Meet the 14-Year-Old on a Mission to Deliver Underwear to Kids Who Live Without It
Oct 27, 2020
Summary: In 2019, then-13-year-old Kina Desai visited the Texas-Mexico border as a volunteer. Playing with young children that she came across, many of whom had journeyed there from Central America, Kina soon became their trusted friend. She learned about their joys and sorrows, their experiences being estranged from family members and an unexpected item they all continually asked for: underwear. While other clothing items like shoes and clothes were more readily donated, most of the children she met had little or no underwear, let alone the means to purchase them. Now, having just begun her freshman year of high school, Kina reflects with us on her service journey.draws4acause.com
Lena: How did 'Draws for Cause' start, and what's the root of the inspiration for starting it?
Kina: Last Summer, around August, I visited the Texas-Mexico border and volunteered in McAllen, Texas and Mexico and while there I volunteered in care centers with asylum seekers and the majority of them were from Central America. So as I was volunteering, the highlight of my time there was definitely volunteering with children at the care centers and I just spent a lot of time there with them and would kind of hear their stories and learn about their necessities. I would help them get clothes from the donations that they had. While the care centers would have in donations from across America, that wasn't a lot and they were definitely asking for underwear and under garments and that was something that was scarce and I couldn't get them. So when I returned from the trip, I wanted to do something to help and obviously I did the basics like shirts, pants, shoes but then I was also looking for where I can donate underwear to children in Central America because this was something that I found when I was working with them and I thought this was something that they needed. And I was looking and couldn't really find anything that provided them with that necessity so I went back and thought maybe this was something that i could do something to help from my experience and that's how I started ‘'Draws for a Cause'’.
Lena: Oh, that's really great that you were able to take that initiative and really recognize that issue, so yeah like Leela said, that's incredible. So, in developing Draws for a Cause, what are some challenges that you came across, if any, when developing this whole kickstarter?
Kina: I think one of the biggest challenges was to get the underwear manufacturer, because not only am I donating the underwear, but I also am selling a product, because that's based on a one-for-one model for every children that were sold ... It's given to the child in need and I know it's now focused for children between the ages 4-12, so I am kinda now remembering what kind of underwear I would like when I was a younger kid... like in terms of design, print and everything. So definitely picking the design and getting the right style ... for boys picking designs for boxers with bands and things like that and then not only deciding on what designs work best but also finding a manufacturer that like sit across. My hope was actually to find a manufacturer in Central America so that I could create jobs and manufacture the underwear in Central America, and then give back to the children there in Central America. But to start off, it got a bit expensive down there. I was unable to get my first order from Central America, because the cost was high, but I'm hoping if the business is able to kick off, as it expands and my order quantity becomes bigger, I'm hoping that I can have a manufacturer in Central America.
Lena: Wow, that's amazing. I think you hold such ethos in service and giving back to the community is really amazing. How were you drawn to help out communities? Do you know where that comes from for you, or if you have any early memory of service and serving the community?
Kina: I have always been drawn to like... this special event with children is always something that I love to do -- be in a place with all these families... all showing gratitude to helping the children. My family and I go to different places to volunteer and we do travel a lot, so I learned about many different cultures and volunteered in many different places. So, yes, I really enjoy learning different people stories and interacting with diff kids. And I really feel I like this, and I'm really passionate about it. I love to give back, especially with children.
Lena: Wow, what do you think is like the biggest lesson or biggest take-away that you have had so far in developing ‘Draws for Cause’? Are there any special interactions or any highlights from ‘Draws for Cause’?
Kina: Yeah, so there are two different things. I'm going to start with the business side. I went through so much in building the business experience as a young child (I just graduated from eight grade). So this is like my business class, where I would read about all the different ways and I will have people to talk to about how they built their business and some things that they did, but you never really know until you jump into it. So I never knew all this until I started the Kickstarter and opened a bank account. I learned so much through that process about how everything needs to be official, about copyright and how it needs to be your own thing. I learned how to make a business and so many life lessons that will help me in the future,
Then, one of the biggest highlights of my entire trip -- something that I will always take with me, one of the really big factors -- is that I met a girl and a dad from Guatemala while in Mexico. She had a brother and mom who were in Guatemala, and she was telling me all about her family -- how her aunts and uncles were there. I'm still in contact with them over WhatsApp. They've now moved to Maryland, and they send things back to their family, and I sent some stuff back to them in Guatemala. She's asked me for socks and underwear and things like that. She was six years old, and is now seven. So that was like a lot for me, and we spoke a lot. She told me a lot about her community down there in Guatemala. She described how a lot of people go down there with shoe donations -- but how they never get underwear and bras and things like that. She really had a great impact on me. Her name is Maria.
