From the Editor:
Juhi Narula is a student at the University of Maryland studying psychology and marketing. She is also the founder of Cherish Life. Below, Juhi shares some reflections on the journey of starting a nonprofit as a blind student.
I used to think that blind people couldn’t manage nonprofits or become entrepreneurs. From what I understood, sighted people were the only ones who could support others, even when it came to representing and supporting the blind community. When I first began telling others that I had established a nonprofit, their reactions were very interesting. Beyond the shock of a student founding a charity, there was just a sprinkle of disbelief in their tone caused by a broken stereotype. The misconception of blind people being incapable once again made an unwanted appearance in my life. Yet, showing others that blind people can build successful organizations and work for themselves made each interaction worth it.
I began actively working for my nonprofit, Cherish Life, three years ago when I was 19. Cherish Life was created with the mission to provide blind people with any assistive technology or tools they need to live an independent life. When I first entered the world of nonprofit founders, I greatly underestimated just how topsy turvy the rollercoaster ride was going to be. That slow incline up to the peak of the ride? That was the tough process of getting the foundation started, convincing others that I could do it, and learning the ins and outs of starting your own organization. The fear of failing and the excitement of what I could do with this platform grew and grew until the official launch of the nonprofit. I could see the potential of the organization, yet so much more had to be done to get it off the ground. It felt so close yet terrifying, just like when you’re waiting at the top of the rollercoaster.
Beyond my immediate family, there was a lot of doubt and skepticism I had to face with others. A blind college student attempting to start and launch her own nonprofit was hard for many people to believe. It was far above what the sighted community thought was possible. I have become used to the condescending tone when telling people I am blind, but this was more than that. There was doubt and a hesitation to support me in the process. Or on the other end of the spectrum, some would graciously offer to help when it wasn’t necessary because they believed I couldn’t do it on my own. I was learning as I went, which meant I made plenty of mistakes along the way. I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted the mission of the organization to support the blind community, as my own blindness philosophy and identity were growing along side it. Because of this, I was embarrassed when I would make a mistake in front of a peer. I was terrified of showing any sort of weakness because that meant it was easier to be scrutinized and judged, something we as blind people face enough in our lives. It was stressful feeling like any flaw I had would negatively impact the blind community as a whole. In the end though, I realized that I was only holding myself back by worrying so much about how others perceived my ability.
The ride so far has been exhilarating. I did not realize that I finally got the chance to do what I love but for a career. My passion finally met my priorities for what I desperately want from a job. I truly love helping others gain access to financially inaccessible resources, and I get to do that while proving to others that blind people not only are capable of being independently successful but deserve the self-autonomy to choose our own futures. Sighted people rarely meet blind individuals; so when it actually happens, we are unintentionally put into the role of representing the entire blind community. I’m not the biggest fan of this but have to admit that I love that, if it means changing others’ preconceived notions of blind people in a positive way. Even though there are several struggles with running a nonprofit, especially while being a full time student, the impact I can have when helping improve others’ lives makes every bit of frustration worth it. Founding a nonprofit has helped me gain the confidence I needed to positively represent our community and strongly stand behind the fact that we beneficially contribute to society.