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Run for SEWA- An Incredible Volunteering Experience

VARUN BALLARI recounts his experience organizing the first ever 5K Run For SEWA at Roswell Park in Roswell. The run was organized by over 20 high school students from five different high schools, led by Varun Ballari. Around 250 runners participated in the run and the young Sewa volunteers were able to raise $11,000 by putting together 1200 volunteer hours for the Bhutanese community. The raised funds will be used for health camps/ school supplies and other activities for the Bhutanese community.

Sunil Freeman, the vice-presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, as a baby, right, in 1955 with his sister, his father Charles and mother Flora. (Photo: Courtesy of Freeman)

It is truly astonishing and even miraculous how dedication, passion, and commitment to a simple idea can turn that into a life-changing achievement.  My name is Varun Ballari, and I am the organizer and coordinator of the Run for SEWA event.  Today, it is with great pride and sense of accomplishment that I share my incredible story of how an amazing and enthusiastic group of 20 youth volunteers worked for over 1,200 combined hours to raise $10,500 by organizing and hosting the first ever 5K run for SEWA International.

The idea of organizing a run had been playing on my mind ever since I had started participating and volunteering at numerous similar events, like the Run for Orphans, SPCA Dog Run, and the March of Dimes. Inspired by these runs, I wanted to organize a run myself. Initially, I did not understand the entire scope of the project or the complexities involved and started thinking very closed-minded, building the idea on elementary elements. My original intent was to put together a 30-day project to raise money for a charity like the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with the help of as few as 5 – 6 people. However in discussion with my Uncle, Anil Ballari, I became aware of the massive scale of the undertaking and the requisites needed to make this event possible. Through him, I was introduced to SEWA International, an extremely renowned charity organization working on many notable causes. We had our pre-meeting in February of 2013 with SEWA volunteers Swadesh Katoch and Vishwanath Koppaka. They told me that they attempted to organize a run before, but due to preoccupations, the project was halted. This was going to be the first run for SEWA International worldwide, and I was immensely enthused to be the one who could pull it all together.

The months of March and April were devoted to the application process, creating the project plan, and mobilizing a group of 20 to 30 high school and college students as volunteers to lead this project. The basis of the project was that anyone can make a difference and help the needy by committing themselves to that task, and by reaching out to high school and early college students, it would prove that age is not a factor in making this difference. Soon enough, we were able to form a group of 15 students from 5 different schools. Initially, not many of the volunteers knew each other, but we were aligned to the common objective and shared the enthusiasm, and soon we would grow into the strong, supportive, loving family.

We had our first meeting in early June, and most of the high school and college volunteers came to this meeting. I found these volunteers to be very dedicated to this idea. The project plan had been outlined, the poster design had been finalized, and specific roles had been assigned. 15 days had passed by, and we had not made any money. Already we were less than two months away from the proposed run date. I started to get frustrated and stressed. Soon enough we were nearing the end of the June, and still no money had been raised. I was disheartened and had almost given up, having serious doubts about being able pay off for the expenses already made, let alone pulling off the event! I was on the anvil of quitting and just then the much-needed boost arrived in form of our key sponsorship. With a donation of $2,500, Mr. Pramod Sajja of Paramount Software Solutions gave life to our crumbling spirits. This donation from Paramount not only contributed substantially towards the project, but also inspired us to become resilient to all the challenges and rejections that we faced along the way.

Even still, success didn’t come easy. We would work for hours together, day after day; we went house to house in our neighborhoods, knocking on every single door, interacted with runners and walkers, and set up tables and information desks at fitness centers, theaters, and stores across Alpharetta, John’s Creek, Suwanee, Roswell, and Sandy Springs. We extended our efforts to contact multiple small businesses in the area, such as dentists’ offices, doctor’s offices, law firms, grocery stores, restaurants, IT businesses, insurance agents, real estate agents, media and entertainment companies, and even libraries for donations and sponsorships.  Due to the extent of our work, we started receiving multiple sponsorships and donations from all types of small businesses, most predominantly small IT consulting companies.

But we started facing another problem: we did not have enough participants.  By mid-July, we had less than 20 participants and if we didn’t have a sufficient number of runners to come on the day, the event would not be effective. We had an idea to extend our plan of online tickets to physical tickets relied, and we sold these to close family and friends, creating a substantial participant base.

Our work spanned a great 15 weeks, and in the end, our event turned out to be an unprecedented success with more than expected participation. The event was covered by new reporters from TV Asia, published in the Alpharetta Neighbor’s Newspaper, and broadcasted to every SEWA chapter in the United States. Based on the success of this event, SEWA International now expects other city chapters to organize similar events in the coming years. We raised over $10,500, and now the funds are being used to provide needy individuals with proper education and proper medical treatment. Apart from the direct help these funds bring to the beneficiaries, we have inspired many others to organize, participate, volunteer, and contribute in their own charity events, and someday we hope that our message will travel across the world and influence even more people.

The most important thing that I take out of this experience is that ambition and commitment will always led you to accomplishing your dreams and goals and to success. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you can do; what matters is what you are going to do and how much dedication you have to making that dream come true. Ultimately, a persistent thought materialized into reality. I had a thought, and eventually it manifested into reality. When I felt like quitting, nature responded positively and we were triumphant. Success and failure of any activity is based on our belief and faith. We get to decide whether we want succeed or fail, and I was lucky to have experience this at a young age.

And the one thing that I want you to get out of this speech is that you don’t have to be a certain age to make a difference in someone’s life. I address this to every single person, young and old. This is the basic idea that the Run for SEWA was created on. You don’t have to be a certain age to make better someone’s life. Every single person can do something to help someone else out. Whether is helping an elderly lady carry grocery bags to her car, cleaning up trash near a beach, donating money to a charity, or even organizing a run, the smallest actions can have the biggest impacts. And to do that, you don’t have wait to become older; the time is NOW. You can do something now and that could change someone’s life forever. So take action today and do something for someone, anyone. And do it with utter selflessness; don’t expect anything in return; do something for someone who can never repay you. That’s true volunteering. That’s genuine selfless service. That’s real “SEWA.”

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