Lena: Yeah! Having connections with people and how we are able to grow these connections and understanding and really develop more compassion for these communities. You sound so inspired and motivated by that, and you're so young! You just graduated from middle school and are going into freshman year of high school. Especially now, I've seen a lot of teen initiatives which are super cool. I have friends that are starting these projects to help the community. So if you were to talk to them, what is one piece of advice or one big lesson from this project?
Kina: I think my biggest lesson is just jumping in. You can prepare, read about, all those things, but I never really understood the magnitude of what you have to do until you just jump in and learn as you go. I read so much about what I had to do. I made lists and everything. But, I was so much more knowledgeable about the process after I was able to go in and get started. So I think the biggest thing is being like, 'Okay, I'm ready, I need to just jump in and get started and learn as I go.' And obviously, you need to have background information and do research before, but one of the biggest things for me was: 'Am I really ready to start this in a concrete way?' Like start getting a graphic designer for the logo, start concretely designing the underwear. Actually starting it and making it a real thing -- it's kind of hard to know -- am I ready yet? It was kind of scary for me, but I feel like you just have to jump in. That'd be my biggest piece of advice. Just get started.
Lena: Yeah, I need to keep that in mind, too! This is kind of more of a fun question to get to know you, because I only know you through websites and emails. Who's someone you admire, look up to that has had an impact on you, and what sets them apart?
Kina: Okay, I'll do someone that I know personally and then someone I look up to that's like a figure. So in my family, I look up to my parents a lot. My mom is a dentist and she works for a non-profit. I really look up to her. She's always looking for ways to give back and I think a lot of it comes from her. She always supports me in everything I do. She's a really big role model. Also, my dad. He's very smart. He's in business, so he supported me through the entire thing. I told them I wanted to start 'Draws for a Cause and they were like, "Okay, we'll totally back you up. Just come to us if you need help or have questions." And they connected me to people they knew if I had questions about things they didn't know. They were definitely my biggest supporters. One of my other biggest role models is Malala. I think she's just amazing. She's so young. She'll get knocked down and she doesn't stop fighting for what she's passionate about. She really is making a difference. She's actually taking action.
Lena: So what does the future of ''Draws for a Cause'' look like? How do you see it developing? What are your plans?
Kina: It's currently on Kickstarter, which will end on October 1st. As soon as it is off Kickstarter, I can then order my first round of inventory which is really exciting. Right now I have my website up, but all preorders are directed to my Kickstarter campaign. So I'll get my website up and running. Then I hope to be able to start being able to sell the underwear through my website. If everything is successful and continuing to run, then I hope to create manufacturing in central America. That's definitely something that's important because it's creating jobs there and giving back there. That's definitely one of my big goals.
Lena: Wow! I'm totally rooting for you and supporting you and I hope to see that happen. For you, where do you see yourself in the future? What do you see yourself doing down the line?
Kina: For the 'Draws for a Cause, I hope I can continue to run it throughout high school. Something I've been looking forward to since I had the idea was, especially for the first round of inventory because it won't be very large, I've been hoping to take it down to Guatemala to a care center. Seeing the kids' reactions and their faces because that is what inspired me to start this entire project. Getting to that point where I'm able to go take it down and know that I've accomplished getting them the underwear. I really look forward to that hopefully this year, obviously when the pandemic settles down. That's something I'm really excited for personally. I want to continue to volunteer. I really enjoyed the experience I had last time where I volunteered on the border in different care centers down there with asylum seekers. That's something I'd love to do again. I can't wait to go down to Guatemala and give the underwear.
Lena: Wow. That is really amazing -- having this drive to continue serving. I don't know if it's hard to find a lot of teenagers who may not have that motivation, but we haven't seen that need to go out there and help people. It's so easy to go out and help, but I think a lot of people don't have that drive to. Do your friends know that you're running this Kickstarter? Your family? How'd they react to going out and starting this project to help people that are miles and miles away?
Kina: As soon as I got back last summer, I thought about starting Draws for a Cause, so in the beginning stages in 2019, I told my immediate family. They were really proud and they all supported me, it was great. Obviously, with COVID-19, we got delayed in launching on Kickstarter. I wasn't able to launch as I planned. As it got closer to the launch time, I started to tell more and more people. I told my close friends and they were really proud of me. Everyone in my community was cheering me on, re-posting, sharing it with their networks. It was really great. Everyone that I told has supported me.
Lena: That's so sweet. It's so nice that you have a support system around you.
Kina: Yeah, I'm really lucky. They're amazing people.
Lena: Yeah! So, I think Leela had a question.
Leela: This is super cool and really inspiring, especially because you're really young. My question is definitely a more practical one which is something that I struggle with, too. You're doing so much at such a young age so how do you budget your time? How do you stop yourself from procrastinating? Or if you do procrastinate, how do you deal with that?
