Aiming to Prevent HIV/AIDS: The Anokhi Foundation
HIV/AIDS has affected numerous people in many parts of India, and Avanti Sharma wanted to do something to prevent the disease’s further spread. So Avanti, 25, decided to found the Anokhi Foundation. The recently created, volunteer-run, nonprofit organization aims to prevent HIV/AIDS through education, advocacy, and community support. Anokhi, which means “unique” in Hindi, is in the process of setting up its initiatives in India. The organization hopes to provide prevention education for at-risk populations, as well as assist HIV-infected individuals in accessing available health services. The Anokhi Foundation is preparing for its first fundraising event, and its volunteers are looking forward to making their first trip to India. To learn more about this growing organization and how you can help it establish initiatives on the subcontinent, check out this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
The Anokhi Foundation
Founder, President, CEO
MD Candidate, 2011
Adler School for Professional Psychology
Mississippi State University
B.S. Psychology Pre-Medical Concentration
Mississippi School for Math & Science
Haymarket Chemical Dependence Center
Parenting Class Instructor
North Central MS Regional Cancer Center
About the non-profit
Our focus is on the prevention of HIV/AIDS through 1. education, 2. advocacy, and 3. support for communities in need. We are currently setting up our initiatives in India and will provide prevention education to commercial sex workers (CSW), truck drivers, MSM, and other at-risk populations. Women will be a main focus as they make up a very large portion of the HIV/AIDS population as well as children, especially orphans, who remain quite vulnerable.
We intend to not only work with a population that does not have HIV/AIDS but also provide support to those who do. So for example, we would like to make sure orphans are not on the streets creating the cycle once again. We want them to have a home, food to eat, and education which includes basic HIV&AIDS information. Adults will be advised and assisted with getting in touch with available health services. Also, education or skills training will be provided to women. We want to make sure that the community has access to as many services possible.
Along with hosting these educational programs, Anokhi will be setting up HIV/AIDS & STD intervention programs for at risk populations and assistance in obtaining medical care. We will also provide child care for orphans and children of CSW, as well as development projects for women and children and self help groups for all populations.
Our ultimate goal is to educate the entire community and empower the HIV/AIDS community while removing the stigma associated with HIV & AIDS to prevent the current epidemic.
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Educating our staff, maintaining updated training, spreading the word of the importance of this issue, communicating with other organizations, fund raising, media relations, and paperwork.
Most notable milestones
As a new organization, every step is an accomplishment. We are most proud of being able to share the concept of Anokhi and finally allowing people to become so involved. In addition to working alongside other non profits, we have a widespread presence among college and graduate students as well as young professionals. They have been so touched by the work we do and motivated to do their part in the fight against AIDS. Several have even found their own niche and provided their suggestions to our organization. This has truly been a driving force in Anokhi taking shape toward achieving its mission.
What’s the niche?
Anokhi means unique in Hindi. We are unique because we:
- All work as volunteers.
- Are the only organization of this kind in the US doing prevention education work in India.
- Provide prevention education at a local community level.
- Focus on empowering communities.
- Work to educate children and youth because by instilling the ideas of prevention in them, we are protecting an entire generation and those to come.
What’s the biggest challenge?
As of right now, our biggest challenge is fund raising.
What’s in store for the future?
Our very first fund raising event! We are really looking forward to raising awareness, meeting our supporters, and having a great time in the process. Plans are underway, so be on the lookout! Also at this time, we are establishing our initiatives in India and look forward to having plans completed in the near future. We have also had an overwhelming interest in volunteering and internships. Anokhi is still in the process of growing into an organization that can provide these opportunities. With the upcoming fund raiser, and more involvement, we will soon reach our capacity to start provide these opportunities as well.
Best way to keep a competitive edge
Knowing the needs of the community and population with which we are working ensures that we are able to meet important needs. Also, collaborating with other like-minded organizations and people is important to organizations such as ours because it allows us to share ideas and combine efforts toward one common cause.
Guiding principle in life
Follow your passion and never lose your integrity.
