My name is Adam MacGregor, and I have been a volunteer for CRY America since October of 2003, shortly after a chance meeting at a Ravi Shankar concert in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When I approached the CRY America booth operated by Aprajita and Ravi, the husband-and-wife team responsible for starting the Pittsburgh Action Center that night, I had no idea at the time what that simple gesture would lead to nearly 5 years later.
CRY America has offered me the chance to help kids in dire need, but it’s also helped me immensely. It’s given me a new perspective on the world. It’s helped me to develop skills and strengths that I never thought I had, and it’s taken me to places I never thought I’d see. In a sense, CRY America reoriented my life toward a new direction.
At the time of my enlistment, I was an ex-newspaper reporter working a rock-steady job as a copy editor for a local service corporation. It paid the bills, but the daily variety and feeling of public service that came with news reporting was sorely missing. I’d later get both of those in spades as a CRY America volunteer! I had long been interested in giving back through some kind of volunteer work – something I’d never done before. I was also keen on India’s culture, history, and most of all, music (both filmi and classical). Of my own volunteerism, you might even say that music was the gateway (if not the bait!).
I figured that volunteering for CRY America was a perfect way to tie together these interests – to contribute to a greater good while learning about India from my fellow volunteers, many of whom had relocated from there. Over my time with the Pittsburgh action center, I’ve been privileged to work with a dedicated team on projects and events that have steadily built community interest in our mission. Our group leadership encouraged an ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to planning and executing fundraising events, which resulted in the 2005 creation of our annual summer Festival in the Park. The event – now in its fourth year - has become Pittsburgh Action Center’s premier fund- and awareness-raising event, complete with musical and dance performances, Indian food, cultural attractions, and an outdoor film screening, thanks to a tie-up with the City of Pittsburgh. It was a pivotal moment on that first perfect July evening in 2005, when we screened ‘Bride and Prejudice’ to nearly 700 attendees on a hillside in Schenley Park, in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section (near Carnegie-Mellon University Campus). The unbelievable attendance caused us to run out of food four or five times, and as event leads, Aradhana Goel and I scrambled to hold things together. But when the balance sheet came in, we deemed our efforts more than worth it.
I became more immersed in this work, assuming the roles of public relations and co-lead for our action center. Eventually, I left said rock-steady job to pursue my Master’s in International Development/NGOs and Civil Society at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. All of this followed yet another pivotal experience, when I visited India in November of 2007 to see how CRY operates both in the office and in the field. During that time I surveyed projects located in a series of tiny rural hamlets near Ahmednagar, Maharashtra state, and in Dwarka slum district, Delhi. In each case I found poor, struggling people, albeit people charged with hope and the determination to better the conditions of their communities, and to vastly expand opportunities for their children. And it was all made possible – or at least much, much more viable - by the tireless work of the NGOs that CRY supports.
Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, I’m no longer the only “non-Indian of the group,” to paraphrase my favorite Frank Zappa sideman, Jimmy Carl Black (I said I was a music, fanatic, right?). We now number at five, about one-third of our core team. This is testament to the fact that a dedication to child rights should know no cultural or ethnic boundary. Together, we’ve been able to help in making an impact on over 156,000 children in the time I’ve been involved. To be a part of something that significant is at once exhilarating and humbling, once we consider how much further we have to go.
As I sit here writing this entry in the Mumbai office of CRY I feel as I am at the opening few pages of a whole new chapter of my life. I’m on my second trip to India inside of a year – a blessing made richer by the opportunity to serve the cause of child rights through my current internship. And I hope that my travel itinerary will allow me to return to the sites I visited last time - not to receive any thanks for my small role, but to thank them for what they have done for me.