Local Mom Profile: Lives Enlightened Through Education

Sarva Rajendra, a Loudoun mother of three, lives a bit of a double life. By day, she works as a private medical practice manager in Leesburg, VA. By night and in her spare time, she serves as executive director of the Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education—a nonprofit organization that provides residential care and education to underprivileged girls in Bangalore, India.

Sarva’s involvement with Sahasra Deepika began with her parents, who founded the organization. Her father grew up in poverty but attended college, thanks to his tenacity coupled with encouragement from teachers. Her mother was not given the opportunity to go to college because she was female.

The couple never forgot how education impacted their lives. In 1998, they created Sahasra Deepika—which means “a thousand lights” in Sanskrit—to give back to society. Their vision for the foundation is that everyone, joining together, can be a light for a child in need.

Sarva herself studied political science at Wellesley College and public health at Johns Hopkins University. As executive director of Sahasra Deepika, her main role is to increase awareness of the work being done and build a solid base of support for the future so more children can benefit from the program and achieve an education.

Additional Q&A with Sarva Rajendra:

How did you become executive director at Sahasra Deepika?

I initially became involved when my parents founded the organization and began by helping them from time to time. But as my involvement gradually deepened, my passion for this cause grew. I became fully committed to the organization’s future. Three years ago, my parents, who now spend most of their time working with the children in India, asked me to head the foundation in the U.S.

How has your parents’ devotion to education influenced you?

Education had a tremendous impact on my parents’ lives. They have always felt that an educated person has an obligation to not only better their own lives but to take what they’ve learned and help to change society for the better. This belief has really informed my life. Part of our core mission at Sahasra Deepika is not only to educate children, but to inspire them to pay that forward someday.

What do your sons think of what you do?

My children have always had a close relationship with their grandparents, and so Sahasra Deepika inevitably became a part of their lives. It’s been very gratifying to see how they have helped directly and have involved their friends in our organization.

What is your proudest moment throughout your time working at Sahasra Deepika?

I was in Bangalore for our 15th anniversary celebration in 2013. At the end of the program, all the kids gathered on stage for a portrait. I was so proud and touched to see the children, from the little 4-year-olds to those in college, blossoming into bright and happy young women. Seeing this range of age groups assembled together brought home the impact Sahasra Deepika is making. Although our numbers are small, I know these kids will help build a positive future for themselves, their children and the world. That makes me very proud.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy traveling, reading, music, attending plays and concerts, and taking long walks with our dog.

Printed Q&A with Sarva Rajendra:

What does Sahasra Deepika provide?

Our residential program cares for girls from kindergarten through high school, providing them housing, food, counseling and all the support that they need to focus on their education. We place the girls into college or vocational school and continue to support them until they finish. The majority of these girls have single mothers who simply cannot afford to provide their daughters the support they need to complete their education. We have a school on our campus, and we also conduct outreach programs to tutor thousands of high-school students in low-income schools around Bangalore, India.

How does being a mother influence your desire to educate the underprivileged children of Bangalore?

I often wonder how I would handle the circumstances faced by the mothers of girls in Bangalore. Despite their poverty and lack of education, they want the best for their daughters. It must be so hard for them to entrust their children’s care and education to total strangers. Yet, they do so out of great love for their daughters. Sahasra Deepika is not only a place of education, it’s a safe haven so the girls don’t have to live on the streets or go from town to town while their mothers follow the work. For the few girls who have no parents, it’s especially hard. It’s very important to me, as a mother, that all of the girls feel safe and loved so they can thrive. Knowing they are valued increases their confidence so they can develop their full potential. I want to inspire in them the confidence that they can accomplish anything.

How do you balance motherhood and your career?

Sometimes it’s very difficult to balance everything! I’ve been fortunate that my family has been very supportive of both my work life and my passion for Sahasra Deepika. I’m continually inspired by women, from many walks of life, who are my role models. And I’m constantly trying to improve the balance in my life. I’ve also learned to ask for help when I can’t do it all and to keep a good sense of humor. It’s a process of continuous learning that makes each day exciting.

What are your long-term goals for the foundation?

My greatest wish is for increased capacity enabling us to serve an even greater number of girls. There is a tremendous need to educate and empower girls. Throughout the world, it’s been shown what an impact educated girls have on their communities and on the upward mobility of future generations. We hope to scale our model so that it can be replicated elsewhere and change more lives. Someday I hope to see more centers built in India and other countries, including the U.S.

How can people get involved?

We need people to help us grow this organization, whether through working on our board, helping us secure funding, volunteering with events, or spreading the word about our work. As more people join in and support this cause, the greater the difference we can make. People can visit our website, www.sdie.org, to learn more.

Written by by Brittany DeLong

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