Nirmala Garimella is the Head of Development of the American India Foundation New England. Aside from her work, Garimella strengthens her local community by serving as a Lexington town meeting member, the Co-President of the Indian Americans of Lexington (IAL), and a volunteer media team member of Dawnww.org. She is also the co-founder of Lokvani, an online community news portal.
In the past, Garimella has been on the steering committee of the Cary Memorial Library campaign and the Lexington Education Foundation, and a member of the Sub-Committee for Demographic Change and Lexington Vision 2020.
INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?
Nirmala Garimella: What I love most is getting up every morning and feeling the anticipation of the day’s work. As I wear multiple hats, I compartmentalize my obligations in order of priority. As Head of Development at AIF, I am primarily responsible for creating, administering, and implementing the chapter’s long-term development plan. This means a vision for a broader development footprint and outreach in the region. So a part of my work is continuing to nurture current, long-term donors but also diversifying our revenue and support base through greater corporate engagement and other partnerships in the New England geography. What I enjoy most is the various interactions I have with multiple stakeholders – donors, board members, volunteers, and youth, and listening to their vision for a better India. I am constantly amazed at the generosity of our donors and the spirit of volunteerism. There is joy in knowing that every little effort you make creates an impact and brings you closer to your mission.
NG: I have a small paper napkin in my home that I keep on my refrigerator that says “Stop me if I volunteer again! I don’t know why I have it there because volunteering is a core part of my life! In all the charity and community work I am involved, I am guided by three objectives – local giving, community building, and positive impact.
I am the co-founder of Lokvani.com, which in the past 15 years, through our bi-monthly newsletter, has kept the community connected to what matters most to them. The essence of Lokvani has always been to tell the stories of the community. This community building has introduced me to so many amazing people in various fields who have accomplished much and we were able to showcase them on our website. I think we have built an important resource in the region and invited others to be part of it.
I am also the Co-President of the Indian Americans of Lexington, a civic organization started by a group of us who believe strongly in giving back to our town. We started out by doing a cultural event celebrating Diwali and felt that we needed to expand to include more civic engagement in the town. Many of us are now engaged in the town library, schools, and town committees. With our busy lives and family schedules, it can be tough but we have pulled it off with our dedicated board and volunteers. I am also proud to say that we introduced donating a portion of our ticket sales at Diwali for a local charity. We have supported senior citizen rides to hospitals, given to the food pantry, and donated to the METCO program, which gives students from Boston under-performing school districts the opportunity to attend a high-performing school and increase their educational opportunities and decrease racial isolation.
I am also a town meeting member in Lexington. I was elected this year, and it has been a very rewarding experience. The amount of engagement, thoughtfulness, and passion of the town members is truly an eye-opener. People participate in town issues in this unique kind of local government that involves citizen’s law-making. I bring my experience of being engaged with the town at various levels: from a school parent in the early years to serving on the board of the Lexington Education Foundation and on the board of the PTSA, to working on special projects at the Cary Memorial library and enabling partnerships with groups in town as a founder and Co-President of the Indian Americans of Lexington. I was privileged to be representing IAL in the Subcommittee on Demographic Change (a subcommittee of Lexington Vision 2020) in studying the effects of the rising population of Asian Americans in town. All of this work has given me a deep appreciation for town governance.
Recently, I have been involved as a media volunteer for an organization called DAWNWW.org. Along with a Boston based filmmaker and a media team, we have produced a film called ‘Raising Men’ that will be launched in the fall. The film is an exploration of a group of teenage boys in India who undergo gender-based learning and in the process become willing to make a transformation in their own lives. Conversations about gender remain an important part of my interests.
INE: What are your hobbies and interest?
NG: Travel, writing, and sampling local cuisine. I am fascinated by people, places, culture, and food, especially local cuisine. I have combined these passions by writing travel and food articles in magazines like India Currents andd my hope is that sometime in the near future, I can turn this into some published series.
INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community, your company/organization and professional field?
NG: Someone once said, you have 1,440 minutes in a single day, so you have 1,440 opportunities to make an impact. I think when you go about quietly doing your work and see that people around you seem to benefit and treat you with respect and warmth, you feel you have done something right. This is my first year as a town meeting member, but when I sat the first time with my precinct members, one of them came to me and said,” I don’t know you but a friend of mine talked about you and I sent 150 emails out to residents asking them to cast a vote for you. It was such a small gesture, but coming from a total stranger, it validated my work in the town. As I mentioned earlier, the small everyday gestures by people matter. Yet the question is: how can you, just one individual person, change others’ lives for the better?
INE: Your rare talent?
NG: I found that hard to answer so I asked a few of my friends what they thought and the response I got was quite revealing. Many said that I have a deep sense of empathy, and that I have the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person and connect in a meaningful way.
INE: Your favorite books?
NG: I am an avid reader. Before I go to bed every night I spend at least 30 minutes reading whatever interests me at that time. Right now I am reading ‘The End of Karma” by Somini Sengupta, which was recommended by a friend. My favorite genres are mysteries and historical novels, with authors like William Dalrymple, and I am also fascinated by biographies.
INE: Your favorite quotes?
NG: “There is no passion to be found playing small; in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” – Nelson Mandela
“Life is only traveled once. Today’s Moment becomes Tomorrow’s Memory. Enjoy Every Moment Good or Bad, because the gift of Life is LIFE itself.”
INE: Who inspires you the most?
NG: My mother and my mother-in-law. Both of them barely passed out of high school but have been great inspirations. My mother-in-law got married at an early age and devoted her life to bring up her 13 children, but she always wanted to go to school and college. Later in life, her own children inspired her to go back to school when she turned 70. She enrolled herself and passed her 10th and 12th grade and was ready to study more but unfortunately didn’t live long enough to be able to do that. When I hear her life’s story, I can’t think of a more determined woman. My mother, of course, remains my best friend and my constant inspiration. She told me that economic independence is essential and I must always aim for it. More important, she instilled in me the value that every human being deserves respect and dignity. While growing up, we had no concept of segregation based on caste, religion, or any kind of differentiation in our home. In a country like India, it is prevalent everywhere, but my mother led us by example. I admire her for this reason, and for her empathy for people irrespective of who they are. It is a rare quality. I am also grateful and inspired by the mentors in my life.
INE: Your core value you try to live by?
NG: Respect- I once read in a book about the story of a man who was asked by a journalist to show his most precious possession. The man was proud and excited to show the journalist the gift he had been bequeathed – a banged up tin pot which he kept carefully wrapped in cloth as though it was fragile. The journalist was confused. What made this dingy old pot so valuable? The message, the friend replied. The message was “we do not all have to shine. Everywhere we meet people and circumstances that seem inconsequential that if explored, provide meaning and chances for us to be generous and kind.” This story resonates deeply with me, and I go about my daily work with the respect it deserves and that is itself a true reward.