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“It is my dream that in 15-20 years, our country will be the most literate and educated country in the world,” said Bollywood icon Waheeda Rehman. She was speaking at the formal launch of the Atlanta chapter of Pratham USA, the American wing of Pratham, a grass roots non-profit organization that helps disadvantaged children in India to remain in school and learn. Rehman, who is the goodwill ambassador of Pratham, was the guest of honor at the event held at Bombay Grill restaurant.
Photo Coutesy: Ravi R
Rehman recounted a chance visit to a slum area, where she asked a woman with small children what dreams she had for them. The reply she got startled her, and got her to think. “Padne ko
aaye to dream karenge na! (What will we dream, when we cannot even read) We only dream of our next meal.” Rehman decided to do whatever she could in her capacity to help underprivileged children get a chance at education. That is when she decided to get involved with Pratham.
“Touch at least one child and feel good about yourself,” she urged the cream of the Atlanta Indian American community that had gathered on the occasion. “When you feel good about yourself, you give good vibes, and your purpose in life is fulfilled.”
The graceful actress’s request did not go unheeded. The community opened up its wallets generously. Around $65,000 was raised for Pratham during the course of the evening to adopt 107 communities.
Yogi Patel, Ambassador of Pratham USA, gave an audio-visual presentation that outlined the need for more donors to get involved in supporting the cause of educating underprivileged children, and the work of Pratham. His presentation was at once forceful, sincere and emotional. He said 400 million Indians couldn’t read or write. He said it was the government’s job to provide basic education to every child, but it hasn’t worked in 58 years. “We want to prove that it can be done,” he said emphatically. “Pratham will do whatever it takes to see to it that no child is illiterate by 2010.”
He explained that Pratham had a three-way partnership with corporations and foundations, the government and the community to implement low cost, effective and replicable educational programs. “We want to leverage our successful model, so that the government can take it up from there,” he said.
Patel also emotionally recounted his own journey from an illiterate family in Gujarat to his meteoric rise in life, thanks to the kindness of a few people with “Pratham spirit”.
A question and answer session followed, with both Waheeda Rehman and Yogi Patel answering the attendees’ questions competently.
Earlier in the evening, Nitin Shah of the Atlanta chapter introduced Rehman with the screening of clips from her popular films.