Kina: Since I was younger, I've always tried to not procrastinate. This quarantine has definitely not been the best, but it gave me a lot of time to focus on Draws for a Cause and make it the best Kickstarter campaign it could possibly be. That was something that was really good that came out of it, and now that school has started, continuing to get the word out and just continuing to get active has been a challenge. I'm not overwhelmed, but sometimes taking the time on the weekends or when I'd otherwise be doing something with my friends, I have to move things around. That's something I have to work with, and I know that I'm just a freshman so as the years go on, it'll probably get harder, but I try my best. I'm very organized, so I try to do everything when I can and just get it done.
Lena: Thank you! Thank you, Leela, for asking that question. So I want to stay on this topic of you as a teen. Starting a Kickstarter, but being a teenager is a whole another project. Among other teens or students or peers, what's one big issue that you see really prevalent among other teens. What are your thoughts on going forward and trying to combat that and trying to solve those issues?
Kina: Something that I want to take action in is mental health issues. Especially in the high schools in my community. Everyone goes through different things. There have been people in my community who've sadly passed away, and there's some things that have happened. It's made me super aware. A big problem that I want to continue to be active in solving is mental health when it comes to teens. Especially because as a teen, it's something that you can have a really big impact in. Being active in mental health as an adult is one thing, but as a teen and understanding it being apparent among your peers makes it different.
Lena: Yeah, mental health is a huge issue that we see a lot. I think Amritha has a question for you.
Amritha: Hi Kina. It's been so awesome listening into your experiences and your journey. Thank you for sharing. We've covered a lot of things in how it worked for you logistically and, to a certain extent, your idea of the spirit of service. From an emotional standpoint, how was it for you when you were drawing up on this idea? You went to serve this community, you had this certain experience, and you were moved by what was the reality for them -- seeing their state of being and their needs. How was that process? How did you understand that you really wanted to do something about it? All of us are moved by many pressing issues in the world today, but not many go out there and put themselves in places that you have put yourself.
Kina: When I was volunteering at the care centers on the U.S. side, that was something. Seeing how they were all reacting to being in a new environment. There was just so much going on. When I walked into the care centers, there would be so much happening, but for them, it was so confusing and new. Being able to talk to them about the differences in their lives. But the biggest thing was when we went to Mexico. It was more of a care area where they all hung out and then we offered them dinner and everything. They didn't really have a building. When we got there, there were so many people. We brought dinner, and there were so many people that got in lines. They were like, "Yeah this is what we do every night." I didn't know where to start or who to start talking to. I'd never been anywhere like that or put in a situation like that. I was trying to take in everyone. I gravitated towards the children, so I started talking to some children. They got into conversation with me and started to open up and talk about what it was like at home, wherever they were from, their communities, families.
I wanted to do something to help, so I was able to donate shirts and shoes. That was great, but what really motivated me was having those interactions. That being in my head, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I knew I had done something by giving what I could. But there was something that I knew was a need in Central America and Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. Not just adults, but the children had told me that there were their parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, all down there. I had this amazing opportunity to go with this academic group and volunteer with them, and I knew that this was somewhere I could make a difference.
Amritha: Brilliant, thank you so much. Keep shining!
Lena: Having a draw to the kids and interacting with them -- where does that come from?
Kina: I can't really pin one thing. Maybe because I'm a kid, and they're just so cute. Especially when I made those connections, they started opening up. They started telling me about their villages, the communities, their families. That connection is very unique to little children. I enjoy being able to see, not how innocent, but how young they are. I'd feed them dinner and their faces would just light up. They'd tell me a story, or I'd play a game with them, and they get so happy. I'm really passionate about them.
Lena: Yeah, children have an extra glow to them, the whole purity of growing up. Especially with children that don't have these needs met, I totally see that wanting to go out and help them. I wanted to know more about you as a teen and your life. You said you see yourself helping out the community a lot more in the future and being really involved in service. So as a career, where do you see yourself? What career does that?
Kina: When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer. I love speech and debate. I participate in Model United Nations. That's something I really enjoy. I'm really interested in law and things like that. I really want to become a lawyer and if I become successful, then in my career I want to be able to help others pro-bono. I also want to continue to travel because I love volunteering because you learn so many things speaking to different people from all over the world. It's important to hear from people in need all over the world. So I definitely want to continue to not only travel, but volunteer in different countries.
Lena: That's amazing that you're taking this career and shedding a light on really being able to serve and help people through it. So for the last question, what does service mean to you?
Kina: I think anyone can donate their time and volunteer, but a big thing is actually being passionate for what you're doing. Find what you're passionate about and volunteer or work with that. I'm passionate about kids. I like trying different things and volunteering in different countries. Sometimes it's hard with a language barrier, but I still enjoy that. So that's what I want to do. I think you should find what you're passionate about because it comes through service. When you find what you're passionate about, you can actually make a difference and it comes across.
More about Kina's efforts at www.draws4acause.com