Nina, Grace, and Sheryl

When my parents told me in 2007 that we would be moving to India for a year of sabbatical, it felt like the worst news in the world. I couldn’t fathom a whole year without peanut butter, Honey Nut Cheerios, or Disney Channel (High School Musical 2 was scheduled to premiere the DAY AFTER we would leave). These luxuries, I knew, would not be readily available in India. Though those small things were priorities for nine-year-old me, the issue wasn’t that I didn’t like India or that I would miss Hannah Montana. I loved India, but I knew I stuck out when we visited. Our family always drew curious stares in India with my Indian father and Caucasian American mother. People’s eyes would land on me and do the math. I didn’t like feeling different.

Once we settled in Hyderabad, I joined an international school and started playing with the kids who lived in our university apartment complex. We became friends with several families in the expatriate community that was filled with bi-racial families like mine. Families filled with kids who grew up balancing different cultures, traditions, and languages. In that space, I felt a strong sense of community and belonging unlike anything I’d ever known.

During our time in Hyderabad, my mom, Sheryl Hoye, became friends with Linda Floyd, and they quickly connected over their passion for women’s issues and their marriages to Indian men. They soon met Grace Helen Raj Kumar, who later became the director of Wings School for Girls. After we all returned to the U.S., Linda and my mom founded the Kiran Anjali Project to fundraise for Wings School, hoping the organization would grow to help other India NGO’s. The organization, rooted in family, was named after Linda’s daughter, Kiran (“ray of light”), and my middle name, Anjali (“offering”.) Like the community I found in Hyderabad, The Kiran Anjali Project is filled with families but now the common thread is wanting to help the less fortunate in India and living a life balancing two cultures. Through my involvement in the organization I’ve learned that our multi-cultural background is truly a superpower. Linda and my mom have built bridges between two different worlds, and in doing so, have inspired their same passions in future generations.

In 2019, the Kiran Anjali Project continues to be a family-oriented organization. Several board members’ children have volunteered at events, started Teen KAP groups, and even traveled with their board member parents to India for site visits to the partner projects. Donor tours are filled with families wanting to meet the children at the partner projects. Donors who are part of the Kiran Anjali Project community want their kids involved to give them increased connection to India and to give back.

I’m grateful for the Kiran Anjali Project for a list of reasons, but specifically because it lit my fire in ways I am only now able to understand. I remember being afraid in middle school to mention India at all, for the same fears of being an outsider, and I felt forced to keep this huge part of my life secret. When my mom came to present about the Kiran Anjali Project to my entire high school, I remember feeling the same nervousness, because it wasn’t obvious to a lot of my peers that I was Indian at all. But I remember immediately relaxing after I saw photos that I had taken of Wings School in her presentation. I was proud not only to be involved in the Kiran Anjali Project, but to share the bountiful culture of India.

The Kiran Anjali Project became the vehicle by which I would proudly educate the people in my life about my Indian heritage and my family. The organization also helped me understand that community service is my largest duty as a person in this world, especially with the insurmountable privilege that I have. I learned that my biggest passion lies in helping girls find their path as I have found mine. To learn this at such a young age, from a group of people as kind and as driven as the Kiran Anjali Project board of directors, was truly a gift. I now do my own leadership work for a non-profit called Women and Youth Supporting Each Other (WYSE), channeling the same drive for inclusivity and equality that the Kiran Anjali Project has instilled in me. I hope the future generations of children in the Kiran Anjali Project can find the same fire that I did – a desire to fight for equality.