My parents faced many obstacles that my brother and I will never face, like having to get visas, facing prejudices. They did the hard work for us and now have showered us with opportunities, she explains. Mom was teaching English, for example, and the kids did a double take and said, Is this Indian lady teaching us English? My mother taught us that anything is possible.
Nehas father, Neal, is a mechanical engineer at Ford Motor Company and then earned his MBA from the University of Michigan. He has always encouraged Neha to never stop learning.
Education will never go to waste, he told me, she says. So I tell my brother, Get every minor you can get; take every class you can take at UC. She also hopes to earn a masters degree in public health someday.
Neha says that her grandmother, Saroj Bajaj, is an inspiration for everything I do.
After being married at the age of 16 in an arranged marriage, she went back to school and became a professor of Hindi at Osmania University in Hyderabad, India. She started saving money from her paychecks and eventually was able to start the womens college, with free room and board for more than 400 young ladies, especially impoverished women, orphans and unwed mothers who had been shunned by their families.
Her grandmother opened a bank where she would offer low-interest loans to families so that even the poorest families could take advantage of microfinancing. Bajaj was honored with the best citizen award from Mother Teresa in 2004.
Many people have benefitted from her presence, as many have been able to set up small businesses and further the education of their children, says Neha. The last time I was there, the president of India came down to inaugurate the second floor of the womens college. Its still running completely on private donations.
Nehas dream is to open a nonprofit healthcare facility near her grandmothers college. Throughout her life runs the common thread of improving the status of women and girls. She says that she feels driven to helping people in poverty who dont have access to education and healthcare, whether in the United States or India. Every other summer for the last nine years, for example, Neha has traveled to her familys homeland in India to volunteer and set up education seminars, health clinics and blood drives at her grandmothers college.