ISW Champion Shiamin Melville: Inspired by Mother, and Living Buddhist Philosophy “Mudita” by Finding Joy in Helping Others

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Shiamin Melville
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WORCESTER, MA–After a long and rewarding career in the Financial Services and Benefits Management industries, Shiamin Melville now is an active volunteer with the India Society of Worcester (ISW), the oldest cultural organization serving the Indian diaspora in MetroWest and sharing India’s cultural heritage with the Greater Worcester community.

Starting as a volunteer Hindi language teacher at ISW, she eventually was appointed Director of the ISW Cultural and Language School where she managed over 130 students and recruited 40+ volunteer teachers for five languages every year. With the recently expanded ISW building, she assumed a new role chairing ISW University, a year-round offering of diverse courses ranging from coding, 3D printing to one-on-one peer tutoring for students. As an active ISW Executive Board member, she helped build a strong volunteer contingent and has been part of core planning for all major ISW events. Most recently she helped organize the first ever Festival of Lights Diwali program at Tower Hill in partnership with ISW.

In addition, for over 25 years, Ms. Melville has also been an active member of the Northborough Junior Woman’s Club, an affiliate of the General Federation of Women’s Club, which organizes many community and service activities in Northborough. She resides in Marlboro with her husband, Raj and two cats. She has two daughters, Anu, who lives in Chicago with her husband Jack and granddaughter Savina, and Ambika, who resides in Seattle with her husband, Mike.

Here is a Q-A with Ms. Melville:

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Shiamin Melville: I spent over 25 years at various organizations as a Business Systems Analyst (BSA) initially in the financial services industry and more recently in the HR and Benefits area at ADP. As a BSA, I worked closely with customers at many Fortune 500 companies to understand their business needs and translate them into feasible solutions using our product. A key part of my job was to maintain clear communications with the development teams and our customers. In addition, I also mentored a team of analysts and brought them up to speed on the new tools and techniques. Beyond work, I enjoyed highlighting the diverse cultures within our company. At ADP, I was part of the local Engagement and Diversity Council and responsible for hosting several internal events celebrating the different cultures including introducing the Indian culture with a Diwali program that became an annual fixture. I was nominated by ADP for the YMCA Achievers Mentor recognition in May 2016.

I have since retired and now channel my skills and time to the various organizations where I volunteer – the India Society of Worcester, The Northborough Junior Women’s League and, more recently, the Worcester Horticultural Society at Tower Hill. With the time available I feel the sky is the limit in terms of what I could accomplish.

INE: If you’re engaged with any charity or non-profit, please tell us why this organization and what do you do for them?

SM: I volunteer at the India Society of Worcester (ISW), established in 1963, set up as a truly secular community organization and fortunate to have its own physical community center, aptly called the India Center. ISW is the window into the cultural heritage of India, not only for Indians but also for the local community in the Greater Worcester area.

I have been actively involved with the ISW Language and Cultural School for 25 years. I started out volunteering as a Hindi language teacher and eventually was appointed Director of the School 14 years ago. As Director, I was responsible for over 130 students that attended five language classes on Saturday and Sunday. My responsibilities included managing annual student registration, organizing the classes and curriculum for 11 different grades in 5 Indian languages, recruiting over 40 parent volunteers and a dozen student volunteers that teach the sessions, maintaining the weekly curriculum and managing the smooth operations of the school. I was at the school every week before school opens until the last child was picked up.

Two years ago, when Covid resulted in shut down of all in person activities, we quickly pivoted to online classes and were able to convert all the sessions to Zoom based classes in two weeks. The students continued their education seamlessly.

As the ISW India Center expanded recently with additional space and facilities, I have assumed a new role as Chair of ISW University. The ISW University is a broadening of ISW’s offerings to the community and spans a range of offerings from academic coaching, SAT Prep classes, 3D Printing workshops held in partnership with IIT AGNE, Robotics and Vedic math. During the summer of 2020 and 2021, we offered online summer tutoring by high school students in a variety of subjects that helped younger students keep up with their work as they missed the in-class experience. The tutoring also provides opportunities for student teachers to build their own skills and strengthen their resumes with required volunteer hours.

In addition to my role at the ISW School, I have also been an active member of the Executive Board of ISW where I have been a part of the core team that manages the annual ISW events which includes India Day, where we attract over 5000 attendees from Greater Worcester area and help spread Indian culture within the larger community. I also serve on the ISW eSandesh newsletter committee, the ISW Scholarship Committee, the Building Campaign Fund and ISW Building Committee. More recently, I have also helped our youth set up ISW’s SAAYA (South Asian Youth Activist and Allies) and ISW-Lambda, a support group for LGBTQ+ youth of South Asian descent. I have also organized a series of talks on navigating the college application process that brought together parents with similar interests.

