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This year, as I reflect on the meaning of Diwali, I also remember the long journey I took to the United States and then to the gates of the White House in my current position as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
I was born in Hyderabad, India, and went to grade school in New Delhi. Shortly after, my family moved to the Philippines where we lived in three cities. Then, in my early teens, we moved from Manila to Des Moines, IA.
Although it was a privilege to experience all of these rich cultures, I lacked a sense of home and an identity. It was my Hindu upbringing that gave me an identity and established a foundation of moral and ethical direction. My Hinduism taught me to have a keen sense of duty, both to yourself and to your community. It also taught me to always take action when change was required to ensure that light and truth prevail. In essence, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
I am proud to serve for an Administration that espouses these same Hindu values and demonstrates them every day – whether by helping to improve schools or connecting our veterans and military families to meaningful jobs – through the support of all Americans.
And there is no better example of this than at the Corporation for National and Community Service, an agency whose mission includes the idea that all Americans can fulfill their duty through the action of seva (service) to improve themselves and their communities.
On July 29, I joined nearly 200 Hindu-Americans and members of the Dharmic community at the White House to talk about how they can leverage this community’s greatest asset – the tradition of seva to solve pressing community challenges.
Two years ago, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which greatly expands opportunities for all Americans to serve and directs resources to nonprofits addressing six focus areas: Disaster Services, Economic Opportunity, Education, Environmental Stewardship, Healthy Futures, and Veterans and Military Families.
Even in these tough economic times, this achievement is symbolic of the President’s support of service as a pathway to life-long civic engagement.
At the CNCS, we believe seva can achieve scalable solutions that address our nation’s most pressing problems. Organizations like the Hindu American Seva Charities have the power to help young people succeed in the lowest performing schools, expand health access, build a greener future, and foster economic opportunity. For us, success is not measured only by how many serve, but how many lives have been changed.
Our goal is to make service accessible to all Americans of all backgrounds by engaging diverse perspectives and approaches. We invite New Americans and faith communities to use the power of service as a solution . As ambassadors of faith, service will not only bring the Dharmic community together, but it will also help weave the fabric of a stronger America.
The Dharmic community is leading great work that will – in the words of President Obama – win the future by out-educating, out-building, and out-innovating on a universal scale.
I encourage you to consider yourself part of the national movement that is using service as a solution. Visit Serve.gov to learn more about how to expand the impact of your efforts by posting service opportunities and participate in CNCS-sponsored annual service days such as the upcoming MLK Day of Service.
Asim Mishra is the Deputy Chief of Staff at the Corporation for National and Community Service.