Hand in Hand USA Raises over $120K for Educating Destitute Children in Orissa

Chicago, IL: Hand in Hand USA (HiH) held its 11th annual fundraiser the evening of Saturday, April 6, 2013 at the Holiday Inn, 3405 W Algonquin Rd., Rolling Meadows, Ill. Over $120K was raised during the event after a generous donor offered to match all other contributions dollar for dollar. There was also a cultural program of dances and songs by local performers.

Mayors of three neighboring cities, chief guest Al Larson of Schaumburg, Bill McLeod of Hoffman Estates, and Rodney Craig of Hanover Park graced the occasion. Larson made a brief speech urging the community to vote for his colleague Bill McLeod in the upcoming municipal elections for Village President. MC for the evening was Elizabeth Munnich Dash, daughter-in-law of longtime active HiH volunteers Mihir and Usha Dash. A documentary on HiH philanthropic activities kept playing before the event began.

HiH President Durga Chinduri acknowledged the presence of the Mayors, welcomed the guests, and emphasized that 95% of funds received go directly to the projects, with hardly any overhead costs, for everyone here is a volunteer with no paid staff. Munnich Dash quoted C.S Lewis that “the proper aim of giving is to put the recipients in a state where they no longer need our gifts.”

Volunteer Puneet Mansharamani gave a detailed presentation of his visit this year to Balashram earlier this year. Started in 2002, Balashram is a fully functional residential school that provides free education, food, and shelter in a nurturing environment for destitute orphans and children in rural Orissa. Currently supporting 400 kids from pre- to high school, and inducting 40 new students each year, the aim is to have 480 by 2015. In addition to organic nutritional and health programs, Balashram encourages participation in dance, drama, sports and other extracurricular activities. Senior kids are taught to serve the vegetarian meals sourced from local farms to juniors before eating themselves. Mansharamani showed a touching photo one such senior feeding by hand a junior, who otherwise too sick to eat. Pointing out the kids who had shown him around Balashram, he repeatedly recounted their dire prior situation and their current ambitions worthy of a normal Indian schoolboy. Everyone there speaks impeccable English. Dorm parents treat them as their own children. The school soccer team reached state level championships last year. At the behest of the school principal, who is focused on improving their math and science skill, they have an impressive new computer lab.

Though most buildings are already done, science labs under construction require about $25K each and areas have been set aside for smart classes. The assembly area still not paved and gets muddy and unusable during monsoons. With 25 teachers and 40 support staff, the school has its own ambulance, onsite dental services, and checkups from medical students from Cuttack. The school bears all the health expenses. The levels of sponsorship proposed for one student were $4500 on food and clothing for 12 years, and $1K on education and stay for a year.

The cultural program began with Kuchipudi by Aparna Prashanth, founder and artistic director of Nritya Taranga Dance Academy, and Aruna Chandra, artistic director of Prerna School of Performing Arts (Rolling Meadows), who were accompanied by their students: Sunanda Teeparti, Nithya Palani, Veena Anatharam, Prachi Gyanmote, Riya Gyanmote, and Aditi Sriram. The first dance, choreographed by Smt. Bala Kondala Rao to Adi Shankaracharya’s Shree Maha Ganesha Pancharatnam in Ragamalika and Adi talam, was performed by Aparna, Aruna, Sunanda, and Nithya. It depicted the valor and beauty of the elephant-headed god. The remaining students joined in for their second dance, choreographed by Aparna Prashant and Aruna Chandra in Revati ragam and Adi talam to Ashta Lakshmi Stotram, composed by Mukkur Srinivasa Varadacharya, which depicts eight secondary manifestations of the goddess of wealth.

Children aged 4–14 from Ankur Vidyalayam donated their hard won savings to less fortunate counterparts at Balashram. As part of this Sunday school’s “Helping, Giving, and Sharing” program, parents pay their children a token amount for helping out with household chores.

PhD in classical dance, Sharmishta Jena performed a lively Ganesha Bandana (salutation) in fast tempo in Odissi style. The dance depicted the many forms of this naughty son of Mother Parvati.
Mohan Theyunni entertained the audience on the harmonica beginning with such evergreens as Raj Kapoor’s “Kisi ki Mushurahaton pe ho Nissar” (from movie Anar) and “Aaja Sanam Madhu Chandni Mein Hum” (Chori Chori). Singers Radhika Chimata and Suresh Mehta continued with the light music accompanied by the Saregama Orchestra, with Hitesh Master on the keyboard, Richard Christian on the tabla-octapad, and Kafi Khan on octapad drum. Chimata sang Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Kaanton Se Kheech Ke, Jaaiye Aap Kahan Jaayenge, and other numbers.

HiH USA is a US based non-profit that works with Prajnana Mission and HIH Europe to support a number of humanitarian projects in rural India and across the globe. In addition to Balashram, highlighted this evening, activities in Orissa and Bengal include health care (e.g., mobile clinics), medical outreach (remote camps and seminars), and emergency relief during natural catastrophes (including floods in Pakistan, Haiti, and during Katrina).