Yardstick of success
We measure our success on a few levels:
- Making sure our information and education is accessible to communities at a global and most importantly, local level.
- Utilization and implementation of the education resulting in lower numbers of new cases of HIV/AIDS & STDs.
- Creating healthier communities through advocacy and services, one community at a time.
Goal yet to be achieved
Traveling the world and adopting children from India.
Best practical advice
Pursue any goal or idea you think you can accomplish. If you have a great idea, don’t be afraid to make it real. Your idea may be the difference that is needed. Bounce your thoughts off of friends, family, mentors or colleagues, pool your resources, and go for it.
Network! Make the most of every social gathering and experience. Networking happens anywhere and everywhere and can result in ideas, critiques, or opportunities. It can be useful to make connections with people that may be of help to your organization!
Supportive words from a family member or friend on your venture
Look around outside; see what’s going on, think about it and understand it.
My dad actually used to say that to me because I talked to much during car rides when I was younger, but it has seemed to apply to every aspect of my life since.
My parents. They have always encouraged me to pursue my interests and dreams. They have also taught me to remain determined to be successful. Without their support, Anokhi would not be where it is today. I am grateful to them for their leadership and their motivation.
What motivated you to get started?
Mother Theresa has always been my inspiration. Her work moved me and I wanted to be a part of what she was doing, even if I had the ability to do a small fraction of what she has done.
In addition, my entire life I watched my grandparents and parents remain active members of their communities. Whether it was as presidents of the Rotary Club, educating the illiterate, or providing free sewing machines and lessons, I was truly amazed at how much emphasis my grandparents put on giving back. Also, both of my parents are educators and my mom has been part of many social work programs. Their determination in providing for the community inspired me to keep the tradition alive! Because of their strong will, I knew that I would start a non profit organization of my own.
Having witnessed the poverty and lack of medical care first hand, I knew that the non-profit organization had to have a special focus in India. There is an obvious need for HIV & AIDS prevention in India. The country now has the highest population of people living with HIV in the world. I believe that I should take advantage of the passion, the drive, and the resources I have in order to combat this fatal virus.
Like best about what you do?
That we are able to reach so many people and make an impact in communities not just in the US and India, but across the world. We have people who reach our website and we communicate with from Brazil, Bangladesh, Turkey, Ghana, and Russia to name a few. The importance of HIV and AIDS prevention and education is reaching many and that is the first step in reaching our goal.
Like least about what you do?
We are all very ready to make our first trip to India and help the communities in need and least enjoy the paperwork which makes this such a slow process!
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A doctor and an architect. I wanted to be both!
What was your first job?
Working at a dentist’s office.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Drawing, painting, and watching lots of movies.
Person most interested in meeting?
The Dalai Lama. His teachings have inspired me personally and professionally.
Leader in business most interested in meeting?
Howard Schultz, Starbucks Founder. He has a unique view on running a business which truly incorporates community, corporations, and non-profits which I admire.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- I taught myself to read Hindi.
- I own a piece of the Amazon Rain Forest.
- I always send thank you cards and notes. I think it’s a tribute to my Southern roots.
Three characteristics that describe you
Three greatest passions
- Art and Architecture
- Absorbing Knowledge
Oh wow, so many. I read a lot and especially enjoy South Asian authors. Some favorite books range from Rabindranath Tagore’s Collection of Short Stories to Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter.”
I absolutely love children. That’s why St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital is one of my favorite causes. I worked there as an amenity-relief volunteer and it was a great experience. The nurses, doctors, volunteers, researchers, and all other staff who work with these children are amazing. The atmosphere is warm and inviting. Surrounded by colorful murals and jukeboxes playing music, St. Jude’s is the perfect environment for children and families coping with cancer.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Working together with other organizations and individuals is central to our organization. We would like to be contacted by supporters, volunteers, and other organizations that are interested in working together or collaborating on new projects.
Interview by Saba Nasser
Introduction by Preeti Aroon
Edited by Valerie Enriquez