The Holidays Bring Out the Glamorous to Support Empowerment of Women

Pratham 2in

Ladies of the Luncheon and volunteers.

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: The warmth of the Holiday Season was exemplified in the generosity of many of the community’s well-heeled women when they came together for a luncheon at the Junior League of Houston in what has become a tradition in Pratham Houston’s fundraising efforts. It is perhaps the organization’s most successful event after the Annual Gala which is held in April each year, and will be held on April 25 next year. This year’s luncheon raised $158,000 in donations and pledges.

Pratham 1in

From left, sitting: Vinita Gupta, Chairperson, Apex; Vijay Goradia, Founder Pratham USA; Lillie Robertson, Gala 2015 co-chair; Nancy Thorington.
From left, standing: Lynt Graft; Ingrid Vanderveldt, Chairman and CEO Empowering a Billion women by 2020; Marie Goradia, President Pratham Houston; Steve Thorington.

The Holiday Luncheon has been held at the same cozy, intimate venue for a number of years and followed the same formula as last year, with a nationally well-known speaker and a runway show of fashions by a recognized designer, with a mix of beauty salon experts and jewelry and handbag sales tables. This year, Disha Thadani exhibited her costume jewelry for Aanushkil Jewelry while Carly Beck of CAB Collection of Los Angeles brought out pieces from her original collection of leather handbags. Other exhibits inside the banquet hall were Faidat Bakare, Touch of Elegance and Saks Fifth Avenue.

This year’s luncheon focused empowering women in India and giving them a chance to become entrepreneurs and in control of their destinies, with proceeds from the fundraiser earmarked towards Pratham’s Beauty Training Program. “We realize that if you change women’s lives,” said Dr. Sapna Singh, the emcee, “that you change the status of the kids and men around them for generations,” and cited stats on how the 247 beauty parlors and 142 door-to-door sales women had done just that through the vocational program.

A short video outlining the effectiveness of Pratham’s programs in India showed how the Annual Status of Education Report or ASER, Read India, Vocational and Entrepreneur Training and Second Chance Open Schools for Girls. Read India has been particularly effective since its launch in 2007 to reach 34 million kids in India and teach them basic reading and simple math in a unique 2-month program.

Dr. Marie Goradia, Pratham Houston’s President, spoke of her fervor for the non-profit which her husband Vijay Goradia co-founded the US chapter in 1998. Inspite of a sore throat that hampered her, Goradia explained how she had been touched by the kids she saw when she visited the slums of Bombay and related the story of three of the girls who had become educated and trained by Pratham’s programs.

She deplored the conditions under which some girls are raised, reminding the audience of those who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria and the 2012 attack on Malala Yousafzai – she later was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year. “A woman is somebody’s child, mother, wife … but never themselves,” lamented Goradia. “If you give women a chance, they can move mountains.” She went on to explain how Pratham’s program had provided loans for 70 beauty parlors started by women entrepreneurs, and that 95% of them were paid back. She gave a brief history of Pratham and how it has become a powerful voice for education in India. She also acknowledged the efforts of the event committee chairs Leena Shah, Asha Dhume, Annu Naik, who organized last year’s event too; and the Pratham Houston staff, Mani Surkari and Vikas Bahl.

The motivational speech by the keynote speaker, Ingrid Vanderveldt, the Chairwoman and CEO of Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 was inspiring because she related her personal odyssey to overcome  a learning disability in her formative years that forced her to flunk out of fourth grade, go to a special education school, suffer the trauma with her family of not understanding what the problem was, only to learn much later that it was due to her hearing deficiency, which became a game changer for her. She has been the Entrepreneur-in-Residence for Dell Computers and showed a video of women CEO’s and the traits that make them successful.

The program continued with a models walking down the runway, showing off fashions from the Spring 2015 Collection of Houston’s own, Chloe Dao. A fashion designer of Vietnamese descent, Dao has her own outlet, the Chloe Dao Boutique in the Rice Village district and mingled with the crowd.