American philanthropy, Indian beneficiaries
ARTHUR J PAIS
When Slumdog Millionaire raised a huge con- troversy about its depiction of Indian street children and many Indians across the United
States condemned the film, Chitra Banerjee
Divakaruni, bestselling novelist and literature professor in Houston, argued that millions of children live
under worse conditions than shown in the film.
She also wrote an op-ed piece about her views and
extolled the work of the nonprofit Pratham, which
works in urban slums, rural outposts, prisons, labor
sites where children are employed, and many other
areas in India. Its mission is, ‘Every Child in School
and Learning Well.’ Divakaruni also serves on the
board of Pratham Houston.
Pratham was established in 1994 to provide preschool education to the children in Mumbai slums.
Last year, it served 2.6 million children in 28 Indian
states with the help of 62,000 volunteers.
Pratham has the backing of some of the most successful Indian Americans. Avinash Ahuja, for instance,
is president and chief executive officer of Magnum
Producing, LP, an oil and gas company based in
Corpus Christi, Texas. Sudesh Arora is president and
CEO of aerospace and defense electronics company
Natel. And Vijay Goradia is founder and chairman of
Houston-headquartered global distributor of chemicals and polymers Vinmar International Limited. He is
also the founder and chairman emeritus of Pratham
Among Pratham’s programs is Education for
Education, and the movement, largest of its kind in
India, speaks happily about many of its success stories,
especially that of Khurshid.
Khurshid hails from Ranipur, a small village of about
350 households and a population of 2,000 — a majority of them Muslims — in West Bengal. Pratham first
arrived in the village in 2009 but faced resistance from
the villagers due to some prior unfavorable experience
with religious conversions. This situation changed in
2011, thanks to EFE, and the entry of Khurshid into
the Pratham fold. He is currently a volunteer teacher
for Pratham under the EFE program, while also studying as a sophomore in a local college. Unsuccessful
attempts to find work in Mumbai and an unhappy stint
with the merchant navy had led him back home with
many dreams but few means. Upon hearing about
Pratham’s EFE, he decided to teach children and
improve his own employment prospects at the same
Pratham is one of the over two dozen organizations
that were started in India which in the past decade
have added North American chapters. Among them
are CRY America, Akshaya Patra, and Shankara
There are also many faith-based organizations, like
Prasad run by the Siddha community based in New
Many Diaspora Indians including physicians V K
Raju and Dina Pahlajani back charitable foundations.
Not to forget dozens of schools and clinics started by
Diaspora Indians including Piyush Agrawal, who has
established a college in Uttar Pradesh to educate
If the voluntary work of hundreds of Diaspora
Indians and their American friends were to be financially valued and the actual operating budgets added, it
could easily exceed $100 million a year.
Many of these philanthropic foundations look
beyond India. Some including Prasad and Children’s
Hope also help children in American cities.
Children’s Hope India, Inc was started, its founders
Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy makes a pitch for Akshaya Patra at a fundraiser
say, 20 years ago with a group of women sitting around
a kitchen table wanting to share their blessings and
good fortune with thousands of disadvantaged children in India. What started with $1,000 supporting
one preschool project for 25 children has grown into
over 25 projects reaching out to 50,000 children.
Children’s Hope has raised millions to support a multitude of projects across major cities in India providing
education, food, shelter, and health services to thousands of children. In New York, Children’s Hope has
given out 50 percent tuition scholarships to South
Asian students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to
help them pursue their academic and career goals.
Food, shelter, health care, and education can mean
all the difference between life and death, believes
Kavita Lund, president, Children’s Hope, as do its
directors. CH’s projects are developed in conjunction
with reputed nongovernmental organizations in India,
and the impact of CH-funded programs is closely monitored.
Unlike many other organizations, Children’s Hope is
a 100 percent volunteer-based organization — with no
salaries, expense accounts or other fixed or overhead
costs — hence all the funds raised go directly toward
programs. It raises funds through corporate sponsor-ships, individual donations, fundraising galas, and cultural events. All board members of the organization
are volunteers who travel to India at their own expense
to personally research and monitor the projects funded.
Children’s Hope has also receives support from
dozen of second generation Diaspora Indians through
CH2. Monica Lund, who is on the board of CH2,
recently raised over $15,500 towards the cause of
‘Providing Sight for the Sightless.’
“CH2 has found a novel way of turning the quintes-
sential New York party into a vehicle for creating good
karma,” she adds.