Glitz, Glam & Giving at the 22nd Pratham Houston’s Annual Gala


Pratham Houston President Ash Shah and Vice President Asha Dhume with Sushmita Sen. Photos: Daniel Ortiz

“Pratham’s unique, scalable and innovative model of eradicating illiteracy without brick and mortar schools can change the grassroots foundation of India’s children and her youth”. – Ash Shah

“Education is the biggest game changer that can take a developing country out of the inevitable cycle of poverty, unemployment and child exploitation and our motto at Pratham is “Every child in school and learning well. Sushmita Sen surpassed all our expectations and touched everyone with her genuine speech from her heart and the gentleness and caring with which she handled our Pratham student. Sanjana Das!  – Asha Dhume

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By Vanshika Vipin Varma

HOUSTON: One of the most anticipated galas of Houston was held with glitz and glam, on April 1, at Hilton Americas. It was the 22nd Pratham Houston’s Annual Gala, a much-awaited event loaded with grace, elegance and warmth. Pratham, a non-profit organization was founded with the belief that every child has the right to a quality education. Pratham is dedicated to improving the lives of underprivileged children, youth and women in India through education and vocational training programs. The guests of honor included Sushmita Sen, Consul General of India, Dr. Anupam Ray, Pratham USA President Deepak Raj, Pratham Houston President Ash Shah, Vice President Asha Dhume and the CEO of Pratham India, Dr. Rukmini Banerji.

Pratham USA Board of Director, Swatantra Jain and Bimla Jain with Sushmita Sen.

Pratham USA Board of Director, Swatantra Jain and Bimla Jain with Sushmita Sen.

A rendition of the National Anthem of United States and India opened the evening’s proceedings. They were sung by Apoorva Das and Pooja Vettical. This was followed by a mesmerizing performance by Rice University’s Rasika Dance Group. Dressed in a stunning Indian outfit, Casey Curry, KTRK Channel 13’s meteorologist, captured quite some attention as she served as the emcee for the evening. Ash Shah, Pratham Houston President, welcomed the guests and appealed to the attendees to donate generously. He said, “This will be my last year as the President of Pratham and I will be passing the torch to the next President the Board elects, and I hope you all will support him/her the same way.” He then acknowledged and thanked everyone involved in the success of Pratham. The next speaker for the evening was Dr. Anupam Ray, Consul General of India. Referring to the next speech by Sushmita Sen, he wittily quoted, “This is the most challenging speech as I am in between you (referring the sudience) and Sushmita”, leaving the hall in splits. He shared some of his personal experiences in India and commended the noble work being done by Pratham. 

Consul General of India, Dr. Anupam Ray (right) with Founder, Pratham USA Vijay Goradia and Dr. Marie Goradia.

Consul General of India, Dr. Anupam Ray (right) with Founder, Pratham USA Vijay Goradia and Dr. Marie Goradia.

Minutes later, glamour hit the stage with the descent of the former Miss Universe and Bollywood Star, Sushmita Sen. Dressed in stunning red gown, Sush, as she is fondly known as, truly stole several hearts in the hall. While her entry seemed to be the most anticipated, her speech was impactful as well. Stressing on the importance of education for all she mentioned, “Education is a birth right for every single life. Pratham understands the root cause of kids not having education in India, and works on solving it. Thank you Pratham for going back to the source and understanding it. Tonight, I am so proud that Pratham celebrates that”. Sen also added, “If you want to understand compassion you have to have empathy”. The house applauded as she closed her speech with a very apt quote by Winsten Churchill, “We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give”. As a token of appreciation. Sen was then presented the plaque by Pratham USA Board of Director, Swatantra Jain and his wife Bimla Jain. This followed with the high-energy Pratham Jai Ho video.

CEO of Pratham India, Dr. Rukmini Banerji.

CEO of Pratham India, Dr. Rukmini Banerji.

A cute little surprise followed next, with Ash and Leena Shah’s two young sons Krish and Aryan coming up on stage to share their personal experiences visiting Pratham schools in India, and appeal to the people to donate generously. They were joined by Sushmita Sen, Ash Shah and Asha Dhume, and everyone supported generously.

An emotional moment followed next when a young woman, Sanjana Das, was called up on stage. Sanjana attended a vocational training in hospitality management, from Pratham School, and this helped her get a job in the hospitality industry, thus providing support for her family. “Pratham gave me wings and a backbone”, Das said. She spoke passionately about achieving to her fullest potential, her dream of attaining financial independence. While giving Pratham the full credit for what she is today, she spoke about the various challenges she faced and how she overcame them. Her testimony left many teary eyed. The benevolent Sushmita Sen acted as an impromptu translator for Sanjana, as the latter spoke in Hindi.

Her emotional roller-coaster narrative was followed with a speech by Dr. Rukmini Banerji, the Chief Executive Officer of Pratham Education Foundation. The Honorary co-chairs included Chitra and Kumar Bashyam, Seema and Shawn Karande, and Shital and Bhavesh Patel, while the co-chairs were Annu and Sagar Naik, Anila and Dhiren Shethia, Jyothi and Somesh Singh and Mini and Celestine Vertical.  Ash Shah and Asha Dhume passed a vote of thanks to the guests for supporting their noble cause and for attending the gala. Scrumptious dinner from Dawaat Catering was in store and after the guests enjoyed it, a live auction was presented. The expert auctioneer was the very charming Dr. Subodh Bhuchar.

The gala was a super successful, sold out event, with more than 900 guests, having raised more than $1.4 million dollars. Behind every successful event is a team that strives very hard. Some of the backbone support staff included the gala logistics lead Brij Kathuria, operational executives Mani Surkari, Dimpal Kalani, Roseann Rogers, the elegant design and setup team of Décor One, the delectable dinner by Mahesh Shah of Dawaat Catering, and the tireless efforts of the Pratham Houston Young Professionals team led by Darel D’Souza, who ensured that each volunteer understood not just their own, but also everyone else’s roles and responsibilities to ensure that the event runs flawlessly. And so it was. Entertainment for the evening was provided by The Z Band, accompanied by DJ Gary.

The Pratham Houston’s Annual Gala bid a farewell to everyone with mixed emotions. It was a night filled with magnificence, splendor, elegance and poise, on one hand, and patronage and giving on the other. This triumphant gala wouldn’t have been possible without the generous contributions by magnanimous Houstonians and their friends who attended from various other cities.

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