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UNICEF’s Spirit of Compassion Award for Nidhika and Pershant Mehta

Mehtas with the late MFAH director, Dr. Peter C. Marzio (1943-2010) at left Photos: George Ramirez Photography

By Kalyani Giri

HOUSTON: Prolific young power couple Nidhika and Pershant Mehta have been named as recipients of the prestigious Spirit of Compassion 2012 Award by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. The award, instituted in 2005, will be presented to them at the UNICEF World Ball to be held at the Hilton Americas on Saturday, March 31, 2012. The accolade is UNICEF’s way of expressing appreciation to the Mehtas as philanthropic leaders who opened their hearts and used their considerable and inimitable influence to help draw attention to UNICEF’s mission of providing a safe and happy childhood to children all over the world, and helping them survive and thrive. The most recent recipient of the Spirit of Compassion Award was Olivia Harrison, founder of the George Harrison Fund for UNICEF. This year’s UNICEF World Ball will feature entertainment by the Houston Children’s Chorus, and Mango Punch.

The Mehtas, parents to nine-year-old twins, began their involvement with the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF in 2007 and soon started hosting events, raising awareness and contributing to programs. They co-chaired the record-breaking wildly successful Mystique of India gala in 2008, and thereafter joined the Board of Directors. Pershant became a member of the Executive Committee, has served on the U.S. Fund’s National Development Committee, and is an advisor in the development of a new, soon-to-be-launched business partnership program, UNICEF Enterprise.

“The Mehtas’ financial support has provided critical funds to support UNICEF programs in India, emergency relief in Haiti, and unrestricted revenue to address needs where they are the greatest,” said Sonya Renner, Southwest Regional Director at U.S. Fund for UNICEF. “Nidhika and Pershant’s exceptional philanthropic legacy extends to the next generation; their twins Trick-or-Treat events for UNICEF, and the twins’ school is hosting a water walk and hydro-fair to raise awareness of the global water crisis and funds to provide clean safe drinking water for children,” added Renner.

Beyond UNICEF, the Mehtas’ commitments embrace both local and international communities as benefactors of the Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery, named for and made possible through a major donation by the formidably munificent couple. They also give generously of their time and resources to Stream of Change Foundation, Pratham, the Houston Symphony, Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Children’s Assessment Center, March of Dimes, Herman Park Conservatory, Daya, and Houston Community College, to name a few. In 2009 Nidhika chaired the Texas Children’s Hospital Ambassadors’ Family Day and Book Drive. In 2010 she co-chaired the HCC Passion for Fashion Luncheon, an event she chaired in 2011. Nidhika served as the MFAH 2010 Family Circle Event Chair and recently received the “Best Dressed” recognition from the March of Dimes and Houston Chronicle. The Mehtas constantly host events at their home to help raise money for many a different non-profit organizations. Last year, literacy organization Pratham honored them for their altruistic endeavors in offering succor to hapless women and children globally.

The Mehtas odyssey to success stems from hard work ethics, universal education, practicality, humility, adherence to their cultural roots, and a strong cognizance of the global community as one entity. Kuwait-born and raised, Nidhika left for India during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and completed an Honors degree in Psychology at the Mary and Jesus College in New Delhi. Pershant was born in New Delhi, India; his father was in the shipping industry so the family spent some years in India and Malaysia before moving to the US when Pershant was 8 years old.

“Houston is pretty much my hometown,” confided Pershant with a smile.

The couple were introduced to each other by mutual family friends in 1995 and after a short courtship, married in 1996. Nidhika moved here the same year. While she takes care of the children and the home and the various organizations that she supports, Pershant owns an USA-based company that creates and invents market ready innovative consumer products and sells them through his own and Fortune 500 companies. Previously he was a fashion designer of high-end social apparel and bridal wear and supplied to clientele in the upscale ilk of Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Cache.

Indo American News visited the Mehtas at their tasteful Memorial area home for an informal interview. The following are excerpts from that conversation:

IANews – How does it feel to be honored by UNICEF?

NM – (softly) Very humbled, very honored.

What were the events leading up to this award?

NM – We started small, by just helping one child. It gave us an adrenaline rush to know that this kid who could never have traveled out of India, got a scholarship to England. Now he’s supporting his own family. Then our kids kept me very busy initially but when they started school I had all this time. I had the choice of lunches with friends or to do something meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and I love socializing and having fun, but this work made me feel that I’m helping making a difference. There was a point when I thought…I’m a daughter, a wife, a mother, but what else? I owed it to myself to make a difference. Then Nat and Leela Krishnamurthy (activists from the local community) introduced us to UNICEF. With this organization, you can see your work making a difference.

What inspired the MFAH Indian exhibit?

