Hometown: New Haven, Conn.
Title: Executive director and co-founder of Cents of Relief
Can you tell the readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
The organization I co-founded, Cents of Relief, endeavors to empower women in prostitution and their children through health care and education. We achieve this by providing education, improving health care, and developing vocational opportunities for this vulnerable population. The ability to daily turn a human life away from human trafficking through our outreach programs provides me a joy that can not be matched by anything in this world.
Cents of Relief was launched in 2003 when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Florida with my husband Anup. The idea stemmed out of our passion to make a difference in lives of the indigent of India. When Anup went to work in an AIDS orphanage in Mumbai, I made him promise me to write to tell me about the experiences while I interned at the Florida Democratic Party that summer. After hearing the atrocities of the red-light areas and the injustices committed against these women and children, we decided to start our own nonprofit. Specifically, he told me how all of these children were victims of human trafficking and how the smallest amounts of funds raised helped them so much. With this in mind, Anup asked me to help him put a Web site up about human trafficking that could generate funds from clicks on advertisements. With my leadership positions on some organizations at the University of Florida such as the Indian Students Organization, the Volunteers for International Student Affairs and the South Asian American Leading Together’s National Gandhi Day of Service, I felt that we could create an even larger impact than just a Web site, especially with the support of all of our friends. That dream has turned into a reality with the creation of Cents of Relief which is rescuing victims of human trafficking.
To which charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?
I believe in supporting all of my family, friends and colleagues in the charitable causes they hold close to their hearts because they are the reason I have been fortunate enough to build Cents of Relief. Anytime I see a loved one holding a fund-raising effort I try to learn more about the cause attempting to support it as best I can. My main passion and charitable interest lies in supporting causes related to women and children. I have served as a Brownie Troop leader through the Girl Scout’s of America for an underserved group of girls in Cambridge, Mass. Through my work with Cents of Relief, I have also been able to partner with charitable organizations working on related causes like Destiny Reflection, Apne Aap, New Light Foundation, Nyaya Health and Operation Smile. I enjoy creating links and partnerships between organizations building synergies to improve the lives of those in need.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I enjoy being active and outdoors, while also challenging myself. I enjoy running, spinning, hiking, playing tennis and my weekly Pilates reformer class. I like registering for local 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons that support special causes because they give me a reason to train myself and push harder. My goal this year is to register for and complete a marathon. Adding the completion T-shirt to my wardrobe after the races is also super exciting to me. My other passion is exploring the world, so I am always planning a trip somewhere and researching local cultures and foods. My father always taught my brother and me that we should always try everything we can at least once, so I try to do something new whenever I have the opportunity.
In what way do you feel you have most positively influenced the local community and/or your company and professional field?
When Cents of Relief began in 2003, I remember all of the members of the South Asian community listening to our stories in shock that human trafficking and prostitution was such a problem in India. I was surprised to see that even Indian American immigrants were not aware of a major problem that exist in the country they spent most of their lives in. Luckily, over the past 10 years human trafficking has gained a lot of international attention, but when we began there were nothing. We still have a long way to go, but the awareness that I am able to raise about human trafficking is what I feel has been the most positive influence on the local community. I enjoy sharing stories of the boys and girls we work with in India and the progress they are making in life through the educational programs we offer through our partners. I love telling people about the women who leave prostitution and are able to get vocational training and new jobs to provide for their families. When we started Cents of Relief, many doubted this would be possible in such a challenging environment like the red-light area. I am proud to say these stories are becoming more commonplace as we expand our efforts. All of these stories restoring the human rights to these women and children, who had previously been made sex slaves, have motivated others to become involved and join our cause. We are blessed to have such support from the Indian community and would not have been close to the success we have achieved without this.