Childhood Poverty Inspires Hero to Succeed and Give Back

Childhood Poverty Inspires Hero to Succeed and Give Back

As a child, Diganta Kalita knew familial love and household scarcity in equal measure. He grew up in a small town in Bamundi near Guwahati, the main city of northeast India. His parents worked hard to provide for their kids, but some days they didn’t have enough money to buy groceries. When supplies were scarce, his mother rationed their meals and found opportunities to work. They had to live in a house built from bamboo, thatching, and soil—just enough for the family to sleep in and stay warm.

“I never complained. My mother did not know how to count the numbers after twenty,” Kalita said. “She was completely illiterate but provided me and all my siblings motherly love and protection to survive throughout my childhood.” 

Kalita didn’t want to see his family struggle and worked hard outside the home at a young age to contribute.  

“In my school days, I earned money by working in the rock quarry to manage my school supplies. I used to collect vegetables and sell them to the market,” he said. “I helped my mom and sisters weave with which they could support daily expenses for the family [different things and made some] bamboo stuff.”

The small wages he earned weren’t enough to take care of his family. It was a big responsibility at a young age, but it inspired him to go to college.  

“My dream was to go to college… I always dreamed of higher studies. During this period going abroad [getting my] Ph.D… [Living in the] USA was always my dream,” Kalita said. 

Although his family did not receive much education, they encouraged him to pursue his dreams.  

“When I passed the 10th grade exam, my older brother knew that I was good at school… [and] supported me like a father,” Kalita said. 

With his determination to succeed in life, Kalita decided that earning a master’s degree in chemistry would give him the best chance. He attended Gauhati University. He earned his master’s in 2001 and went on to earn a Ph.D. from Tezpur University in 2008.  In 2009, Kalita came to the U.S. as a Research Intern at Vanderbilt University at Tennessee and moved to Colorado for postdoctoral research at Colorado State University in 2010. 

Afterward, Kalita moved to Chicago to work as a Food Research Scientist for VDF FutureCeuticals in Momence, Ill. After securing his career footing, he was determined to find ways to make a difference in his community.  

In 2022, he learned about an opportunity to run for an organization that was close to his experience and his heart—the Northern Illinois Food Bank, which provides food to people in need. 

“Life is still teaching me we should be happy with whatever we get, but at the same time, we have to [pursue our] dreams,” he said. 

It would be another challenge. While Kalita lived in India, his tireless pursuit of education didn’t leave time to run or play sports. But he applied the same level of grit and determination that helped him earn a PhD to achieve this new goal. 

As Kalita and 40,000 runners ran past the Mercy Mile Cheer Zone at the 17-mile mark that October morning, Mercy Home’s boisterous cheer station caught his attention. 

“Last year when I ran the Chicago marathon, I noticed how Mercy Home supported the runners. They gave [a warm] welcome during the run and that means a lot to a runner [for] extra energy toward the finish line. 

Without hesitation, Kalita joined the Mercy Home Heroes for this year’s race to make a difference in the lives of our young people.  

“Very often some of our kids struggle with basic needs and education until becoming an adult,” he said.  

“During these struggling periods they need a loving, caring and secure home.”  

This October, Kalita plans to go the extra mile to help provide that kind of home for more kids. 

 “With our little support we can make their lives better. I am extending that support [to the kids] through my run… I want to help them,” he said. 

 As the 2023 Bank of America Marathon approaches, Kalita hopes to inspire his family and community to be healthy and be socially responsible and respect each other. He’s already inspired us, and we’ll be there again at Mile 17 to give him another Hero’s welcome. 

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