I walked through a dirt road riddled with potholes. To my left, I saw a deserted primary school with a collapsed foundation. To my right, I gazed upon a medical clinic that is almost always empty and void of a doctor. I look at homes on the street, many of which are small amid a periodic power outage. I thought back to life in the United States. It astonished me that the difference in the quality of life between two parts of the world is so stark. Initially, a sense of helplessness took over me — how could a young person like me fix such wide-ranging issues? I thought of a quote by Steve Jobs: “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, and you can build your own things that other people can use.”
While I was only in eighth grade when I visited NP Kunta, the rural Indian village that my dad grew up in, I had been “building my own things” for years. With my local 4-H robotics team, I had been challenged to think creatively and work resourcefully with my teammates to solve seemingly impossible problems, from debugging code to programming a vision processing system for our robot. Because I had solved big problems in the past, I was confident that I could, in fact, change the world issues I had witnessed. For this reason, in 2018 I founded Universal Help Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people around the world in innovative ways. I lead the charity in tackling issues ranging from opportunity inequality to climate change, among other initiatives. One of our most significant accomplishments has been building a fully equipped 30-bed isolation center for COVID patients in Hyderabad.
In May of 2021, both my grandparents got sick with the COVID-19 Delta variant. Living on the other side of the world, there was little I could do. As their conditions worsened and my grandma needed hospitalization, the true scale of the national shortage for healthcare became evident. After hours of calling family, friends and extended relatives, we successfully secured a hospital bed for my grandma. Others in India weren’t as fortunate, as hospitals denied people ICU beds, COVID-19 treatments and oxygen due to high demand and short supply. Not only that but with the high population density that Indian cities have, many patients were forced to quarantine near their families, risking the health of their loved ones. When I realized this issue, I got to work. I obtained support from the local government to partially fund an isolation center and organized onsite nurses, doctors and medical supplies for the center. Beds were always full with patients needing ventilators and extra medical care. I have no doubt Universal Help’s efforts have had far-reaching impacts on the city and its residents.
Today, I look back at this project and think about how it all started — from my insistence to improve living conditions in my father’s village to my disbelief at the lack of medical care in India during the Delta surge. If I had believed my doubts, this life-changing project would not have happened. However, with the confidence and problem-solving skills I gained through my 4-H robotics club, I was able to find the courage to change, influence and build things which transformed lives.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dhruv Rebba of McLean County is the 2022 4-H Youth in Action Award for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) sponsored by HughesNet® for his innovation and activism.
This blog originally appeared on 4-H.org. Reprinted with permission of National 4-H Council.