Two Weeks Into CharityFocus Summer Internship
--Nipun Mehta
7 minute read
Jun 29, 2009


This summer CharityFocus is hosting three interns. Sadan is a tech whiz visiting from Pakistan, Ketan is movement builder from Bombay and Bhoutik is a hip-hop fan from Fremont. And Sachi, a visiting filmmaker, is our fourth, adopted intern. :)  Three of them are part of the Metta Mentors fellowship in Berkeley, and are being mentored by our own Deepak Goel.

Last night, Neil, Guri and I hosted them for some "aloo parathas", as they finished their first two weeks of orientation. Before we even got settled, their stories started flowing. Ketan held up traffic so an old lady could cross, Bhoutik helped a janitor clean the men's bathroom, Sadan stepped out of his comfort zone to tag random strangers at yesterday's Critical-Mass bike ride in SF. Together, they've already done two lemonade stands and a hear-the-homeless drive, and learned the art of receiving rejections, accepting overwhelming gratitude, and falling in love with Smile Cards. :)

"You should've seen Ketan dance! This boy's got some moves," Bhoutik said excitedly of the time when they were all walking down the streets and Ketan started to dance simply to support a street musician. "Caught up in excitement, we even just started to just compliment random strangers," one of the trio noted.  Quick to respond, Ketan adds, "And tonight, as I walking here, three people stopped to tell me that I was looking great. What goes around comes around!"

This was all part of their two-week orientation process, after which they will be paired with specific CF teams. 

When Deepak I forwarded the introductory note about the interns, most of the CF coordinators themselves wanted to join in the fun -- although some wondered if they'd be able to hack it. :)  Here's an abbreviated list of the initial intern assignments:

  • Write a post-dated note to yourself, about what you've learned from your summer experience.
  • Sign up for all CharityFocus newsletters, and remark on your favorites of the week.
  • Reflect on what service means to you, and write a one-pager about it.
  • Join Smile Groups, read all the daily posts and post smiles to the kindness stories you like.
  • Do one unique act of kindness every day, and keep a diary of them.
  • Read an assigned book every week and share your learnings from it.
  • Gather 25 links to inspiring social media (stories, videos, blogs) every week.
  • Do two local events, that involve the community and engage you with strangers.  Attend Wednesday meditation every week.  Post July-15th, visit Karma Kitchen every Sunday.
  • Do a status call with Deepak every Sunday night.

It's a powerful to just witness their journeys.  Ketan shared his life story of a family of 16 living in a 500 sq foot room in Northern India; through raw determination, he gave his untapped talents a chance to blossom and found strength in the most unexpected places.  Earlier this year, he saw a photo of himself and said, "That's not me."  In the next six weeks, he lost 40 pounds.  Just grit.  And now, he's applying that grit to being the change, whether it is doing the dishes for his housemate or writing a letter of apology or complimenting a stranger.

Every small act that I did brought about a major transformation in me and that process has been going on a subconscious level of which I was not even aware. The small acts change you. They TRANSFORM you and you don’t even come to know. That’s what I have experienced in this journey. I am not sure whether they were for the internship only as they have become an inherent part of my being and I shall be doing it for the rest of my life to see that smile on somebody’s face. That feeling of happiness on the people’s faces which gives more satisfaction than any amount of money can buy.

Sadan, who is visiting from Pakistan and was interrogated for more than an hour(!) at immigration, shared some profound comments: "I have a fear of other human beings and what they'll think and say."  It was just so plain honest that it stopped all of us in our tracks.  "And doing these acts of kindness is helping me overcome that fear."  An analytical thinker, Sadan read his first book -- Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse -- and reflected on many deep questions: "I'm not sure if strength comes from our ability to be cut off from all things, or from being fully connected to everyone."  Being technically astute, Sadan has ramped up on his CF work at an impressive speed, but it is his authentic inquiries that compelled Deepak to raise both his hands and semi-jokingly bow down. :)  Word on the street was that he wasn't digging the American food, but last night we were delighted to see him take multiple servings of the main course and five "ras-gullas" for dessert!

