Maryland Preteen Collects Books and Backpacks for Students in Rural India
When Naisha Bellam returned from visiting family in India last year, she couldn’t stop thinking about the numerous young children she saw who were not receiving the same educational opportunities as her due to a lack of economic resources. The twelve-year-old Maryland native said she couldn’t not do something to help — so she started the Chirag Youth Group in Maryland and recruited about 50 volunteers to help her collect books, backpacks and other resources for underprivileged children. The organization started helping children in India, and is now starting to collect resources for children in African countries as well. Under her leadership, the Maryland club has raised thousands of dollars for kids in need and set up libraries at 125 schools in India.
On top of her role with the Chirag Youth Group, Naisha also frequently volunteers for SSL, or student service learning opportunities, which are Maryland state-required student community service hours. She has earned over 400 hours so far, and says she volunteers for almost every opportunity that she can throughout Montgomery County, MD.
For her constant dedication to helping improve the lives of kids throughout the world, Naisha is today’s Daily Point of Light honoree. Points of Light spoke with her about what motivates her to help so many.
Describe how you volunteer.
I volunteer by doing SSL opportunities, I volunteer in elementary schools, and I have an initiative to benefit kids in India [Chirag Youth Group]. Basically any SSL opportunity there is in Montgomery County, I most likely do it and it’s a variety of different types of things. I’ve made ribbons to put on a Christmas tree that had names of cancer patients and the tree was in Florida. I volunteer in my elementary school and we donate these bags of food that benefit kids who might not have food at home, and things like that.
[With the Chirag Youth Group], we mainly focus our projects to benefit kids in India but now we’re moving it to benefit kids in Africa, too. We had a mini library project where we set up basic libraries in rural schools in India. We also had this Caring4Kids [project] where we’ve donated multivitamins to kids in India too.
What gave you the idea to start the Chirag Youth Group?
Every alternate year, I travel to India with my family to visit my grandparents. Last year was special because during my visit, I saw many young children, mostly girls, working as child workers due to lack of resources and economic status. Many of these kids are forced to quit school in order to take care of their younger siblings or families, or they just get married at a young age because their parents couldn’t provide basic education or proper meals. It’s terrible and I wanted to help them because I knew these kids were very smart and had a lot of potential. After I returned to America, it was very hard for me to forget the stories because after everything I’ve seen and experienced, I just couldn’t leave it in the past. I heard stories from these kids and the hardships they are facing at such a young age and I believe every kid has the right to choose what they want to be in life. But this can’t happen if they’re forced to drop out of school and they don’t know what career options they have.
What made you want to set up library?
When me and my father went to India, we visited a rural school and I noticed they didn’t have a library and didn’t have basic needs. It was really hard to forget what happened to them so when I got back to America, I started collecting books and donating books to the kids in India.
They sent a lot of pictures and videos and thank you notes, and my heart just filled with joy.
What motivates you to spend so much of your time volunteering?
Because seeing the joy that fills me up that comes from these kids, I just can’t stop and I’m determined to help even more. I believe in a [Winston Churchill] quote that “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” I’m trying to give as much as I can to help these kids have a better life.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work with the Chirag Youth Group?
Seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that I’m making their life better. After we donated the books, we got their test scores back, and for the majority of their schools, 100 percent of [the students] passed and I felt very good.
Have your experiences as a volunteer played any role into what you want to do when you grow up?
I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, but I want to be a human rights lawyer to fight for the people. And I’m not going to stop with what I’m doing, I’m going to keep doing my volunteering. I was a very shy kid with hardly any confidence to stand alone but once I started doing SSL volunteering at organizations, I’ve gained a lot of confidence and knowledge and esteem about me and compassion and care and giving. I had learned all these qualities as a kid in preschool but I couldn’t develop it, but during the course of growing up and doing SSL, I have lost all these characteristics that are necessary. So once I started SSL, I realized I’m shaping into a good human being and my life was changing. Once I started working for these kids, the inner strength in me started showing up in the form of determination and motivation. I had this will to do good and have a never give up attitude.
Personally, I have learned a lot from my experience dealing with donors and charity event coordinators and volunteers, but the best learning experience is from the beneficiary kids who have taught me to be optimistic and always keep smiling in every phase of life. My trip to India to set up libraries was a memorable time for me as I got to explore the tribal culture and talk with kids and spend quality time learning new vocabulary. The joy that I get spending time with these kids is incomparable and can never be measured with numerous video games or trendy clothes or cool shoes. Whenever I interacted with the kids who benefited by my work, it gave me immense satisfaction and peace. I want to study hard and become a human rights lawyer so I can be a voice for those who cannot speak.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I want them to learn that it’s great to give back and you shouldn’t take everything for granted. Doing volunteer work can benefit you in so many ways. No matter what happens to you, if you have volunteering, you can benefit everyone.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Naisha? Click here for local volunteer opportunities.