Pratham Comes in First Again Among Local Desi Charities

Houston Mayor Annise Parker with the Board and VIP guests at the Pratham Gala last Saturday, April 27 at the Hilton Americas.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker with the Board and VIP guests at the Pratham Gala last Saturday, April 27 at the Hilton Americas.

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By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: It was a night to count the many blessings that had been bestowed upon those who came to the Hilton Americas Hotel downtown to attend Pratham’s Annual Gala last Saturday, April 27. They came to see history once again in the making as the local chapter of the international NGO raised a record breaking $1.3 million in donations, about $50,000 over last year.

This placed Pratham within range of the $1.5 million it raised total last year. This record amount raised the profile of the organization to fifth place among the 25 highest grossing charities in the Bayou City, much to the elation of the entire Pratham Board. “This will allow us to continue to help more children in India,” declared outgoing Pratham President Swatantra Jain, “just as we have helped 184,000 children so far out of child labor and sent them back to their homes.”

“Pratham reminds me of my own childhood,” went on Jain about his modest family background in the Punjab from which he moved to the US in 1978 with a dream, never forgetting the sacrifices his parents had made. “But education is more powerful than a dream,” he added, as it helped him to succeed in his career. “And everyone deserves a better future.” He quickly added that “those who waste their time get nowhere, but those who use it are considered wise.”

The other blessing for those who attended was that they managed to make it to the event despite the deluge of thundershowers that had engulfed the city that very afternoon and by reception time of 6pm had turned many parts of the city into a lake. Although it had been three long years since the city has seen such a rainfall, it did make it miserable for people to valet park and eventually many confirmed guests could not make it to the elegant black tie event. Of the over 800 people expected, perhaps 200 could not attend due to the weather.

Still, this did not dampen the spirits of those who did make it there and enjoy not only the speeches by Jain, Gala Chair Hemant Goradia, Dr. Rukmini Banerji, Director of Pratham India and the keynote speaker Dr. Madhav Chavan, the CEO and Founder of Pratham India but also the colorful and professional entertainment by local talent. The stage was festooned with many narrow spotlights, as if representing the points of lights that Pratham gives its children, and was colorful in the manner that these children and their dreams are.

The evening began  with local radio celebrity Meena Datt inviting KHOU TV Channel 11 news anchor Rekha Muddaraj to emcee the program, followed by the lighting of the ceremonial lamp by Bimla Jain and Indrani Goradia. Muddaraj introduced Swatantra Jain as “a passionate leader”, but true to his spiritual nature, Jain played down any accolades that were thrown his way throughout the evening, instead asking that attention be focused on Pratham and pledging to match every dollar raised that evening up to $100,000. He also made sure to acknowledge “the person most responsible for the success of Pratham these past two years, Brij Kathuria.”

Dr. Banerji who has been with Pratham for the past 16 years is originally from Bihar but studied at the University of Chicago. She responded to some questions submitted earlier in the evening and added that “once you have launched a village you will also be one with them. You can leave Pratham, but Pratham will never leave you!” She acknowledged that Pratham had given birth to many other enterprises and that other countries are looking to emulate the Pratham model, especially in East Africa and Pakistan.

On coming to the stage, Dr. Chavan looked none the worse after being on a trip to nine cities in the US since leaving Delhi on April 8 and arriving in Houston the day before. He recalled meeting Vijay Goradia in 1977 and receiving $125,000 in 1999 from him to launch his dream that would become Pratham. He then enumerated Pratham’s outreach programs: teaching children in villages and give them a head start through pre-school programs; volunteers helping teachers to teach correctly and making sure that children didn’t drop out.

An inspiring video clip showed how Chavan had come to the US to finish graduate work and then teach at the University of Houston only to return later to India and start a program that empowered people to help young kids learn.

Jain received an award for his dedicated service to Pratham and introduced the incoming President, Marie Goradia who took over the reins right after the Gala. A native of Mumbai, Marie has a PhD in molecular biology, raised two kids – Sitara and Kevin – and acknowledged that “the US had been very good to me, better than in my wildest dreams.” She thanked Jain for his resoluteness in raising the level of support for Pratham and promised to carry the torch.

A lively auction followed for several items, including an immense wooden statue of Ganesh donated by Surender Talwar, conducted by Dr. Subodh Bhuchar who has become quite good at doing so at many a gala, and in this one was able to raise almost $20,000. Dinner was catered by Daawat Catering and was accompanied by music by the Bollywood Strings doing several popular tunes. Divya Walia shared her experiences with Pratham children in India. Naach Houston presented the dance entertainment, both through a drama play onstage and then later through a lively group fusion dance.