NEW YORK – More than 500 guests, including business executives, investors, entrepreneurs and community leaders, attended American India Foundation’s annual gala here to support the organization’s Learning and Migration Program (LAMP), on April 30, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
Guests raised $1.84 million to support AIF’s poverty-disrupting work on the ground in India.
In India each year, 70 million people migrate from their villages to find work, bringing their children with them to hazardous work sites like saltpans, brick kilns and sugar plantations, where they are vulnerable to child labor and trafficking. These children are pulled out of school for as much as eight months at a time. They fall severely behind, and often dropout – if they are lucky enough to go to school at all.
AIF believes that education can break the cycle of poverty and migration that traps individuals and families in menial and exploitative work. Its Learning and Migration Program does just that, by empowering children affected by migration with a quality education.
Sunita Koli, a LAMP beneficiary, attended the event, and shared with guests how the program had an impact on her life. As a child, Sunita worked long days on the hot saltpans of Gujarat for up to eight months a year. Because she migrated to the saltpans with her parents, she wasn’t able to go to school and learn.
One day, Sunita learned of an opportunity to stay in her community – and in school – through AIF’s Learning and Migration Program. She found studying difficult at first, but within a few years, had completely transformed.
Sunita became the first girl in her community to graduate 10th grade, and a few years later, to graduate college. Today, she is studying for the Public Service Exam so she can help other girls like herself succeed.
Sunita 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. 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.”
Sunita’s story illustrates the impact of the Learning and Migration Program. Now she is a role model and mentor for other girls in her village, said AIF.
“Other girls in my community saw me and they realized that there was life outside this village. 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,” she said.
The evening also featured remarks from other prominent leaders who lauded AIF on its continued success in fighting poverty for the most marginalized people in India. These leaders included Raj Gupta, former Chairman & CEO, Rohm & Haas Company, Ajay Banga, President & Chief Executive Officer, MasterCard, and Lata Krishnan, Chief Financial Officer, Shah Capital Partners.
Actress Reshma Shetty engaged the audience throughout the evening as the Master of Ceremonies. The event honored Andrew Liveris, Chairman & CEO of The Dow Chemical Company and Director & Former Executive Chairman of DowDuPont, and Shikha Sharma, Managing Director & CEO of Axis Bank.
AIF Vice Chair, Harit Talwar, Head of Digital Finance at Goldman, Sachs & Co., thanked supporters for their generosity and encouraged those in attendance to continue contributing to the American India Foundation.
Talwar said, “With your support, AIF continues to serve as the innovative source of opportunity for those who need it most”.