Last year I chaired an ISW effort to work with the New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill to host their first ever Indian themed event, ‘Diwali – a Festival of Lights’ which attracted over 900 people from all walks of life and exposed them to Indian culture. As a result, I was invited to join the Board of Trustees of the parent organization, the Worcester County Horticultural Society, where I continue to seek opportunities to engage the community with Indian culture.

In addition, I am a longtime member of Northboro Junior Woman’s Club, affiliated with General Federation of Women’s Club. It is one of the world’s largest and oldest nonpartisan, nondenominational, women’s volunteer service organization, was founded in 1890 and chartered by the 56th United States Congress in 1901. Northboro Juniors seeks to help the community with their volunteer efforts. My true passion has been to help with its conservation projects and most recently with the Afghan resettlement program. By being a member, I have learnt so much about the nonimmigrant life in USA and to connect with woman who truly just give their time to others without any expectations.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

SM: I enjoy travelling as it rejuvenates me. My family has always travelled in India and, since my dad was in the Indian Railways, we were fortunate to travel to remote parts of India. I have been fortunate to travel extensively with my husband and sometimes with my daughters and my siblings A part of traveling in India was packing a homemade meal as you never knew where the next food stop was. It is still very important for me when I travel, and my family continues to be amused when I pull out parathas and desi food on our various excursions, whether it is a local picnic or a long flight.

I also enjoy reading, as it’s my “me time”. I mostly enjoy books based on the Indian diaspora or biographies but tend not to discriminate in choice of books. One never knows what one might learn by picking up a random book.

INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field?

SM: As part of the curriculum planning for the ISW School, I ensure the students are exposed to the diverse cultures from different regions of India and have an appreciation for the different religious and cultural festivals that make India such a melting pot. I believe it is important to emphasize the secular and diverse nature of India as this is sometimes the only time young minds have a chance to be exposed to other languages and practices from different parts of India.

I am excited about my new role as the Chair of ISW University, as it allows us to broaden our impact by offering classes and resources to both the Indian and the wider non-Indian community in Greater Worcester. As many of us have immigrated to the US based on the strength of our education, we are fortunate to have many ISW members with willingness and capabilities to teach a range of topics. We have offered a variety of classes from Chess, Lego robotics, 3D Printing to Vedic Math.

INE: What is your rare talent?

SM: I recently came across a term Mudita, which is from Buddhist philosophy that loosely translates as finding joy in helping others and in their joy. It helped explain what I really enjoy and that is helping others and connecting people to resources. I feel finding Mudita is truly a blessing though sometimes I do find it hard to hold myself back from situations where I want to jump in and help .

INE: Your favorite books?

SM: “When the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens which has so many layers of emotion and the mystery and strength of survival in the natural wetlands of North Carolina.

“Sea of Poppies” by Amitav Ghosh’s historical fiction I valued it for instruction on zamindari system and caste hierarchy. Growing up in convent school in the 1960, our troubled colonial history was either glossed over or perhaps as a teenager I did not internalize or examine the exploitations of society. My journey continues, as I read books by Shashi Tharoor and Jhumpa Lahiri

INE: Your favorite quotes?

SM: “Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”– Omar Khayyam.

I truly believe that life is not about getting all you want but taking delight in what you have.

INE: Who inspires you the most?

SM: My Mother, Rani Nautiyal. Born in the mid1920s, she did her own thing. Widowed at early age, she worked and supported her family, remarrying at the age of 37 despite social customs and moving to Mumbai and continuing to work as social worker in the Indian Railways. After retiring she came to Boston and took on a job at Digital and excelled at in the factory. Nothing seemed to faze her, and she always game to try everything once. I hope I can have her zest for living.

The other quality I most admired about her was to make everyone feel special. Her colleagues at the railways, our extended family from Lucknow, her grandchildren here, her exercise buddies at the Y and the ISW family she adopted here all still recall her with a special anecdote and I hope I can have the chance to treat people with the same kindness. To me kindness changes everything.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?

SM: Doing the right thing without compromising human decency and try and see life from the other’s viewpoint. Sensitivity to others viewpoint is a trait I value the most. Sometimes we get caught up in our own opinions and often forget the experiences we have enjoyed.

It is like some children run away from the sea waves on the beach and some run towards the waves, both can be perceived as danger or fun. Hope I will find the empathy to see both perceptions.

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