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No Pretensions in Pratham Gala for Raising Money for Kids Education

From left: Dr. Atul Varadhachary, Outgoing President, Pratham USA, Julius and Michelle Young, Wells Fargo, Dinny Devitre, Chairman Pratham USA, Dr. Marie Goradia, President, Pratham Houston, Vijay Goradia, Founder Pratham USA, Mike Schmittlein, Wells Fargo, Dr. Madhav Chavan, Founder, Pratham India.

From left: Dr. Atul Varadhachary, Outgoing President, Pratham USA, Julius and Michelle Young, Wells Fargo, Dinny Devitre, Chairman Pratham USA, Dr. Marie Goradia, President, Pratham Houston, Vijay Goradia, Founder Pratham USA, Mike Schmittlein, Wells Fargo, Dr. Madhav Chavan, Founder, Pratham India.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: It seems like it was only yesterday when Pratham Houston held its annual Gala but here it was this past Saturday night, April 5, once again at the Hilton Americas, marking the herald of the Gala season among Indo-American charities across the Metroplex. True to its superlative calling and tremendous outreach, this year’s Gala drew out a huge crowd of about 700 guests of the brightest luminaries of the desi philanthropic society.

Gala Chair Amit Bhandari (right) gives a trophy to Keynote Speaker Leo Linbeck, III.                                                              Photos: Bijay Dixit

Gala Chair Amit Bhandari (right) gives a trophy to Keynote Speaker Leo Linbeck, III.
Photos: Bijay Dixit

This year’s Gala borrowed its script from last year’s which also drew slightly less than 800, but whereas last year’s was high in theatrics with lasers shooting from the stage and bouncing off the ceiling, this year’s was decidedly less flamboyant and more subdued in keeping with the personal style and direction of the organization’s current President Dr. Marie Goradia who emphasized her goal of directing all the funds raised towards the education of the poor and deserving kids of India.

Pratham Houston Board and Gala Chairs and Co Chairs.

Pratham Houston Board and Gala Chairs and Co Chairs.

As in the past three years, this year’s Gala’s sound, lighting and projected logo arrangements were made by Brij Kathuria who has dazzled audiences with his clever and creative arrangements in several huge events and wedding receptions last year.

Pratham Houston once again had reason to be proud of its stellar track record of raising huge amounts for its cause by announcing that it had collected a record $1.4 million through this year’s Gala, just $100,000 over last year’s mark. Pratham continues to be among the top five of the 25 highest grossing charities in the Bayou City, a point driven home by the presence of the Chairman of Pratham USA, Dinny Devitre and Dr. Madhav Chavan, the CEO and founder of Pratham India, both of whom had flown in for the occasion.

“In fact, I hand carried the NRI of the Year award that is to be presented to Vijay Goradia tonight”, quipped Chavan as he stepped on the stage to say a few words. He introduced Devitre to present the award made by India-based Times NOW Television. Vijay is the founder and chairman of Vinmar International, a distributor of chemical and polymers, but is the founder and past Chairman of Pratham USA. “I’d like to thank the Academy for this award”, quipped an elated Goradia borrowing a line from the Oscars, as he clutched the slender, angelic looking gold-colored statue.

After the hub-bub of the social hour over hors de’ourves by Dawat Catering, who also catered the dinner, the crowded second floor lobby spilled into the adjoining large main banquet hall and without fanfare were entertained by the dancers of Naach Houston in an energetic Bollywood dance number choreographed by the team headed by its Artistic Director Mahesh Mahbubani. The other entertainment for the evening after dinner was by the Fred Astaire Dance Studio which performed several numbers, including a tango.

After a brief welcome by emcee Rekha Muddaraj – who also did last year’s Gala – the KHOU Channel 11 news anchor, the major speech of the evening was delivered by Marie Goradia who related the story of a young, poor boy Saroj, who typifies the type of child that Pratham has helped over its existence for 20 years.

Goradia tugged at the heartstrings as she narrated the tale of Saroj from the lap of a happy, loving family which couldn’t make ends meet to his brutal treatment as a factory worker in the slums, unable to see his family for three years. “Pratham convinced the factory owners to allow it to come and teach the kids once a week”, said Goradia to a rapt audience, “and then Saroj saw a glimmer of hope and wanted to read”. She explained how Pratham’s unique program teaches the illiterate to read and do simple math within two months. “ Soon, he was reading entire books from Pratham’s library … and after two years went to the School for Gifted and Talented kids and wants to be a teacher.

“Pratham opened the door for freedom for Saroj”, exclaimed Goradia, asking, “How does Pratham work this magic”? She explained that the Read India program costs only $10 per child per year and that Pratham just received the sixth annual BBVA Foundation Frontier of Knowledge Award in Madrid last month as a vote of confidence in its success in India. She passed the mike to the Keynote Speaker for the evening, Leo Linbeck, IIIrd whose family has been in the contracting and construction business in the Bayou City for three generations.

Linbeck described his encounter with the works of two researchers in the functioning of the brain and how he related it to the work that Pratham was doing. In an amusing and often rambling way, Linbeck explained how the brain latches onto a System One – which is fast and lazy, akin to robodriving to your house – to grasp easier ideas and a System Two – which is slow but rational – for the more complicated ones. “Pratham gives opportunities too participate in governance from which people would be locked out – this is scaleable and replicable and is System One”, he explained. “System Two centralizes power but education pulls back the control over their lives”, he added as the thrust of his hypothesis.

The evening gave out an award to the retiring Pratham USA President Dr. Atul Varadhachary for his immense, dedicated efforts for the organization. When Goradia opened the floor for a pledge drive and live auction, almost $50,000 was raised to add to the Gala’s total. The event ended with the Gala Chairs, Arpita and Amit Bhandari expressing their thanks for the huge outpouring of support for the event and recognition of all twenty-eight of Pratham Houston’s Board members.

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