“Every day I ask myself, how am I making a difference in this world,” says Harish Kolasani, founder of the Non-Resident India (NRI) Seva Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on helping the underprivileged in India in health, education, and senior citizen care. It has already helped over 382,000 people since its inception in 2010. But, Kolasani was not always so righteous in his life’s approach. He was a simple boy who enjoyed city life. And then … things changed.
Born and raised in Hyderabad, India, Kolasani lived a happy and a care-free life where studies took front seat right before exams and the rest of the time was about friends. “Academics was not the priority,” says Kolasani candidly as he shares that he was always more about friends. “I studied only to pass,” he chuckles but quickly adds, “I made good choices in friends – they were a good influence in terms of habits, and not the kind that get you in trouble.”
Reminiscing his time in India, Kolasani shares how his school principal instilled leadership in him at a very early stage when he was appointed as the head boy as an eight grader to over 2000 students. “I was surprised, and when I asked him why me? He said, ‘I see good leadership and a good temperament in you – two very important qualities of a good leader’.”
And, it is these qualities that have helped him navigate through life which was very different before NRI Seva Foundation came into existence.
Kolasani moved to Canada in the year 2000 for higher education in computer science. But there was another reason too. “Apart from higher studies, my family wanted me to move out of India because of my rash driving,” laughs Kolasani, who admits that his father’s friends would see him on his motorcycle and worry so much that they would call his father and complain out of love for him. After a certain point, his mom and sister recommended its best that he moved to Toronto for higher studies. But even in Canada, his heart would be invested in helping others by doing more.
“This has been an innate thing for me. Anytime I helped someone even for the smallest of things, I would feel so accomplished and content that it would drive me to do more of it,” shares Kolasani remembering how in India too when he saw an elderly person in need of help, he would stop to assist in any way he could. “There were so many times after I moved to Canada, my friends would call and tell me that they met someone elderly and they remembered me and asked about me,” he says beaming with pride.
Like anyone else, life was all about settling down and building a career for Kolasani too. So, in 2004 Kolasani moved to Chicago. There, he married the love of his life after a couple of years in 2007. “After I got married, it was all about enjoying and indulging in things,” he says, who lived in a condo, loved luxury cars, and eating out. And then, a freak incident in 2009 changed their lives forever — in a good way.
While out swimming, Kolasani felt a nerve pinch and the next day he felt everything go numb. A visit to the doctor was followed by multiple MRI scans to detect what was wrong. “The doctor told us that the initial MRI didn’t seem very good and that an advanced one was recommended to figure out what was really wrong,” he says, continuing that, “it was at that time when apart from being stressed I started questioning if something was going to happen to me, then what did I really achieve in this lifetime apart from just enjoying life through material things? And that’s when my life’s path changed forever.”
Kolasani has always had a natural inclination towards helping seniors and elders but he was unsure on how he could really make a difference. So, in addition to the freak incident, when his mother had a hairline fracture in her leg in 2010 due to an accident, he knew exactly how he was going to achieve his dream of helping others. “My mother was recommended physical therapy for three weeks after her fracture healed. One day she just made a comment about how expensive physical therapy is and wondered how poor people even afford it? And, that is when I knew I wanted to start a physical therapy center for senior citizens in Hyderabad.”
After immense research, Kolasani found out that physical therapy is life changing for anyone suffering from paralysis or stroke. “I realized two things: therapy indeed was extremely expensive, but also that, we had doctors in the family that we could leverage at the onset,” says Kolasani. This is why the Senior Service Center was born which later came to be called, NRI Seva Foundation in 2011 when Kolasani decided to have a registered name for the center in India and the United States.
“The idea was simple — poor and elderly people who couldn’t afford physical therapy could get help at our center, but we soon realized that our local center did not actually reach the poor people in the deeper slums and industrial area.” So, Kolasani led the expansion of foundation from a center to mobile camps which was initially setup for 15 people. There were two physical therapists and one orthopedic doctor who would travel into the deep industrial areas where people working in construction were hurt but had no access to healthcare, such as, physical therapy. “The first day of mobile camp saw 70 people in line ranging from children to seniors with issues ranging from strokes to head injury,” he remembers.
The number of patients they see daily has now increased to over 200 people a day who are being treated through these mobile camps, in addition to the 70-120 people who are cared for at each of their four centers in Hyderabad. Apart from physical therapy, they currently also do free blood tests as well as village development as part of their program with their team that has now grown to include 12 therapists, an ayurvedic practitioner, a homeopathic practitioner, and an orthopedic doctor.
In 2017, NRI Seva Foundation expanded its cause from senior care to education by adopting four schools to help poor children with after school tuition for free. NRI Seva Foundation also started the senior day care center in the industrial area where elders from up to 25 families can be cared for during the day when their children are at work.
“Leadership is not about controlling, but taking ownership to do what you’ve set your mind to and helping others achieve the same along the way,” he says adding “a leader is someone who volunteers.”
But what is his biggest challenge in all of this? “People don’t really understand the importance of physical therapy. I think that is the biggest challenge and because of that lack of awareness, people hesitate to sometimes donate to this cause. My goal is to help people understand so they know that if they donate to this cause, it is life changing for the underprivileged who lose the functions of their limbs because of lack of therapy,” he says. Although here are challenges, he admits that it is priceless to see a patient’s journey from not being able to walk when they come to the center or the camp, to seeing them leave on their own two feet.
As Kolasani and his wife continue to save and send money back to India to further their cause for the seniors and their health, he shares that sometimes they are low on savings but their hearts are full and contentment is high knowing that they are really leaving something meaningful behind.
For more information please visit http://www.nseva.org/