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At the AIF Spring Gala
Jashobanti Mahanand is the nineteen-year-old daughter of a migrant worker from Orissa, India. Since she was nine she has worked in a brick kiln, tossing bricks in the blazing sun. So what was she doing in New York at a glittering event with some of the city’s most powerful and influential people?
The answer is just one word: AIF.
The American India Foundation (AIF) is the development organization which connects the dots between the poorest of the poor and affluent society, where funds are raised for a better future for the children in the slums, the forgotten villages and small towns of India. It is the place where two very different worlds converge and intersect, and help bring about empowering change.
Bringing About Change
The AIF Annual Spring Awards Gala took place at a stunning location – Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem. It is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral with a fabulous dome. The evening honored George R. Oliver, CEO of Tyco International and Manoj Bhargava, founder and CEO of 5-Hour Energy for their many philanthropic initiatives. The special guest was actor and social activist Rahul Bose, who is an ambassador for AIF and Oxfam and spoke eloquently about the work that needs to be done.
AIF, which has raised over $100 million over the years, is now in 23 states in India and has affected 2. 5 million through the NGO partners it supports. Education, livelihoods and public health are the mantra through which lives get changed. The organization has President Bill Clinton serving as Honorary Chair and Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen chairs the Advisory Council. I still recall the first AIF fundraiser in 2001 where President Clinton had come and spoken, and got the Indian-American community involved in bringing about social and economic change in India.
The Migrant Life
Perhaps one of the most noteworthy program at AIF is LAMP – the Learning and Migration Program which provides primary education to the children of the over 72 million people who are compelled to migrate from their villages in search of work every year. These people often work in salt pans, sugar plantations and brick kilns and their children migrate with them. LAMP ensures that these children can continue their schooling and have a future which offers them many options. Through LAMP AIF has provided education to over 352,599 children of migrant workers.
“This event demonstrated how bringing people together from across all sectors and from all walks of life can have a huge impact,” said M.A. Ravi Kumar, the CEO of AIF, about the gala which brought in so many prominent members of India-American society along with their friends from all sectors of business and the arts.
AIF: Gathering for a Cause
One of the most touching moments at the gala was when Jashobanti Mahanand from Orissa shared her story about working in migration sites in Andhra Pradesh. She was only nine when she worked in the harsh world of brick kilns where children quickly lose their childhood. “Tears come down my eyes when I remember those days,” she recalled. “In the brick kilns, my job was to flip the half dried bricks in the hot sun.” She spoke in Hindi, and Rahul Bose, an activist for many wonderful causes, standing by her side, translated her words into English.
It was satisfying to learn how Jashobanti’s life changed by the intervention of LAMP, for this child laborer received an education and got to live a hostel with other children of migrant workers. Ten years after taking part in the program, she is now a first-year college student studying political science. In a voice full of emotion, she said: “Because of LAMP, I have the drive to complete my education and become a teacher, so that I can provide support to the children in my village.”
A Smart Investment
The evening proved that you can have fun while fund-raising. The emcee for the evening was standup comic Anish Shah and there was a musical performance by Surya Garg, a 16-year-old New York singer and songwriter who is releasing her first album this summer. The elaborate cocktails and menu for dinner was designed by celebrity chef Hemant Mathur who is now the chef of six restaurants in New York City. A live auction had some great luxury gifts including an Italian getaway to the Bulgari vineyards. And yes, another auction item was quite irresistible – a cameo role in a film that Rahul Bose is directing in 2016. The prize not only includes acting with him in the movie but also a dinner night with him! Needless to say, these were snapped up.
Due to many sponsors and donors as well as a very animated live auction of various projects in India, AIF raised $2.85 million for LAMP. An investment in the health and education of India’s neediest children – and hence in the future – is perhaps the best investment many of these high-powered business heads could have made in the course of an evening!
The Difference LAMP Makes…