25th anniversary of our founder’s trip to India (Koen Van Rompay)

Koen Van Rompay (left) and Mr. Selvam (right) at the 1997 AIDS Conference in Chennai, India.
November 23, 2022
The 25th anniversary of the start of my transformation….
Today is exactly 25 years ago when I arrived for the first time in India, to present my HIV research at a conference. I would never have imagined that this trip would change my life so much. On my 2 days of sightseeing before the conference started, my heart was being pulled in so many directions, fascinated by the beauty of the Indian culture, but also extremely shaken by the severe poverty I witnessed while trying to visit temples (often being surrounded by begging children, women with crying babies, people with advanced leprosy or other physical disabilities….) that I would often just cut my temple visit short and get back in the taxi to escape the crowds. Once at the hotel, I would cry and try to figure out what to do with all those emotions, as I knew I could not just go back to the USA, close my eyes and pretend I never saw this. I felt that I needed to at least change 1 life. I am so fortunate that at the conference itself, by pure chance during a tea break, I met a young social worker, Mr Selvam. Selvam inspired me to take one step at a time, by first selling embroidered greeting cards made by the women to my friends and at Davis Farmers market, and that led in 1999 to the formation of  Sahaya International. I am also so fortunate to have so many friends who decided to join me on this journey, as without your friendship, love and support, together we could not have done all of this. And thank you also to my friends, both here in the USA and in our programs abroad (India, Kenya, Uganda, Vietnam, Philippines) who continue to inspire me to push myself each time beyond my comfort zone to reach new limits and aim for new targets, and in the process, become a much better person than I could have been by myself. So on the occasion of Thanksgiving, my biggest THANK YOU to all of you!
And to the young people who read this, I encourage you to take chances in life, as you can achieve more than you think!
“An act of kindness inspires,
Be a drop that creates a ripple”.
Koen Van Rompay
PS: some of this early work is also the topic of our documentary Sahaya Going Beyond that you can watch at https://vimeo.com/65517422

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