$1.84 million raised at AIF New York gala for children’s education in India

Sunita Koli (left), a beneficiary of the American India Foundation’s migrant children’s education program, LAMP, with AIF CEO Nishant Pandey at the organization’s annual gala in New York on April 30.
Sunita Koli (left), a beneficiary of the American India Foundation’s migrant children’s education program, LAMP, with AIF CEO Nishant Pandey at the organization’s annual gala in New York on April 30. Photo credit: AIF

More than 500 guests, among them top business leaders, executives, investors, entrepreneurs and community leaders, attended the event.

The annual New York fundraising gala of the American India Foundation raised $1.84 million for one of the organization’s signature programs that educates children of migrant workers in India.

More than 500 guests, among them top business leaders, executives, investors, entrepreneurs and community leaders, attended the event, held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on April 30, AIF said in a press release.

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Prominent speakers included Raj Gupta, retired Chairman and CEO of Rohm & Haas Company; Ajay Banga, President and Chief Executive Officer of MasterCard; and Lata Krishnan, Chief Financial Officer at Shah Capital Partners.

The event honored Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company and Director & Former Executive Chairman of DowDuPont, and Shikha Sharma, Managing Director and CEO of Axis Bank.

One of highlights of the evening was a presentation by one of the beneficiaries of the Learning and Migration Program (LAMP).

Sunita Koli, who grew up in Gujarat as the daughter of two parents who worked in the saltpans, shared how the program had an impact on her life.

ALSO READ: American India Foundation raises whopping $2.25 million at gala in New York (June 16, 2016)

Koli said she wasn’t able to attend a regular school, as her family spent up to eight months a year working in the saltpans. She enrolled in the AIF program, which transformed her life completely. She is the first girl from her community to graduate from both high school and college. She said she is hoping to become a civil servant and is now preparing for nationwide qualifying exam. If she succeeds, she can help other girls like herself succeed, Koli said.

“I look at this country and all the facilities here and I don’t know if you can understand what it means for someone from my community to go to college,” Koli said. “How difficult it is. How many barriers we have to overcome to make this happen. I am proud that I was able to achieve this.”

Each year, 70 million people — which is more than the combined populations of California and Texas, the two largest US states — migrate from their villages to find work, bringing their children with them to hazardous work sites like saltpans, brick kilns and sugar plantations, AIF said. Vulnerable to child labor and trafficking, these children are pulled out of school for as much as 8 months at a time, resulting in falling behind in studies, and often dropping out of school.

The LAMP program is focused on educating these children.

ALSO READ: American India Foundation’s New York gala raises $2.85 million (June 13, 2015)

Koli, who is a role model and mentor for other girls in her village, said her story is a powerful illustration of the impact the program is having. “Other girls in my community saw me and they realized that there was life outside this village,” she said. “They wanted to do something and be something in life. My younger sister followed my footsteps and there are other girls from my community who are now going to college.”

AIF Vice Chair Harit Talwar, head of Digital Finance at Goldman Sachs, thanked supporters for their generosity and encouraged those in attendance to continue contributing to AIF.

ALSO READ: American India Foundation raises more than $1.5 million at New York gala (May 6, 2014)

“With your support, AIF continues to serve as the innovative source of opportunity for those who need it most,” he said.

Actress Reshma Shetty was the Master of Ceremonies.

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