Archive for the ‘philanthropy’ Category

Making Your Mark During The Season of Giving

December 16th, 2010
posted by at 4:52 pm

Bashyam Shah has shown 15 years of deep devotion to the law, but the people within the firm have passions that extend far beyond that.  We bring as much enthusiasm to our outside interests as we do to our work. 

Whether it’s volunteering to help at the American Bar Association’s Citizenship Day, traveling to Africa to donate soccer balls to school children in need, carving out time for our families or presiding over a professional organization, we feel that we have a sense of fulfillment and balance through our engagement in the community around us.

In 2008, Dana Dorroh, a friend of the firm’s managing partner, Murali Bashyam, introduced him to the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities asked him to pay the center a visit. After that visit, something a close friend once said to him resonates  — “ we as a society should wrap our arms around those who cannot help themselves.”  

That’s why he continues to support the Center today. During this gift-giving season, join Murali in supporting the Tammy Lynn Center’s vital work and the children, adults and families they help every day by making a tax-deductible donation today.

Click on the logo to donate today!

In the midst of the Holiday hustle and bustle, many people forget about some of the most important values and traditions associated with the Holiday season and Christmas – Giving being the most prominent of these.

There are many things that you can do to liven up somebody else’s Holiday season and help spread a little bit of Christmas cheer. One of the most thoughtful things you can do over the Holiday season is to donate to a charity.

Whether you are giving a cash donation, dropping your spare change into a bucket at your local grocery store or even if you are volunteering your time at the local rescue mission, giving is a wonderful thing to do – especially during the Holiday season. It is important to remember that there are many others out there that are less fortunate than you.

If you have only just a little bit to give, that’s ok. You will make the Holiday that much better for someone.

Kibera Kids Teach Lesson On Happiness

August 20th, 2010
posted by at 7:18 pm

Guest Post by: Rachel Prather (daughter, Pam Prather, Bashyam Shah )

 When I stepped out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the smell.  We had driven through streets that were mostly unpaved and past homes and shops that were made of wood with tin roofs.  I noticed all of these things on the way to Kibera, Africa, but the first thing that struck me when I stepped out of the car was the smell. 

I thought to myself, “How can these people live here?”  That question lingered for the rest of the morning.

We walked through the streets of the slum, on our way to a new health clinic.  I was wearing a skirt, as we were advised that it would be culturally insensitive for the women to wear pants or shorts.  I was also wearing flip-flops. 

We were not prepared for what awaited us on the fifteen minute walk to the clinic. I held my skirt up and paid attention to each step as I walked over the visible waste that was part of our path. I watched in shock as I saw residents dumping waste from buckets into the crowded street/sewage system.  I had never seen anything like this.

Some people ignored us, some people greeted us, some shook our hands, others just stared.  It was as if we were walking down a street back home, but it was also very different at the same time.

I felt sure that the only pale-skinned people they had encountered had been what are known as “do-gooders,” either trying to bring the message of God or telling them how to live a cleaner life.

We were doing neither. 

We were there to observe, to learn and absorb the current state there. 

 As soon as the kids spotted us, they shouted loudly and often – “How are you?  How are you?”  If we answered them, “I am fine!” they would laugh; delighted to hear English spoken from a native English-speaker.

It was the children who changed the course of my morning.  They were happy, and smiling.  It was hard for me to believe that children in this type of squalor would be able to smile.  And yet, here they were, as polite as can be, greeting strangers into their neighborhood.

The children in the slums were all smiles.  But, how?  Perhaps, because they are alive, most of them probably have parents, they probably have a place to live, and they just enough food to survive.

It could also be because they don’t know any better. We could attribute their happiness to the innocence of the child’s mind. They are not yet aware of the “reality” in Kibera.

What is that reality?

Although 1.5 million people live in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, the largest slum in Africa, Kenya’s government does not acknowledge its existence. The government contends that the massive population is illegally squatting on government land, and thus refuses to provide infrastructure: schools, hospitals, or sanitation. Women are left especially devastated in Kibera as men control existing scarce resources. In Kenya, 33% of women trade sex to survive by 16; in Kibera, 66% of girls trade sex for food as early as 6. Women in Kibera contract HIV at a rate 5 times their male counterparts: Kibera has one of the world’s highest HIV rates. Only 8% of women ever attend school. 1 of 5 children do not live to see a 5th birthday. 7 of 10 women will experience violence. No statistic ultimately captures the severity of Kibera’s human crisis. 

There are many members of my generation and younger that take many things for granted.  When their iPod breaks, they get very upset.  It could possibly mean the end of the world – until they get a new one. Maybe, just maybe, if they spent a day with happy children, children who have less “stuff” but just as many things to be happy about, they would get a little tug on their heartstrings.  Maybe it would put things into perspective. Maybe.

I can’t say that my life has turned upside down after visiting the slums of Kibera.  However, I can say that my life has changed in many seemingly insignificant ways. 

