Washington: Hundreds of Sikh community members gathered from across the Washington area and some traveled far distances to offer their support to Punjab’s poor but bright students in a fund raising event held at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in the Washington area.
A glittery gala gave a thumbs up endorsement to the program of assistance for financially strapped students pursuing higher education in Punjab by the fifteen year old Washington based Sikh Human Development Foundation (SHDF).
Over $330,000 was raised when the donors enthusiastically opened their hearts and check books. This was in response to a passionate appeal by the Chief Guest of the event, Sardar Surender Singh Kandhari, a business tycoon and who has gained worldwide respect for being the driving force for building an ornate and impressive Gurdwara in the heart of Dubai. He exhorted the audience of 550 to donate wholeheartedly to the cause of education and challenged the audience by announcing his donation of $100,000. Famous Punjabi Singer, Malkit Singh MBE from UK, enthralled the audience with his latest numbers and made them dance to his catchy songs.
Gajinder Singh Ahuja, Chairman of SHDF, while welcoming the guests, said, “I would like to report to you today that it is with your help and your whole hearted support that the lives of thousands of poor but bright students are being transformed. You are directly responsible for fulfilling the dreams of these students. You are giving them a life of dignity.” He ended with a touching phrase “We need your help. They need your help.”
On announcement of his magnanimous support for SHDF, Surender Singh Kandhari received a standing ovation! He said, “We are all very blessed and we must serve our youth. Their future is our future. Education is the most important treasure that any young man can possess and we are privileged to be in a position to help those in need in Punjab. It is our duty to do so. Good education helps in breaking the cycle of poverty. Giving is a virtue and it is a blessing that we are being asked to give.”
He added, “Education is the only way to ensure that we keep our youth away from drugs and other social ills. Giving can give you the maximum satisfaction. When we help and take care of the people who are in need, we are serving the Almighty. SHDF’s mission is a very crucial one and it is incumbent upon us to stand behind this vision.”
A large number of guests followed the lead and announced their own generous donations. Several American born children went around the tables collecting checks and pledges following an appeal by SHDF Board members Dr. Rajwant Singh and Dr. Manmohan Singh Kumar.
Jaspreet Kaur Ahuja, Secretary General of SHDF, said, “Thanks to the generosity and spirit of Seva of the Washington Metropolitan area Sikh Community , SHDF’s mission of transforming lives through higher education continues unabated,
Dr. Rajwant Singh, Outreach Director of the Foundation, exhilarated upon the success of the event, said, “By far this is the most successful event of the organization in terms of dollar collection and engagement of the audience. This is also the largest donation ever received by the Diaspora community for higher education for students in Punjab. In Rupees, this is a little over two crores……… and this certainly will have a significant impact on the future of Punjab.”
Manmohan Singh Kumar, Director Special Initiatives, said, “The positive results of this noble effort will be seen in years to come. The added effect will be thousands of people being touched positively and their lives being turned around. That is a very meaningful legacy of our donors.”
The Honorable Governor of Maryland recognized the commendable work being done by SHDF and “its commitment and support in providing educational opportunities to hundreds of needy students ……by giving scholarships to pursue higher education….” and conferred upon SHDF the Governor’s Citation. He declared May 4 as ‘Sikh Human Development Foundation Day’.
Dr. Gurcharan Singh and Sardarni Kamaljit Kaur Kanwal from Virginia, Dr. Ranvir Singh and Dr. Manjeet Kaur Achreja from North Carolina, Sardarni Bhupinder Kaur Sachdeva from UK, and Sardar Gunvir Singh from Northern Virginia were honored for their Sikh Spirit of Seva and continuing commitments towards empowering the disadvantaged youth with higher education.
The event also featured a movie of testimonies of some of the students. Heart wrenching stories of destitution and struggles of the parents brought tears in the eyes of many. In addition, a live conversation with Angrej Singh, Assistant Professor, who has finished his studies with the help of SHDF and who is now enjoying a successful career, engaged the audience directly with the scholarship recipient.
The involvement of the community was evidenced by a group of youngsters who had started their own campaign of raising funds through bake sales and other activities. Their goal was to send three students to college by raising $1500. However, they surpassed their goal and raised over 2,500 to send 5 students to college. Preetam Kaur Bhutani (12) and Hana Kaur Mangat (13) led this effort and engaged children from Guru Nanak Foundation and Guru Gobind Singh Foundation Gurdwaras. They shared their exhilarating experience and appealed to the audience to support the needy students.
Gajinder Ahuja thanked the audience and said, “We have so far provided 3418 scholarships, including 537 for the current academic year. More than 1100 of these children have already graduated and become doctors, engineers, scientists, computer, experts and the like. Many are working in companies like IBM, Microsoft, Infosys, Indian Space Center and other good companies.”
According to Jaspreet Ahuja, the students supported by SHDF are from truly needy backgrounds. Many are orphans, fatherless or have terminally sick parents and some are children of farmers who committed suicide due to heavy debt. Most of them are from families whose incomes are less than a dollar a day per person.
SHDF also plans to hold workshops in Punjab for the scholarship recipients on leadership, entrepreneur skills and how these graduates can help other poor children.
This year a number of volunteers contributed to the success of the gala. They included: Mitae Kaur Kanwal, Naina Kaur, Arvinder Goomer, Sweety Birgi, Parvinder Singh Sodhi, Atam Parkash Singh, Randhir Singh Chhatwal, Polly Chhatwal, Satinder Kaur Sodhi, Dr. Kiran Kaur Kumar, Dimple Sandhu, Minoo Nandra, Dr Harminder Kaur, Sarabeet Bhutani and Ginny Ahluwalia. Other members of SHDF Board namely, Kanwal Kaur Singh, Manpreet Singh, Abinash Singh, and Reena Nagra, led many aspects of the event planning. Reena Nagra and Manpreet Singh thanked the audience for their support and participation. Harsharan Kaur, while serving as the MC, handled the stage ably and kept the attention of the audience. Annumeet Rao, Program Manager of SHDF in Washington, played a key role in keeping the planning process organized and focused.