Kids Read All Summer so Kids in India can Learn All Year


The Head of the Village School, Gabriella Rowe received a plaque for the Readathon that she held last year at the school to support Pratham; presented by (from left) Bimla Jain, Manjit Soni and Swatantra Jain

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The youngest kid in the group, Isshan is just 7, and he was as pleased as punch to get his trophy. His mom, Prashanti Shah had told him that being part of the Pratham Summer Readathon would help kids in India learn, so he went all out and just devoured books all summer long, competing with his older 11-year-old sister Ananya to see who could read more. It turned out that the two raised the most money of the $3,000 that was collected in the Readathon.

Manjit Soni couldn’t have been more pleased, since she was the volunteer who undertook the Readathon challenge for the past two years. She had called on 6 kids who live in her neighborhood on the city’s westside and another 4 from the Punjabi School of the Gurdwara Sahib of Southwest Houston where Soni volunteers, and they took on the challenge.

The premise of the Readathon is pretty simple: kids commit to read a number of books and find sponsors who commit some money, but the idea is to encourage and challenge kids to get in the habit of reading. “This helps to sharpen their skills and sparks the thought process,” said Soni. “It promotes imagination, builds vocabulary and spelling and gets the family together to discuss, spend quality time. It lays the platform for further interaction on various issues.”


This year’s Pratham Summer Readathon ten award winning kids with (from left) Manjit Lakhari, Bimla Jain, Manjit Soni, Swatantra Jain and Gabriella Rowe

Last Friday night, September 16, Soni held a little get together to recognize these young readers, “future leaders of Pratham”, she likes to think and hand out the plaques and certificates. Besides Isshan and Ananya, there were Tegh Thind, Sharan Thind, Aseem Misra, Divya Khatri (who received a medal), Ekas Bindra, Tegh Bindra, Verr Garg and Esha Garg. Divya, 11, has also won state championship in Math and also played a solo violin piece for the occasion.

Also in attendance was Gabriella Rowe, the Head of the Village School on Whittington, who moved here from New York City where she had her first contact with Pratham through some parents. Impressed by the program, she held a Readathon last year at the school, organized by Middle School Language teacher Kelly Brauddus, and raised $10,000 for Pratham, with Kaila Doshi, a sixth-grader, raising $500 alone. Soni had invited her to be recognized too with a plaque.


Divya Khatri, 11, played on the violin before the awards.

There to hand out the medal, trophies, certificates and plaque was Swatantra Jain, the CFO of Pratham USA, a National Board Member and previous President of Pratham’s Houston Chapter. Also to help was Manmeet Lakhari, a benefactor and, along with Soni, a guiding force behind the Punjabi School at GSSWH. And helping Soni was Vaani Gupta, a volunteer who helped get the kids signed up and started.

Teaching is close to Soni’s heart. She taught at SIES College in Mumbai, then was in the National Social Service before coming to the US. She taught social studies at Cy-Fair and Alief ISDs and has been a substitute teacher at the Village School since 2014, when she also became the National Readathon Coordinator for Pratham. Encouraged, she is already planning the next Readathon!