family.
And how about ‘Operation Oprah’?
I was introduced to the Kamlaben Mehta blind school for girls in Mumbai by my grandmother.
She routinely volunteers her time at this blind school for girls and helps the girls with basic activities of daily living like grooming and hygiene.
During my annual visits to India, my grandmother used to take me along as well.
The students of the blind school were disabled and had limited resources, but their spirit and enthusiasm to overcome this major obstacle in life was astounding.
I was frankly quite amazed at the skill some of these girls who are younger than me displayed at playing multiple musical instruments and were equally adept at knitting, sewing, and cooking.
I made several friends at the school and do call on them from time to time. Being born with normal vision I was awestruck by these talented girls, their motivated teachers and the setup at the school provided to them by the government.
Time spent at the school motivated me to come back to the US and do something to contribute towards blind education.
I toured the blind school in Newark, New Jersey in order to get a sense of blind education in the USA and what I observed when I compared the two systems that although the teachers and students were just as motivated, compared to blind schools in the US there were very few Braille-writers for the entire school .
Also, the school in Newark had moved on to digital Braille-writers which were more interactive and facilitated easier understanding of the Braille script thus enhancing faster learning.
This observation about the low ratio of Braille-writers to students at the blind school motivated me to conduct a fundraiser in my community and through the fundraiser I was able to purchase two Braille-writers from the Perkins school for the blind in Massachusetts for my blind friends in India.
My goal and hope is to eventually be able to muster enough funds to get these kids a couple of digital Braille-writers (a regular Braille-writer costs $700 while a digital Braille-writer costs $5,000).
I have to be honest: As a father myself, I am overwhelmed by how absolutely phenomenal this young woman is.
She is practically an unofficial U.S. ambassador to India as a mere teenager.
As much as I love my own daughters and are proud of everything they have accomplished, Radha’s mother and father must be absolutely over the moon about what a fantastic person she is quickly becoming.
The issues and challenges Radha is choosing to take on are vital ones, but they are issues that are very rarely tackled with the kind of vigor that is truly necessary.
By doing what she is doing now, at such an early age, Radha is showing day in and day out that she understands what it takes to be an exemplary human being and why it is so important to help those who cannot help themselves.
As I said, her parents should be extremely proud, and the world should be quite grateful for the positive difference she is making now and will continue to make for many years to come.