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This inspiring couple turns leftover hotel soap into hygiene kits for the needy

They recycle soap that would otherwise be thrown away through a program supported with their donor-advised fund

Dr. Amir Lakhani and his wife, Dr. Dilshad Sumar-Lakhani, know what it’s like to grow up without the basics of human comfort. So when they heard about a nonprofit sending sanitation supplies to refugees in the Middle East, and learned that hygiene was a critical need, they saw an opportunity to help.

They made a grant recommendation from their Fidelity Charitable Giving Account to an environmental charity to fund the production of 10,000 bars of soap to go in hygiene packs. The bars had been recycled from hotels and sanitized for reuse, allowing Dr. Lakhani and Dr. Sumar to help the environment while helping those in crisis.

It's just one example of how they use their Giving Account, or donor-advised fund, to do a world of good. The couple likes to create linkages in their charitable giving; they help to alleviate multiple social problems at once by connecting and supporting nonprofits, with the ultimate goal of lessening human suffering.

Learn more about donor-advised funds

In building a life together, building a commitment to help others who struggled

Dr. Lakhani and Dr. Sumar both grew up underprivileged in East Africa, the children of Indian immigrants. Dr. Lakhani recalls his parents struggling to afford the $1 tuition for his school in Uganda. He was passionate about learning and yearned to read more about the world around him, but those books were rarely available. Dr. Sumar made the difficult choice to leave East Africa at age 16 to pursue higher education and to support her siblings, who would also study abroad.

Despite the odds against them, Dr. Lakhani became a physicist and Dr. Sumar became a pediatric dentist. They made a life for themselves in the United States, raised a family and prospered.

"We have risen from the bottom of the ladder to a comfortable rung," said Dr. Sumar. "We are lucky. But we have to be aware that people still are in these situations, and we can help them get out from underneath."

They knew they would one day devote their time and financial resources to giving back. They established a donor-advised fund with Fidelity Charitable while they were still working, donating appreciated securities and growing their charitable dollars over time until they were ready to make a plan for giving in retirement.

Making retirement richer through giving

That time came five years ago, when they began to research nonprofits to support with their Giving Account, the Sumar-Lakhani Foundation.

Since then, the couple has developed a knack for discovering novel ways to give and for finding organizations they want to help, including the Narenj Tree Foundation, the refugee aid group that had been sending clothes and other sanitation supplies to displaced Syrians; and the Orlando group, Clean the World, that recycles hotel soap. With their Giving Account, the couple has also provided support to send 5,000 toothbrushes to refugee camps.

A man washing his hands at an outdoor faucet

"Our hope is to improve the quality of life in these temporary tents," said Dr. Lakhani, who says they also plan to donate solar lamps to refugee camps, so children can read at night.

The couple also prioritizes supporting educational programs abroad. Because the couple had such limited access to education early in their lives, they are now motivated to give back to programs like the ones that helped them become so successful.

Focusing on areas where a small gift can make a big difference

Dr. Lakhani and Dr. Sumar work with small, local nonprofits and with their donor-advised fund support health and hygiene, the environment, education and social entrepreneurism for people all over the world–Cambodia, India, Tanzania and Afghanistan, just to name a few. From programs that teach girls and women how to sew, budget and earn a living for themselves in their villages to establishing pediatric dental clinics in remote areas, the couple say they spend 80 percent of their waking hours trying to make the world a better place.

A very small financial contribution can have a very large impact on people's lives.

"A very small financial contribution can have a very large impact on people's lives," said Dr. Lakhani. "We grew up with that kind of a situation ourselves, and we understand what a substantial difference it can make. So we focus on areas where the funding need is modest, but smartly utilized."

Their Giving Account has brought a welcome passion to Dr. Lakhani and Dr. Sumar's golden years, allowing them to help others overcome the kind of struggles they once knew.

"It has opened up an entirely new door, a new phase in our life," he said, "because these are things we love to do. But if we didn’t have the fund, it would be very hard to implement. Not only did it take the pressure off of us to distribute all of our funds early on, but our funds have also grown. Now, we can make a bigger impact."

Learn more about donor-advised funds

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