By Vidya Pradhan
For most of us, ‘Checkbook Charity’ is the way we assuage our conscience. It is painless, effortless and gives a rush of good feeling with the stroke of a pen. Few of us go beyond that first step to examine the impact our donation has had on the recipient. Doctor Nilima Sabharwal’s foray into philanthrophy started with the same first step. A physician at Kaiser Permanente, she was approached by a friend about 10 years ago to help out an orphanage in Chennai called ‘The Children’s Home of Hope.’ She wrote a check and forgot all about it. Come tax time, she was reminded of her good deed and decided to go one step further and organize a small fundraiser in the Bay Area. What prompted her decision she can only ascribe to a ‘higher calling’, a phrase that kept popping up during the course of my interview with her.
The fundraiser was planned like a fun Indian party and Dr. Sabharwal and her friends managed to raise about $7000 which was sent to the orphanage. On a visit to India, Dr. Sabharwal stopped by the place to see what had been done with the money and found it had been responsible for stopping a series of epidemics that had been plaguing the children by the simple expedient of providing clean bathrooms.
Amazed by the impact of a relatively small amount of money by US standards, Dr. Sabharwal decided to set up Home of Hope(HOH), an organization dedicated to funding projects that helped orphan, destitute and disadvantaged children become self-sufficient and self reliant.
Home of Hope has raised over a million dollars since then and assisted several deserving organizations all across India. (A recent project funded in Berkeley is an attempt by the organization to provide a more global perspective to their efforts.) By keeping a tight rein on administrative overheads, HOH ensures that virtually all the funds it raises go to the projects themselves. Each project has a project coordinator, usually in the US, who can visit it periodically to determine progress and use of money.
“We are partners for life,” says Dr. Sabharwal, who calls all the wonderful people back in India incarnations of Mother Teresa for their selfless devotion and commitment to service. The progress and accounting is reported back to the 10 board members of HOH, who serve in a voluntary capacity.
Isaac Abid, who works in private equity for AIG, is one of the project coordination officers(PCO) for HOH, responsible for the Sri Chayadevi Anathashram in Mysore. Isaac advocates for the kids in front of the board members here in the US and, in his trips to India, sets a formal agenda for the way the funds are disbursed. “Food and education is important,” says Isaac, “but kids should also have the experiences of childhood.” He has suggested field trips and other enriching projects for the orphans as part of his advocacy. “I love being a PCO because I am the voice of those kids. I have to articulate their needs to my peer group at HOH.” One of his memorable experiences at his project was providing a digital camera out of his own pocket to the kids. “The wonder and joy in their eyes was just amazing,” he recalls.
HOH’s transparency and tight administrative structure has impressed potential donors. Dr. Sabharwal attributes their success to the direction of a higher power. “I believe there is a higher energy in all of us,” says Dr. Sabharwal, “We just have to be receptive to it.”
Come and be a part of the energy that drives the members of HOH next weekend at Chandni Restaurant in Fremont for its 10th Annual Gala Fundraiser. The simple and unostentatious event is headlined by comedian Daniel Nainan. The event and the people are sure to be an inspiration for those of us who want to be more involved with helping the underprivileged but are unsure about taking that first step. Home of Hope, Inc. is entirely managed and administered via volunteer effort and is mostly funded by individual contributions. Contributions may be made here.