For a group of ambitious college students around metro Atlanta, the term “fundraising” will take on a deeper meaning over the next few months. They will be dedicating their time and efforts to hosting this year’s annual 5K India Run for Hope on behalf of the American Cancer Society India Cancer Initiative in an effort to raise awareness and funds to fight cancer in India.
The cancer burden in India is increasing at an alarming rate due to lack of awareness regarding prevention, early detection, and treatment services. The American Cancer Society India Cancer Initiative is dedicated to fighting cancer in India through its programs and services. Over the past years, individuals, organizations, local groups, and students have helped support this important cause in their own unique ways. The India Run is one approach local students are taking to advance the campaign.
The India Run, a collaborative event hosted by the Alpha Iota Omicron Fraternity, Gamma Chapter, and Georgia Institute of Technology on behalf of the American Cancer Society India Cancer Initiative, got its start in 2006. Founding coordinator Jacob David, then philanthropy chair of Alpha Iota Omicron, a south Asian interest professional fraternity at Georgia Tech, recalls taking up the challenge to coordinate the first run as a symbolic gesture to emulate the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
With the assistance of his senior fraternity brothers Snehal Patel and Vishnu Kuttapan, David took up the challenge to organize the run, believing that it could become a grass-roots event to carry the mission and goals of the India Cancer Initiative on both a domestic and international scale.
Fast forward three years later. With the same goal but on a broader scale, the run has gained traction as an annual event, providing students in and around metro Atlanta the opportunity to lend their support in the fight against cancer. In past years, students from Georgia State University have also partnered with Georgia Tech students to make the run a success. With the helpful guidance of their predecessors, a new group of students has answered the call to coordinate this year’s India Run. Amongst them are the 2009 India run coordinators Arpan Patel and Parashar Bhatt.
Talking about his motivation to take up this challenging role, Patel says, “Initially, my motivation was that of success for the Run, achievement for me, and commitment towards keeping the cause alive and strong for the future. I was one of the first ones to voice my interest in this position to Jacob David. To make sure all of the people that showed interest were actually committed, he required a letter of interest for the position.”
He continues, “Around that time, I learned that my family was going through some rough times in light of the recession. This was devastating, and it forced me to take on two jobs to help pay bills and costs for school. If anything, this brought my family closer than ever. This was a real tough time for me, especially since midterms were around the corner. One week later, I received a phone call from my sister telling me my grandfather had passed away in India. He is the most influential man in my life and at that point all kinds of things were going on in my mind: memories, questions, regrets. After a few hours of thoughts, I just sat down and did what my grandfather knew best: work. I just typed my letter of interest for the position of coordinator with my heart on full blast with no regrets in mind for the future. This finalized my motivation for this position and set me on a path of success with no stopping in mind.”
Parashar Bhatt based his decision on his family’s experience with cancer, explaining, “My maternal aunt recently won a personal battle with breast cancer. I spoke with her over the phone, and she told me that the cancer beat her up pretty badly and that she was recovering slowly but surely. She stated that during her fight she remembered and missed her older brother (who died of cancer) and then recalled the time I visited her India in 2005. She told me that I reminded her so much of her older brother, his smile, bad vision, humor, and goofiness. She told me that she still wishes he was alive and that it makes her very happy to see his likeness in me. For some reason, her simple statements triggered many emotions. I was honored to share many traits with my uncle, I became angry about the deaths and despair that cancer has caused within my family and close friends.
“These mixed emotions kindled a fire within me which I wanted to apply to my work with this Run,” he adds. “I decided to dedicate my time and passion to my inspiring and strong aunt and uncle, and everyone who has been affected by this disease.”
Both stories converge as a common desire between these two students to help spread awareness and raise funds in an effort to enable people to stay well, get well, find cures and fight back against the growing cancer crisis in India and globally. In the spirit of the American Cancer Society’s recently launched campaign as the “Official Sponsor of Birthdays,” the two are dedicated to working with the American Cancer Society India Cancer Initiative to save lives from cancer and create more birthdays for everyone.
With an aggressive fund raising goal of raising $25,000 in donations, $2,500 in sponsorships, at least 200 runners, and 100 volunteers for this year, Patel and Bhatt are employing a hands-on approach to reach possible donors and volunteers within the young Indian community. “Brittany Marks and Karan Jhurani, who were the coordinators last year, did a fantastic job of keeping the cause in a difficult economy and we are going to use lessons learnt to advance the cause further this year,” say Bhatt and Patel. To evoke the spirit of true community service combined with a fun factor to appeal to the younger community, they plan to incorporate other fun-filled activities prior to the actual run event. Patel and Bhatt are using social networking sites like Facebook as communication outlets to keep fans and volunteers engaged and involved with the planning process. The new American Cancer Society India Cancer Initiative Facebook page provides an open and secure platform to share information and updates about the run, promote awareness about it, and educate users about the India Cancer Initiative. It was through this page that volunteers and fans had an opportunity to participate in a poll to select the new name for this year’s run, “The Run for Hope.”
The India America Cultural Association (IACA) has been instrumental in supporting the India Run since its very first year and has extended their support this year too. "Traditionally IACA has helped ACS spread the word about the incidence and treatment opportunities for cancer in India, and the need for fund raising to help support those activities", says IACA president Ananth Kamat.
With the Run scheduled to be held at Georgia Tech soon, on August 29, Patel and Bhatt have their work cut out for them. But they have an advisory team made up of former coordinators and people with an extensive background in nonprofit fundraising, including Jeet Shah, S.J. Jiwani Sam Daniel and Manoj Mathew. They also possess personal determination, commitment and dedication. With all of these elements in place, they’re ready to meet the challenge head-on.
For more information on this year’s India Run, please visit (www.indiarun.org).
For more information on the American Cancer Society India Cancer Initiative, its programs, and how you can help fight cancer in India,
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