Shyla Talluri arrived in the United States in 1998 with just two packed bags, but the 44-year-old Saint Johns, Florida resident says it was the confidence her education gifted her that gave her the strength to grow. Shyla is now working to give that gift to thousands others through service.
Founding PURE (People for Urban and Rural Education) in 2016, its mission to fight poverty by offering educational opportunities to disadvantaged children and economic opportunities to their families, Shyla has since reached thousands of children and adults around the world. Offering relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Shyla says the organization and its volunteers pushed to do more, increasing service and fundraising to offer help on a larger scale, enabling PURE to set up much needed COVID centers and two intensive care units in remote areas of India.
What inspires you to volunteer?
I’m grateful for what life has given me, and I personally believe everybody should give something back, whether it’s time, funds or their skills. I’m motivated by the gratitude for the privilege I have in life.
Describe your volunteerism with PURE.
We are a bridge between people who have love to give and people who are the source of love. As CEO and founder of PURE, which is volunteer-led and run, I engage volunteers, promote development and fundraising, and coordinate our programs. We have hundreds of volunteers in the U.S. and internationally, and offer everything from skill development and menstrual hygiene awareness to improving school infrastructure, sponsorships for persons with disabilities and parentless children and giving street kids and indigent populations access to school. We’ve connected with people in need from India to Uganda to Barbados to the U.S., and have helped more than 200,000 people in total between education and COVID-19 relief efforts.
Share one personal story with me from your volunteerism.
We were hosting an education and period diversity awareness workshop during an international trip to India, and an 8th grade girl came running to me crying, and hugged me. I was in shock, because I wasn’t sure what was happening. Once the girl calmed down, she explained she thought there was something wrong with her body because there’d been no menstruation education provided at home or school.
I’m getting goosebumps just talking about this moment, because she found somebody who cared, and it’s not just me. All the sleepless nights, everything we’re doing, this moment made it totally worth it. Even if we can change just one child’s life, [relieve just a] little bit of fear for one child. And there are many instances like that.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your service?
It’s rewarding seeing how many people want to help. Social media usually focuses on a lot of things that are negative, but being part of PURE and networking shows me people are very good. PURE has become that platform where people can come in and do their bit to give.
How have you continued to volunteer throughout the pandemic?
Things have changed so much, technology has connected us. If you’re not able to go to a shelter or soup kitchen, you can still give back, sitting right there in your home. Families and children were affected by the crisis, so we had to adjust how we worked. I was surprised by how people were still able to give back, and it showed us we can do a lot more as an organization than we thought we were capable of.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Not all of us know everything at the start [of volunteering], but you can learn on the job. You can learn from the people you serve. By volunteering, you give back to the people you are helping and better yourself.
In one word, what does volunteering mean to you?
Worship. Volunteering is a form of worship to me. I see spirituality in volunteerism.
How can readers help?
We’re dependent upon volunteers to carry out our important activities, and we encourage student volunteers. Please visit our website to learn more about how you can help.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Shyla Talluri? Find local volunteer opportunities.