When Sushma Patel first discovered Global Communities (at that time operating as Project Concern International), she was drawn to the organization’s work in her parents’ native India. “My mom actually passed away [in] 2004, and I wanted to give back on her behalf annually. When I thought about what Project Concern did with immunizations [and] the health benefits all around the world, I was inspired,” says the London-born Patel, who now lives in Solana Beach. From there, she made a donation and designated it for use in administering vaccines to children in India, and a commitment that would become one that would last for years to come was born.
Patel’s inspiration was not just to honor past generations, but those in the future, as well. When her daughter was in kindergarten at Diegueño Country School in Rancho Santa Fe, in partnership with her daughter’s teacher, Patel engaged the class to participate in a holiday gift drive for local families through PCI’s Healthy Start program. The project, which provides family health support in numerous forms including childbirth and infant education, breastfeeding support, early childhood development programs, and other health services as well as mental health resources, is just one of the initiatives within the nonprofit’s scope of work locally that includes eliminating disparities in maternal and child health services, covid-19 vaccination and education, community health worker training, and youth empowerment, which addresses factors around human trafficking, a significant issue along the U.S.-Mexico border. Though Patel’s daughter is no longer a Diegueño student, the school continues annual participation in its support of Healthy Start, as Patel has transitioned from a parent at the school to now as its admissions director, and as PCI merged with Global Communities in 2020.
Beyond her efforts with Global Communities, Patel’s personal work outside the organization, where she’s focused on girls’ education in India, has been an avenue for Diegueño Country School families to learn more of the ongoing need there as well, and that awareness has generated interest and involvement that includes letter writing exchanges, donation drives, and visits to the country to see their impact firsthand.
Patel’s lasting relationship with Global Communities culminates this year as she chairs the organization’s annual Hands Across Borders Gala on December 1 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine, and the connection she’s forged between India and her community made this year’s theme, showcasing the tastes, traditions, and culture of India, a natural choice. The evening’s proceeds support Global Communities’ work in San Diego as well as its global efforts in areas including disaster relief, food security, maternal, newborn, and child health, and economic development.
Patel hopes that her role will help expand awareness of the organization within the Indian community as well as more broadly. “I feel [Global Communities] is just a hidden gem that not many people know about,” says Patel. “Until the gala.”