Meet Rimple Bal, born in Queens, NY to Indian parents. Rimple has lived in a few different countries before finding her nest in Plattsburgh, NY. When she was only 2 years old her family moved back to India. However, a medical condition that was undiagnosable by Indian doctors prevented them from staying. Rimple suffers from Rheumatoid Arthritis so her family moved back to America.They lived in Sacramento, CA and Middletown, NY before settling in Plattsburgh.
Two weeks ago I met a vibrant young lady, full of life, and positive energy. She had a smile so bright it could illuminate a room. I was intrigued by her demeanor. At a young age she exhibited strength and warmth all at the same time. Most of us attend college not knowing what to expect, but apart from receiving an education, one of the most amazing things about college is the chance to meet different people, from different walks of life.
I wondered how it was possible for a 20 year old American college student to be so in-tune with her Indian roots.You see, young Americans with immigrant parents grow up in different ways. Some parents want their kids to fully assimilate into American life and leave their traditions at home. Rimple is one of those that grew up speaking Punjabi at home and eating her favorite Indian dishes. I applaud her parents for giving her a traditional upbringing, because in many ways it helped her stay grounded.
I can attest to the importance of knowing your roots, because it only strengthens the person you become. It also helps one become a better, more confident individual. Growing up in Pennsylvania with my uncle and his family, my middle school and high school years were very traditional at home. I am very thankful that those years instilled in me values, morals, and respect for my own culture, and other cultures for that matter. Today, I am a self-reliant student that can cook African food for myself. I am still close to my roots no matter how far from them physically, and I wish to carry that with me when I raise my own family.
At age 13, Rimple went back to India for the first time since she left at 2 years old. “I fell in love with own my country. I always said I know I’m Indian, but I am also American. But I didn't feel as close to India as I did America, because I've lived here for so long. But now I can say I am also Indian. I just fell in love.” Living in a western country most of her life, most people would think she would have been snobbish about most things; however, she surprised her relatives back home. Being that they were in a village in the North, in a small area, miles away from the developed country she grew up in, Rimple more than anything felt connected to her aunts and uncles there. In fact, they told her parents, “your daughter is so humble, she did not act like she was better than us”, and they responded, "because that’s how she was raised". Her parents did not allow English at home, only Punjabi was spoken. Rimple mentioned, “When I went there I spoke the language, I ate all the food. And they would ask, oh do you want pizza? I would say no, just make anything. I don’t care.” That alone separated her from many other relatives that would visit from abroad. It made her as human as the rest of them, after all, they are her family.
Rimple attends SUNY Plattsburgh, and is majoring in Biochemistry and Women Gender Studies. These are two very different majors, but they are her two passions that she is very much connected to. She would like to one day become a Pediatric Rheumatologist, to help kids that have arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Rimple’s dream is to travel with Doctors Without Borders, and practice medicine in underdeveloped countries. She also contemplates becoming a pediatrician, but is not quite sure yet; however, she definitely seems to be on the right path.
I mentioned to her how I find it beautiful to aspire to travel abroad to assist children and individuals that may not have access or the privilege to receive adequate medical care, and she gracefully responded, “see that’s the key word ‘privilege’, so I’m Indian, I've been born and raised in the United States; that’s privilege. I had the privilege to go and get an education, my parents supported me in what I want to do, I could easily just live on my privilege and said oh well that’s my privilege, it’s given to me. No, you should help others that don’t have that or help them get that privilege”.
A humanitarian is born!
Rimple mission is to help others. She has always been drawn to it since she was a child; it’s just in her. As she stated the following, “If my purpose is to just live my life, and just have a really easy life, like in Plattsburgh or Montreal, or wherever I decide to live, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I feel like than what’s my purpose to just live an easy life and not help others. I’m one person so I can’t say oh I’m going to change the world, but I can definitely say that I can try to change the worlds of different people, and I think that means a lot”.
Rimple is reminding us that change in the world is in our hands. We have doctors, firemen, and teachers that each save lives daily in their own ways. For a young lady her age to be in-tune with her inner self requires strength, confidence in herself and humanity, and most importantly compassion; which the world needs more of.
This summer Rimple traveled to India for a 3 week study abroad program through her Gender Women’s Study program. That trip has impacted her life. Sitting across from her I could see the passion in her eyes. Rimple attended the International Women’s Congress, which is held once a year in different countries and consists of discussing gender issues, gender in science, and gender in law among other gender issues. There was also discussions about caste issues and privilege, which are major issues in India. This experience was life changing for Rimple. “Sometimes I miss India, I start crying”, said Rimple. “I grew up learning about caste, but it wasn't something pertaining to me. I knew it affected people, but I didn’t understand how”.
They went to a women’s shelter in the Hyderabad and met girls of all ages, most of them were girls under 20 years of age. These girls have been assaulted, and sexually and emotionally abused. Many of them have been sold by their parents to much older men, due to lack of income and being from a lower caste. I can see the expression on her face change when she mentioned a 20 year old young lady that has been raped repeatedly for 3 years by her then husband at the ages of 11 through 13. She eventually became pregnant and gave birth to a stillborn. Fortunately, she was able to run away, and the women at the shelter are slowly helping her forget her troubled past. This is just one story among many. In that same shelter there are young girls that are former streetwalkers, and are in the process of being rehabilitated into society. These women are each other’s strength without a doubt. The love and kindness they gave to Rimple and her classmates still resonates in her today.
The memorable stories of the young ladies and girls of the shelter in Hyderabad are one of many in India, and the rest of the world. It gives a meaning and a face to gender inequalities everywhere. I have a newfound respect for those that dedicate their lives to improving the lives of others.
Westerners take many things for granted. For example, we have the luxury to have access to hygienic products without any care in the world, when it’s either too expensive or difficult to acquire for the average woman in an underdeveloped country. Rimple, being part of the Rotary Club in Plattsburgh, wishes to organize a fundraiser and send necessities to the lovely women at the shelter.
Having a major is more than just studying it; passion is key. When you feel it in your heart and soul, then, you know you’ve hit the jackpot. I found it amazing that at such a young age, Rimple has found what makes her heart beat, and what makes her voice drop lower a couple notches. It is an incredible feeling to witness another human being on the quest to better humanity. Our generation is filled with superficialities and short attention spans from evolving technologies, but there definitely is hope for all of us through better understanding of our social responsibility to the world and to future generations.
Let’s come together and better our world! We are all we’ve got!