Volunteer/HR Coordinator, Habitat for Humanity, New Braunfels, Texas

Bengaluru (also called Bangalore) is the third largest city in India, known for being the center of India's high-tech industry (India’s silicon valley). Population of this metropolis, third largest in India is roughly the same as New York City (8.4 million in 2011). This is where Ms. Pavithra Naik attended university and had a lucrative career in a tech company.

According to 2018 US census New Braunfels, Texas, is the 2nd fastest growing city in United States with the population rising from 56,000 in 2010 to ~79,000 in 2018. Approximately 92% of New Braunfels residents were born in the United States, 63.96% of those were born in Texas. Just over 60% of the residents are White, 34.6% Hispanic, 2.7% black, 1.3% Asian, 1% Mixed, and approximately 0.3% “Other”.

Enter newlywed Ms. Naik (or Deepa as her friends call her) along with her new husband. The move for Deepa came suddenly and the change was stark. Together with the man she met a total of seven times before her wedding day she began creating a new life in Texas, 9,469 miles from home.

I was curious to understand the impact of the move on Ms. Naik, how she chose to fill her time, psyche of a woman with the survival instinct that pushed her to venture out and take first steps toward assimilation. Immigration is never easy, but choosing to maintain the worldview and positivity like Deepa has, is outstanding.

Speaking with Deepa, one is immediately struck by her pragmatism, warm regard for hew new home and Texas, appreciation for the beauty of her town’s people and love for her workplace, Habitat for Humanity (a global non profit housing organization that brings people together to build homes using volunteer labor). Deepa’s volunteering and now employment at the Habitat was also her ticket to assimilation in the United States, because nothing gets you closer to the heart of a society than witnessing pain and trying to alleviate it surrounded by like-minded folks on a mission.

Deepa is a WOW Woman because she persevered. Deepa is a WOW Woman because during her first six months in the US she couldn’t drive but decided to walk every day to a coffee stand inside a Target with the hopes of meeting a new friend. She is a WOW Woman because she volunteered full time building homes for the deserving families. She is a WOW Woman because she turned down an offer from Google to remain at the Habitat and is respected and loved by her coworkers (in fact it was her coworker who nominated Deepa as a WOW Woman).

1. Name.

My name is Pavithra Krishna Naik, but friends call me Deepa. I was born during the Festival of Lights, which in South India is known as “Deepavali.” So, my parents named me after the festival where lights are illuminated, gifts and sweets are exchanged with neighbors, friends and family.

2. Where is your hometown?

I was born in the Western Ghats of India, in a place called Chikmagalur, known for its coffee plantations and three holy caves. I grew up in Bangalore - the capital of the state Karnataka. The population of this bustling city is around 15 million. Despite being known for the bad traffic, it’s known as the Garden City - lush with parks, trees and plants. The city also boasts a history of former royal residences from the 18th and 19th century. Today, you can still visit the vestiges of such time: The Bangalore Palace. Aside from the beauty of the city, I miss badminton. I actually played professionally back in India, unfortunately it’s not as popular here in the United States.

3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation? What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life? What did you study in school?

I’m currently the Volunteer and Human Resource Coordinator at Comal County Habitat for Humanity here in New Braunfels, Texas. When I first moved to the United States, I had just married my husband. It was a fresh start to many aspects of my life. Without the proper working visa, I was not able initially to work professionally in this new country that I now call home.

Before Texas, I had studied my Masters in Human Resources at the Visvesvaraya Technological University in Bangalore. I was offered a job after graduation with an IT company and took it. There, I worked with local colleges and met prospective engineering students in hopes of recruiting them to our company. I traveled a lot for this job, and through seeing new places and the diversity of India, I developed an interest in trying new foods from the different cuisines I was encountering. I learned many new things from the different cultures, prompting my curiosity to learn about the different historical importance’s of the places I was visiting. I resigned from my job six months prior to my marriage, so I could spend time with my friends and family before the wedding. I also took the time to learn how to cook better through classes.

I met my future husband on January 1st of that same year at Windmill Craftworks - a microbrewery. We spoke for six hours and ended up exchanging numbers. He was honest and nice; I liked that. Even if this was an arranged marriage, I felt a compatibility with his personality. I still make it a point to visit the Windmill Craftworks when I visit India, a favorite to this day. I would not see him until March 8th where the next day, on the 9th, we got engaged. After our engagement, I met him four more times before we married on October 21st. On one of those meetings I gave him a tour of Bangalore. That day became one of my most treasured memories of my hometown.

Three weeks after my marriage, I packed my suitcase to join my now husband in the United States where he was working.

Since at first I was unable to work in the United States, I decided to volunteer and make better use of my time doing something good, meet new people and learn this new culture that I suddenly found myself in. Every day was a new opportunity for learning - from learning about the annual blooming of the bluebonnets in Texas to the American custom of saying thank you frequently, volunteering was a pivotal point to opening myself up and acclimating myself in this new environment. After being in one of the busiest cities in India, where I was greeted with the noise of everyday life of the people and cars, small town New Braunfels was a refreshing change of pace. Coming here I felt welcomed by the tranquility this Texan town had to offer through the beauty of its natural wonders. While I don’t swim, the river has always fascinated me. To see the depth and clarity of the water brings me joy.

A year and a half later of building homes and giving deserving families a hand up, I found myself in a position where I was able to legally work, whereupon I was offered to join the staff of the nonprofit I was so involved in. Since joining the team, I have helped make our organization the best place to volunteer in New Braunfels, Texas — an accomplishment I am proud of. Being involved in the non-profit, I have developed a passion and strong interest for helping others in need. While this isn’t the IT HR job I had envisioned, I love where my life is taking me. Reflecting back, moving to the United States was a moment of rebirth for who I was.

4. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?

At 20, like many other people, I was unsure of what my future would hold. I had thought to study engineering, but it didn’t work out. I focused on Advertisement and did many projects in that field. It wasn’t until at a later job with my university that I was involved with the Human Resources department that I realized I loved connecting and meeting with people. So with that discovery I decided to study human resources — and it’s a decision that I don’t regret. I love what I do. At 20 I would not have seen where I am today, but I’m glad my journey has taken me to where I am.

5. Was there a time when life knocked you down or out and how did you get back up on your feet?

I was born into a Hindu family. My mom made me listen to the Bhagavad Gita - a Hindu holy book- with the intentions of me learning what the real meaning of it was. Out of the 700 verses and its teachings, I felt a connection with the teachings of karma. Karma teaches us we are born as humans for a reason. What you put in the universe will come back to you, good or bad. Since my days as a child listening to the Bhagavad Gita, I sought to only do good in this world.

When life knocks me down, I seek to transform the bad karma into good karma. This keeps me strong and motivated in the face of adversity.

6. Advice for other women?

Life is about learning. Be open to it. You will meet many people in your life who are there for a reason. My advice to all women: Be honest with all and yourself, have the discipline and strength to make the correct choice no matter what, and always carry on with dignity and respect.

7. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it, for "feminist values"?

I came from a place where women were not asked to make choices. While there might be good professions out there for the female population of India, double-standards are prevalent and equality between the genders remains unequal. In this world, everybody is fighting for something. Even fighting against you. As a woman, I cannot stress enough the importance of unity and strength to stand up for what you believe in - especially in today’s media where females are portrayed in conflict with one another instead of empowering each other. We need to be strong and stand up for ourselves and other women in order to take the next step. With each step comes progress. Even with little steps, if you keep moving and in the small chance you look back, you’ll see how far you’ve come.

8. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?

I feel the tallest when I’m helping others out. No matter how big or small the help that I’ve given, at the end of the day, this is what makes me happy.

9. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?

Life is also about balance, and being a Libra, maintaining that balance is all that much more important. Moving to Texas and finding myself without a physical outlet that badminton once connected me with, I found Barre - a form of group exercise derived from the movements of ballet, with elements from Yoga and Pilates. It has filled the void within me that badminton had left. Through these classes, and this transition in my life, it has prepared me mentally to take on the different challenges I would encounter.

10. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?

Being in the nonprofit world, has taught me the importance of helping others. As I grow in my career, I would like to challenge myself to enrich the lives of others at a larger scale in each continuing year.

11. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?

To be honest, I’m not the person to hold in fear; fear stays with me for a short amount of time.

Fear always builds confidence within me to be prepared for the next steps.

12. Anything you'd do differently, if you had another go at life?

There is one regret I do have if I could have done something differently. Growing up in India there isn’t much support for girls to pursue things like sports. I always find myself thinking - what if I had the support from my family and friends to have pursued badminton as my major focus? I would have been proud to represent India as a professional badminton player. I believe everything happens for the reason.

13. What inspires you?

No matter the situation, if I’m finding myself at a loss, I find inspiration through the verses of the Bhagavad Gita. The teachings have a way of not only guiding me, but enriching my spiritual life as well.

14. What are you hopeful about?

I’m hopeful for women of the same communities to grow strong in who they are and reach out to not fight one another, but to hold each other’s hands in allyship and unity.

15. What are some ingredients to a good life?

The ingredients to a good life, which I personally believe, are honesty, discipline and dignity. All of these qualities mixed together will produce a life worth living.

16. What is a quality you most love about yourself and why?

I love who I am. I love everything that makes me Deepa. I am a complete woman, secured in her identity. Grown carefully from sprinkles of life experiences, Deepa has blossomed into a beautiful existence.

17. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?

If I could talk to my 14-year-old self, I would educate her about the female body and sexuality. In India there is no proper education or conversation about what to expect with the maturation of our bodies. Tradition, ignorance and cultural reasons make having an open talk about these topics almost non-existent in society and taboo. When I first had spotting, my neighbor had to come and tell me what happened; and, that’s all. By tradition my mother was not allowed to verify what had happened. I was house arrested for two days. A few months later when I had my first menstruation I panicked. It was bigger than the spotting. I did not want to tell anybody and risk being locked away even longer than the first time so I kept it a secret for two days. I could not sleep not knowing what was happening and why. Later I realized, all the beliefs are based off of the experience and practices. I understood it was personal hygiene but I was in the dark not realizing what and why. I learned from that educating and make understand through belief WHY”.

18. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)

Throughout my life i have read a lot of books on personal development, team building and self-improvement. Recently, I have started reading more. Currently, I’m reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. When I first moved here, I noticed former First Lady Michelle Obama doing so much for her country and others throughout the world. She is inspirational, as well as one of the most iconic women of our time.

19. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three (or more) women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description? What would you tell them if you had an opportunity, of why you admire them?

My mother is a WOW Woman. Without her I would not have become familiar with the Bhagavad Gita and would not have learned about the guiding principles of my life. She already knows that she is my WOW woman. Another woman I would like to recognize is the Executive Director of Comal County Habitat for Humanity, Crystal Moore. She not only welcomed me as a volunteer in her office, but was supportive in my transition into the American culture. By giving me a chance as an immigrant in this country to do more, she opened my door to better opportunities.

20. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?

If my story resonated with you, you may reach out to me at pavithrakrishnanaik@gmail.com