I have known Dilshad Sumar Lakhani (yup! same first name) or as I call her, Dilshad Aunty, for a minute now. I was always taken by her kind-heartedness even in how she would say normal, every day hellos.
We had lost touch when low and behold, I ran into her during a recent trip to Atlanta. What are the chances of that? Out of the blue, in a city and setting of thousands of people, I run into her. We caught up for a bit. She told me about pseudo-retiring…she still teaches part-time…and starting a foundation with her husband. I was so very touched and asked her to be a part of my blog. Luckily, she said yes! Here are the questions I threw her way and her answers from which we can all learn so much from.
I’ve always thought we are surrounded by heroes, in our every day lives. Well, here is someone I know personally, who is that hero. We can all become better human beings because of people like her. I know I can. Happy Reading! xx
Most people tend to retire and enjoy themselves in spending time in the sun, pursuing hobbies, etc. Instead you and your husband started the Sumar Lakhani Foundation. What was your inspiration to pursue creating your own non-profit?
I was born in Tanzania – a country in East Africa. My father was a merchant and had a variety-store some 70 years ago. Life was difficult, and I remember him working very hard. We, the children were loved, but we had only the bare necessities to live on and grow. We belonged to a very progressive religious community which meant we focused heavily on education and gaining independence. With this philosophy, we studied hard as children and received scholarships to study abroad. I became a Pediatric Dentist – where I was able to treat children every day and provide for my family.
My husband had a similar background from Uganda. He is a physicist by profession. He studied at Makerere college in Kampala, Uganda. He went to Brown University to complete his studies and get his PhD in Physics. He is now a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist – with one goal in mind: to make the world better for women and for children.
We always gave to charities, but my husband knew the importance of making a sustainable difference – not just a handout. This was the founding principle by which Sumar-Lakhani Foundation (SLF) was born.
What does the Sumar Lakhani Foundation focus on?
The Sumar-Lakhani Foundation is involved in many projects. This includes education, health programs, and social enterprises. Since we cannot physically go to all the places where we are involved, we got involved with organizations with the experience to implement projects. They report to us on a regular basis as to the progress they were making with their projects and we regularly discuss with them methods to improve and scale.
To read more about our work here.
I have been involved with Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC) in Cambodia – a nonprofit hospital providing free health and oral care for over 150,000 patients annually. After our intervention, the hospital is now thinking of prevention rather than restoration and treatment. New ideas have been developed where parents are taught how to brush their children’s teeth and about nutrition preventing them from making costly trips to hospitals.
Knowing that my efforts have done good for rural Cambodian children and families fills me to the brim with pride.
Another important partner in our portfolio is Smile Train – an NGO who provides free cleft palate surgeries for children. Cleft Palate is a disfigurement condition which affect speech, eating, and oftentimes, patients with this condition are the victims of stigma. We are on a mission to restore smiles to those who cannot so they can lead healthy and prosperous lives.
My dream is to try and help women get out of poverty, educate them and make them self-sufficient and independent.
If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who is trying to pave his or her own way, what would it be?
If I had to advise somebody who is trying to pave his or her own way to make a difference around the world, I would say:
- Have a heart or be compassionate: Put yourself in that person’s shoes and feel the pain or distress that person is feeling. One may not always be able to help in a material way, but some kind words and a listening ear would help.
- Read about people who are going through difficulties. Read books, articles, and biographies of people who have overcome their difficulties with the help of charity organizations or accounts social workers give when they report their findings. An example would be Melinda Gates – she is a visionary.
- Do your homework. There are a lot of untrustworthy organizations around who would take what you give them, and you do not see them again. Before opening your heart and your wallet make sure you speak to them and at length. If you hear/see red flags, they probably aren’t the most reliable group to fund or support.
For those of us who are on the search of what to do to help and with there being so many overwhelming issues in this world, can you share how you pinpointed, for yourself, which avenue to pursue?
As Emerson says:
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
I wanted to be useful and therefore the avenue I pursued was in dentistry because I knew it was a craft that I could learn to make me effective, to make a difference. I use my skill in treating not only children but training communities to implement sustainable oral interventions themselves. What I would suggest for those searching for a path is develop the competency in a trade or craft in order to teach it to others. Then sustainable change can occur.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
If I had a Super Power, I would make all women independent somehow like rescuing women out of bondage especially those who are being trafficked and being abused. That is my wish and hope.
Chicken or Egg?
I do believe there was always something innate within myself that propelled me to help others. In that sense, my answer is Egg. However, that is not to say that people cannot become humanitarians. The first step in doing so is to step out of your comfort zone, see the world (if able), and connect with others that you normally wouldn’t meet. That is the foundation of empathy and therefore a good place to start a lifetime of service.
Who has had the biggest influence in your life?
The biggest influence in my life has been my husband. He believed in me and gave me the liberty to progress as a Pediatric Dentist and supported me throughout my career. He was the one to think about setting up Foundations and how to make good judgement when disbursing resources to projects which will make a difference in people’s lives. He was the one who believed in my need to share with ones who needed help.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my 2 children. Samira who is part of the United States Tennis Association (USTA). She is change maker in her part of the institution. And my son who is the founder of a non-profit organization – Eco-Soap Bank. He is making a difference in the lives of thousands of people and children in the developing world.
Do ghosts exist?
I do not believe that Ghosts exist outside of you. They exist inside you in the form of bad thoughts or negativity. The point is: be positive, optimistic, and always believe in yourself.
What kind of music do you like?
I grew up listening to Indian Music, it is nostalgic and meaningful to me. When it plays, I am filled with vibrant memories, smells, and emotions.
If you had to do it all over again, would you? And no, you can’t start with the lessons you’ve learned this go around.
If I had to do this all over again, I would do exactly what I am doing in Philanthropy in a heartbeat but starting earlier and with more gusto. There are so many people who still need our help. I know there will be generation of change makers that come after me as well – and this gives me great pride and hope.