Last of the intern gang is a local teenager, Bhoutik -- or Bug-Miggity as they called him in high school.  His candid, affable demeanor simply makes you want to give him a hug.  "You know, I realized that service really starts at home.  Instead of getting really frustrated with my parents, I started to be a little kinder to them.  And now, they're a little kinder to me too.  Everything just works so much better," he said in a matter-of-fact tone, couple with some illustrious examples.  Last week, in his Humanities class, he even gave a presentation on the gift economy.  And next week, he heads into his first 10-day meditation retreat.  His biggest challenge these days, though, has been to think up a unique act of kindness everyday.  Here was the (unedited) letter he wrote to himself, post-dated Aug 15th, 2009:

To: The New Bhoutik,
    Over the last eight to nine weeks, I have had an opportunity to take a step back and re-evaluate my 'purpose' and goals in life by interning at CharityFocus. CharityFocus is a fully volunteer run company that has harnessed giving without any strings attached and smalls acts as vehicles to propel their growth.

    The new skills I have picked up are: live and lead by example, do not preach; why there are no mediocre tasks; giving without anything strings attached; use my energy and passion for entrepreneurship to start 'something'; and the importance of being a team player.

    "Happiness is only real when shared," said Jon Krakauer, author of Into The Wild. By sharing happiness, I am able to have a more genuine, honest, and transparent relationship with all people. I have stopped counting the number of friends I have on Facebook or any other social network. I have begun to reach out to the ones I have to share a more meaningful and increase depth in relationships.

    I have not made a significance difference in the world, but I have changed myself, emotionally and spiritually. By spreading smiles and tagging random people with acts of kindness on the streets of San Francisco and Berkeley with friends, we have formed a community and hope to inspire others. By observing, talking, and reaching out to people on the streets, I have become more aware of my actions in everyday life. Through the practice of giving and meditation I have become a more grounded person and happier person.

    I have conquered several fears and hope to conquer some more on this journey. The idea of giving without any strings attached is a simple concept, but hard to practice. Why? Because, we are always thinking of ourselves and protecting our future that we tend to forget about giving. I have slowly been able to give more in aspects of my life.

    The projects we have worked on over the past eight weeks are going to stay deep-rooted with me on any venture I decide to take on. By reading stories on Helpothers and getting constant inspiration from DailyGood, and watching videos on KarmaTube, I have begun being the change I wish to see in the world.
The Old Bhoutik

And this from a teeanger!

Sachi, in addition, brought in thoughtful questions like: "Do service and marketing go together?"  On one hand, you want to spread the word but on the other hand, there's a strong sense of false hype.  She shared an experience of her projectk with the transgender population that attracted a lot of media attention but never came to fruition.  As everyone shared their insights, our conversations spanned stories of Gandhi and Fukuoka and ended with the power of be-the-change acts that naturally ripple out in the world.

As Deepak washed his hands, Bhoutik subtly went into the kitchen to bring him a napkin; as we sat for dinner, Ketan naturally got up to serve us water; before we finished eating, Sachi was already doing the dishes.  The spirit of service permeated the whole room, through small acts of service.  Guri, Deepak, Neil and I found ourselves smiling in awe, at least a dozen times during the night.  It really felt like a blessing to be sharing in their journey, in this way.

At 2AM, Neil -- aka Notorious-Playa, as he was later nicknamed -- wrote an email titled: "Who really are the Interns?"

Ketan, Sadan, Bhoutik, Sachi,

Thanks for sharing your stories, insights, and presence tonight. I was so impressed and inspired. Driving home, I paid bridge toll for a stranger in your honor.

It's a blessing to watch you all spread ripples of generosity. Keep it up!

Your intern for life :)

Couldn't have said it better myself.  And if all this has happened in two weeks, I wonder what will unfold in the remaining eight weeks! :)


Posted by Nipun Mehta on Jun 29, 2009

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