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Guri Grewal -- 'live in the moment'
A photo of Guri Grewal holding a little boy sits on a table at the entrance to her Redwood City apartment. She can't help but glance at it each time she goes in or out. In the framed photo, Guri and the boy are on the roof of a building. The little boy's head is raised up toward the sun. Guri is smiling at him, holding him close to her, and he is smiling back.
Inspiration often comes in famous, larger-than-life packages: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama. For Guri, a CharityFocus volunteer, it takes the form of a 5-year-old boy named Obijit, who Guri met while volunteering in India earlier this year. Obijit has cerebral palsy and lives at Mother Teresa's Home for Malnourished and Disabled Children in Calcutta.
"He inspires me," says Guri. "Whenever I feel down, this photo reminds me to live in the moment and make the best of what you've got. It doesn't really matter who you are or how much you have, you can just be. That's what he taught me."
Guri says she also learned a lot about herself on the trip, which took her to Nepal and India, where she was born but hadn't returned since the family moved to San Jose when she was 10. "I packed my bags, and I thought I was going to go save the world but instead I received more than I could possibly give," she says of the nine-month trip.
Guri has a similar attitude toward her work with CharityFocus. It was only with the support of fellow volunteers that she quit her job in human resources and took the trip, she says. "I don't think it would have actually happened if I hadn't had the right motivation and inspiration from people around me."
Guri has volunteered with CharityFocus since 1999; she was one of the first five volunteers. Much of what she does these days is behind-the-scenes work, whether it's making needed phone calls, attending a non-profit fair, or flipping through books to find just the right Quote-A-Day. Guri's work in India and Nepal was of a different type, she says, but with the same idea behind it: to think of others, not just yourself.
Guri traveled solo around Nepal and India, volunteering in schools, hospices, and orphanages for nine months. She says that, at times, she missed being back home in America. The experience tested her conviction to let go of her desires for the sake of others.
"I don't think there is ever security in life. In Calcutta, you're so face-to-face with that," says Guri.
CharityFocus coordinator Viral Mehta recalls talking to Guri shortly after she returned from her trip. "She felt that she learned a lot about her own mind," he says, "particularly from how it reacted to uncertainty, physical discomforts and dangers."
"While I was there, I didn't feel like I was understood or people knew how I felt," Guri adds. Except for the children, who understood her soft voice and gentle touch. The first day Guri arrived at the Home for Malnourished and Disabled Children, she felt unsure of what to do, how she should act, how she could be useful. She heard a child crying. "So, I just picked him up," she says.
Many of the children were confined to their cribs all day. There was no one to take them out, So, Guri and another volunteer decided to change that. They gave them baths and massages and brought them up to the roof for some needed sunshine.
When it was time to return home to the U.S., Guri had a tough time saying goodbye. "It was very hard to leave, especially the children, knowing that I would probably not see them again."
But that hasn't stopped her from continuing her work with kids. On her return from her trip abroad, she took a job as Volunteer Coordinator for a Redwood City organization called Friends for Youth, which matches mentors with 'at-risk' youths in San Mateo and northern Santa Clara counties.
Each morning, as she leaves for work, she glances at the photo of Obijit.
"Live in the moment, and make the best of what you've got," Guri reminds herself as she closes the front door.
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