‘Keeper of the Dream’ Understands Those Who Struggle
One in an ongoing series
Kadja Desir has a soft heart for people who are struggling – with hunger or homelessness or spiritual longing – as her many hours of community service attest.
Desir – make that one-thesis-short-of-Doctor Desir – received a Keeper of the Dream Award on Martin Luther King Day in recognition of her community work. She was also described in the nomination as a “bright light” in her role as an administrative coordinator for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Desir was equally complimentary of her department: “We have such a good team,” she says, noting that sometimes David Jaspan, DO, Chair of the department – will personally return phone calls to patients who have concerns.
“I would feel special if I got a call from the chairman of the department; it just shows that someone truly cares. That’s what we’re all looking for – to make sure someone cares.”
A Personal Experience of Struggle
Desir’s compassion derives, in part, from her own struggles. In her junior year at Temple University, she lost her footing and lost her way. She dropped out. She also experienced the devastating death of a premature son born in 2006, holding him in her arms briefly before he died.
All of this has sharpened her understanding of the struggles people endure. “You never know what someone is going through,” she says.
Her empathy for others also reflects the model of her parents, who emigrated from Haiti in 1980. “They are the most giving people – so selfless,” she says. Her grandmother also taught her to “always try to help when you see someone in need. Don’t forget where you came from.”
Her grandmother could have meant that literally: Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a poverty rate of nearly 59 percent.
Desir was stunned at the circumstances when she visited extended family there in 2015. “It boggled my mind,” she says of the poverty she witnessed. “It humbled me.”
With the support of her family, including an identical twin sister, and a determination inspired by the birth of a son in 2007, Desir has rebuilt her life. She took online studies to complete her education and earned a bachelor’s degree and a Master of Public Administration degree. She has completed everything but her dissertation for her Doctor of Business Administration degree. She ultimately wants to teach business ethics at a university or work in public health on the federal level.
Caring and Community Service
Meanwhile, Desir has brought her commitment to “compassionate caring” to the job she’s held at Einstein for eight years. ”She’s energetic, cheerful and highly effective in her role,” says Manuel Peregrino, MD, Chairman of the Division of Neonatology at Einstein, “I can count on her to get things done.”
Dr. Peregrino also noted Desir’s deep commitment to community service, as reflected in her resume. She has volunteered for the March of Dimes, Operation Book Bag, MANNA, Stages Community School, Walk for Hunger, AIDS Walk, Breast Cancer Walk and Walk for Autism.
Desir travels to Manhattan four times a year to participate in a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization called Lunch on Me, which redistributes organic food that would otherwise be discarded to the homeless.
And when she’s not volunteering, Desir is – dancing. Her family describes her as a “dancing machine,” she says with a laugh. “I would dance to anything.”
She’s a certified Zumba instructor at LA Fitness. And she’s part of a traveling dance ministry, called Spirit of David, that performs at nursing homes and community events. Spirit of David was initially affiliated with Enon Baptist Church but is now independent. The group has danced at the Wawa Welcome America festivities, in Philadelphia’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and appeared in December at the Kimmel Center as part of the annual Soulful Christmas concert. A dance ministry is described online as a form of dance designed to “enrich and build a strong relationship with God.”
“I try to live a righteous life,” Desir says. “to do good and be good. Another motto is ‘Service is my purpose.’ That’s what I tell myself every day.”