Philanthropy is a natural part of the Indian culture, according to Dr. Soma Avva and his wife, Veni. The couple grew up in Kurnool, India, and made the journey to the United States 50 years ago. In 1974, they settled in Dayton, where Dr. Avva established his reconstructive/ plastic surgery practice.
Now retired, he and his wife live in Harrison Twp., where they raised a family and established roots. Their strong sense of community commitment led them to be among The Dayton Foundation’s very early Charitable Checking AccountSM fund holders and now endowment fund holders, supporting health issues in the Dayton Region and around the world.
Q: Who or what has inspired you to give back and help others?
A: My religion, my parents and my older brother have inspired me to give back. I was born and raised Hindu. Hinduism teaches you to serve God, and the best way to do that is to serve His creation. We do that by taking care of all living beings and the Earth.
Growing up, I watched my dad help whomever he could, even though he had minimal means. I watched my older brother fund the education of several children from the time that they entered into elementary school to college. He also used his retirement funds to start a free senior living facility to help the aging community in India. That was about 30 years ago, and today this home continues to house and feed about 50 people.
My beliefs and upbringing have brought me to the understanding that what has been given to me is due to God’s grace, and it is my responsibility to give back.
Q: What charitable organizations do you support through your fund?
A: Locally and within the United States, we support Doctors Without Borders, American Red Cross, Feeding America, Dayton Food Bank, Day of Caring and Sankara Eye Foundation and Samaritan Homeless Clinic through Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, among others.
Internationally, we support AIM for Seva. This organization was started by Swami Dayanada Saraswati. It was created to help the extremely poor and rural children in India. So many children in rural India do not have access to education. This organization provides schooling, food and housing from elementary school through college.
We also support Rotoplast International and Operation Smile. These organizations go to other countries with doctors who repair childhood facial deformities.
Q: Speaking of organizations that go to other countries to help children, you too have volunteered as a surgeon on several mercy missions. How have you used your time and skills as a surgeon to give back?
A: I have made a total of 22 mission trips to date to do reconstructive surgery on children and adults with cleft lips and palates, burns and other deformities.
Children with these deformities are hidden away and ridiculed when they go out. Many underprivileged in developing countries have no access to care as they would in this country. Going on service trips like this, and literally seeing lives change right before your eyes once the surgery is complete, makes you want to keep going back to serve and help more children. You can see the happiness in the children’s and parents’ eyes when the surgery is done. They tell you from their heart.
I’ve also had the opportunity to return to Kurnool, India, to conduct an Eye Camp where 900 patients were screened, 400 pairs of reading glasses were given and 64 cataract surgeries were performed. I later conducted a second camp in Kurupam, India, where 311 patients were screened and 91 patients received needed cataract surgeries.
The only regret that I have is that I should have started to make these trips about 20 years sooner.
Q: How does The Dayton Foundation help you support the causes that you care about?
A: The Dayton Foundation makes it so easy to give and keep track of all the contributions. From supporting Doctors without Borders to The Dayton Foundation’s community work, among others, to helping to build the Hindu Temple, the first Hindu temple in a three-state area. My funds through the Foundation help me stay organized.
Q: What advice can you share about giving your time and/or dollars?
A: I feel that our purpose in life is to serve people and the community. No matter what stage you are at in your life, you can serve by giving your time, skills or dollars.
Those who have the means are meant to give back. This is a cycle.
Q: How would you complete this sentence, “My giving makes me feel____”?
A: … Happy, fulfilled, grateful and blessed.