PM – It inspired us actually. The India Gallery is the creation of many prominent individuals here in Houston. This was the brainchild of the museum and the community. We were just one of the components in making it happen. It was in conception long before we came in. What inspired us was the connection between India and Houston. Growing up here, if someone asked where I’m from, I’d say I’m from India. When I asked my kids the same question, they’d said “we’re American”. And it struck me that of course they were American, but of Indian origin. This is where they were born and this is where they’re going to live. I had an epiphany at that point that we could get confused about who or where we’re from, or we could bring our culture here in a more prominent way where it exists in the mainstream in the normal lexicon of where we are. Our family has always being involved in creating cultural places like Arya Samaj in Houston to bring out the community. So when the opportunity at MFAH came up, Nidhika and I thought it was perfect. Our culture could be blended, and India wouldn’t just be a place in a movie or a magazine.

NM – We are very fortunate that we can travel back and forth to India with the kids. Our kids are very desi because I keep instilling it in them and don’t want them to lose it. But there are a lot of our friends who cannot do that, regardless of being Indian or American as time or money may not permit it. We have a piece of India back here where people can get in touch with who they really are, their roots. What surprises me, is that people think that non-Indians think lowly of us if we’re not speaking English in their accent or whatever it may be. But it will amaze you how much they love our culture, are hungry for all those ancient texts which we ourselves don’t give enough respect to. When I walk into a mainstream gala wearing a saree, I see the respect in their eyes. We must get away from the myth of inferiority.

Despite your high profile, you’ve both remained approachable and down-to-earth in your attitudes, treating everyone with equal respect. How do you strike the balance in all your various roles?

PM – There’s nothing high profile about us. We are just very blessed with lots of fabulous opportunities in life.

NM – It also stems from not being given everything on a silver platter. We worked for everything. It ties into the fact that it makes us very humane and we know that wealth and fame is transient.

PM – One has to get their priorities straight and with us, our children, family, close friends, our community – it’s the relationships, the people in your life that matter.

NM – We can go to a huge event with celebrities present, but coming home with a few friends, kicking off shoes and sitting on the sofa with feet up, and recapping the evening and laughing over a cup of chai, that truly is what we find meaningful. The challenge for us is to keep our children humble. We have worked for everything but they have been given everything.  They have to know that this isn’t something that comes easily when they have to work.

How do you instill those values in your children?

PM – I started working at age eight for my father and granted it wasn’t a 9 – 5 job. Last year when my son turned eight, I made it a point for him to come to the office. He did odd jobs like emptying trash cans or giving out snacks and water, essentially instilling in him a sense of a work ethic. Nidhika was worried that he may have been bored and wanted to send the driver to pick him up. But my son said, no, he was going home with me at 6.00pm.

NM – I grew up with lots of help in the house in Kuwait. But my mother always told me to learn to do everything. When we first married and came here, I could manage on my own. Our daughter helps around the house. We must give our children the weapons to fend for themselves because we don’t know what the future will bring.

Are you’ll spiritual?

PM – Yes, of course.

NM – We have a mandir upstairs and we are religious to an extent. Hinduism to us is a way of life. But we are very global and open to all religions. We have poojas in the house to keep the children attached to their culture, and we explain various aspects of it to them.

What do you do as a family? Hobbies?

PM – Well, with the kids, it’s basketball and hockey. We love to travel and show the children the world. I have a hectic schedule and I miss my wife and children when I’m on the road so I really enjoy being with them when I’m here.

Is the Indian community doing enough for society?

The Indian community is reaching out in many ways. Firstly they are helping each other, as we believe charity must begin at home. When you see organizations like a gurudwara, Arya Samaj, Daya, India House or Indo American Charity Foundation, you realize that Indians are doing a very good job. We’re still young as a community in Houston, and in the natural course of evolution we are doing great.  We should be so proud! Indians are generally more adaptive and are becoming more prominent and visible in this city. We’re in every profession and industry.

How do you envision the future?

PM – Well, the best is yet to come. There’s a lot more to do and a lot more that’s going to happen. Opportunities get broader. I think it’s not only about money – it’s also about lending your name or your time or simply stuffing an envelope or making a call. Houston is one of the most important cities in terms of job creation, economic growth, and international prosperity. We are seeing more Indians in the energy business, becoming professionals. All of these people are going to make India more important. Ten years from now I can see Indian food becoming more loved and recognized out of all cuisines here.

NM – We constantly challenge ourselves, we see the world getting smaller, as all are becoming one.

To learn more about UNICEF, visit www.unicefusa.org.

 

 

 

 

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One Response to UNICEF’s Spirit of Compassion Award for Nidhika and Pershant Mehta

  1. INDER- a old friend August 4, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    FANTASTIC! KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK! PROUD TO SEE YOU GUYS SO SUCCESSFUL 🙂

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