This month, I start my first year as a high school teacher, and I have already written lesson plans that revolve around my experience in Kibera. 

I am grateful that my mom, Pam Prather, and her boss, Murali Bashyam, let us tag along on their trip to Africa. I have told others of my experience, in the hopes that they will be inspired to visit.  I have started looking at children differently – where does consumerism begin and creativity end?  The most important end I hope to achieve is the education of my students; education about other cultures and other people. 

That is something that we all need to be aware of.

You Can Never Outgrow Your Need For Purpose

August 13th, 2010
posted by at 4:47 pm

As you get older, it sometimes seems that there are fewer things to learn. No more school. You know your job like the back of your hand. You play the same games on the computer.

Well, I recently had an opportunity that taught me much about life outside the United States. And it opened my eyes to the reality that there is SO much I still don’t know.

Murali and I recently returned from a trip to Kenya. Besides the safari – which was absolutely fantastic – we spent some time visiting with people involved in projects we’ve partnered with as part of the non-profit that we built, Friends Unite.

We went to Kibera, outside Nairobi, which is one of the largest slums in the world. There we met with officials from Carolina for Kibera. This UNC Global initiative, is a non-profit organization that has set an exemplary model for how just a few people can create astounding change for those in need.

They showed us some of their youth programs, and then took us to the medical center they started. It has since been taken over somewhat by a larger non-profit, but that is exactly what we’d like to do – start programs that are so successful they become self-sustaining. The building itself is a clean, sturdy, shining beacon in the midst of overwhelming poverty. The people, dedicated professionals with optimism beyond compare.

We also drove out to Kilisa, a small village a few hours east of Nairobi (in the US, it wouldn’t have taken a few hours, but we’ll talk about Kenyan highways some other time!) to meet with the Kilisa Village Development Community (“KVDC”). What they’ve accomplished already, and what they’ve planned for the future, is remarkable. With so few resources, they’ve managed to redirect their path from one of stagnant poverty which would be expected in an area like this. Instead, they are now on one with the potential for education, enterprise, and sustainable growth.

So what did I learn? Sometimes community-based change does not have to take a government, or years of political negotiating. Water can be found and harnessed from underneath a dry riverbed. A school full of children with a desire to learn does not need a playground, projectors, or even many books. And…. we are very lucky to live in a country with natural resources that allow us to concentrate on more than just survival.

Check out the video of our trip to a school in Kilisa, that our colleague Jessica Coscia produced.

Asante sana!

Remember, No Man is a Failure Who Has Friends

June 6th, 2010
posted by at 8:32 pm

The title of this post is line from the popular 1940’s movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.  That line, along with my strong belief that people have the capacity to use and share wisdom through friendships and relationships, inspired me to form a non-profit with my friends last year.

Appropriately called Friends Unite, the mission of our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is to provide the support necessary for people and communities to help themselves. Our goal is to provide support for the advancement of education, health services and other basic necessities, such as food, water and shelter to people and communities around the world.  Of course, in doing so, we hope to form partnerships and friendships that will last a lifetime.

I’ve always felt that what makes our immigration law firm so special is that we believe in good relationships.  Not just with our clients, but with each other as well.   As a result, many of us have been together for quite a while.  For example, our Senior Counsel has been with our law firm for close to 5 years.  Our Senior Paralegals have been with us for over 4 years.  And our Client Relations Manager, who is also the Vice President of Friends Unite, celebrates her 10th anniversary with the firm this year!

I consider all of them my friends.

Through Friends Unite, we have already created great relationships with people and organizations around the world.   One such relationship is with Abraham Lueth, founder of the Southern Sudan Fellowship (SSF).  This organization built a school for children in Southern Sudan, and is about to break ground on an all-girls High School in a city called Akot.

Southern Sudan was involved in a brutal civil war for over two decades.  During the war, close to two million Sudanese were killed and roughly four million were forced to leave their homes.  Many who suffered during the war were children.  For those of you who want to learn more about the war, and its terrible impact on families and children in Southern Sudan, there is an excellent book I am reading titled ‘What is the What’ by Dave Eggers.  The book tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys from the Sudanese civil war.   Mr. Deng also gives back to the children of Southern Sudan through his Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.

Some of our other partners include WSAID, Brahmi, and the Africa Economic Foundation.  The projects weare working on with them include an educational project on the Visceral Leishmanaisis Disease, a solar power project for a school in India, and a food security and microfinance project in a village called Kilisa in Kenya.  We are excited about the relationships we are forming with our partners, as well as the work we are and will be doing together.

Feel free to visit the website of Friends Unite to learn more about our mission, vision, projects and partners.   If you want to get involved with Friends Unite, please contact us.  We welcome your participation and look forward to getting to know you.

To follow Friends Unite, visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

In The Eye of the Hurricane

March 30th, 2010
posted by at 4:21 pm

What a picture, right?

My wife says everyone looks a bit too serious, but we weren’t really. My buddy Joaquin and I were just victims of bad camera timing.  We’re both huge hockey fans, so we were smiling on the inside, trust me!

It was though the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities (TLC) Toast to the Triangle event that we were able to visit with the Canes in the first place. I bid on a Canes’ auction item at the Toast event last year and won. The Canes locker room visit was a part of the deal.  It was definitely worth it! 

For those of you who haven’t heard about the Tammy Lynn Center, I urge you to visit their web site or Facebook page to learn more.  TLC does a wonderful job helping adults and children with developmental disabilities.  And as member of the TLC Board of Directors, I took this flag into the Hurricanes locker room with the hope that a few players would take a picture with us. 

Eric Cole and Zack Boychuck were nice enough to participate in the promotional picture you see here.  We also met Eric Staal and Rod Brind’amour. Even though I rooted for Team USA at the Olympics, I told Staal congratulations on winning the Gold Medal for Canada.   After all, I wanted to having been born in Canada myself!    

We also met Coach Paul Maurice, and it wasn’t just a quick ‘hello.’  We sat in his office for what seemed to be an eternity while he talked to us about hockey strategy, player personalities, and answered our questions.      Coach gained our respect for spending time with us when he clearly didn’t have to.   It was exciting to get insight on the game directly from Coach Maurice.

As I write this blog piece, I can’t help but notice something about this picture.   It’s probably the Immigration lawyer in me, but when I look at this picture I see a Canadian, an American, a Canadian/Indian/American, and a Cuban American.  That’s us, from left to right.  This picture represents America, the melting pot.  It’s a snap-shot of immigrants living in and helping this great country.

Some of the guys in the locker room mentioned that they had just become U.S. citizens, and one other asked me if he qualified for it.  I guess brand America is still in demand.   

So how does hockey fit into the immigration system?  Many of these hockey players are from other countries such as Russia, Canada, Slovakia, Finland and Poland.  For the Canes’ or any other hockey team to get a foreign player to the U.S., they will likely have to apply for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.   In fact, there are special visa categories available to professional athletes from other countries.    Preparing the right strategy and applying for the appropriate visa is crucial to getting foreign athletes to the U.S. quickly.

Special thanks to our friends at TLC, Tripp Tracy, Coach Paul Maurice, the Hurricanes players, Maria Hernandez and everyone who allowed us to take a look inside the “Eye of the Hurricane.”  We will always remember this experience.

Go Canes!

We Are The World

March 11th, 2010
posted by at 7:33 pm

In a day and age where selfless philanthropy is rare, I am moved by my employer, Bashyam Shah LLP – Immigration Law Group, for moving so quickly to support the Haiti earthquake relief efforts. Soon after the disaster in Haiti, we hit the ground running to respond to this humanitarian crisis by providing important guidance on obtaining Temporary Protected Status for Haitians through our Immigration Minute web video segment, we also shared this information via our e-newsletter and our colleague, Pam Prather, led the charge in making hygiene kits for the United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR).

Today’s technology has greatly changed the way people give in a crisis. Through mediums like television, mobile phones and the Internet millions have been raised for Haiti, in only a matter of seconds, by texting and tweeting, on social networking sites and by way of personal Web pages.

I know of a number of other law firms and businesses who have also pledged their support to this worthy cause and I salute them. When faced with a disaster of this magnitude, every little bit-large or small-counts.

I sell this type of social action year-round by explaining what volunteering can do for the soul beyond what it can do for society. In a world that can sometimes seem so shallow this kind of showing of philanthropy puts everything into perspective.

As a long time community volunteer and advocate, I am proud to be a part of a group of colleagues who share my passion for helping others.

Our involvement doesn’t stop in Haiti,  several years ago the firm began to help with the significant influx of Montagnards from Vietnam, by working with The Montagnard Human Rights Organization, a non-profit that provides immigration services to refugees in North Carolina. They have since expanded to serving refugees from many different nations.  We’ve had a close and mutually beneficial relationship for several years now, with our attorneys and paralegals logging many pro bono hours on their behalf, as well as on behalf of many of their individual clients.

Members of the law firm have also formed a charity to help people in need around the world.  Called Friends Unite, the organization’s 501(c)(3) charitable mission is to provide funding and support for the advancement of education, health services and other basic necessities, such as food, water and shelter, which are often compromised by poverty.

Our Managing Partner, Murali Bashyam serves on the Board of Directors of the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities.  The Foundation operates the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities, which offers educational, residential and family support services to nearly 400 children and adults with special needs

 We have created this Philanthropy link on our web site to keep you informed on what charities we are currently working with and support.  If you wish to get involved with us in any of these charitable organizations, please let us know.  We would love to have your help and support.

Written by: Jessica Coscia