Washington, December 7, 2016: Over 300 guests joined from across the Washington area and some traveled far distances to offer their support to the scholarship program of the Sikh Human Development Foundation (SHDF) for bright but poor students in Punjab and neighboring areas. The event was held at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. SHDF, a 17 year old organization based in Washington, has been providing over 500 scholarships on an annual basis for the last few years for higher professional education. In addition to granting scholarships, SHDF is now holding workshops in Punjab for the scholarship recipients on personality development, leadership, entrepreneur skills and how the successful graduates can help other poor children. This entire operation in India is implemented in collaboration with Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council, New Delhi. SHDF also receives a generous support from Ik Manzil, a group of committed and dedicated philanthropists.
Gajinder Singh Ahuja, Chairman of SHDF, welcomed the audience and said, “We at SHDF are so very grateful that you have walked with us for all these 16 years on this educational journey for our disadvantaged youth. So far we have given more than 4,500 scholarships and more than 2,200 of these children have graduated and found good jobs. Many of them have become doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. We could not have done all this without your whole-hearted support. Your compassionate giving is transforming thousands of lives…………We need your help. They need your help.”
This year’s annual gala event of SHDF raised over $250,000, within a short period of time, for the financially strapped students in Punjab and neighboring states. The Chief Guest of the event, Satinder Singh Chadha, an entrepreneur from United Kingdom, and a big supporter of SHDF, said, “Higher Education is the best gift we can give to our needy children. This is one way we can put our resources for greater good of humanity and bring dignity in the lives of so many. This is what Sikhism teaches us to do. I feel honored to be part of this great initiative”. He himself announced a donation of $25,000 and made a fervent appeal to the audience to show their generosity and support for the program. Dr. Gurcharan Singh Kanwal and his wife, Kamaljit Kaur, who were Guests of Honor at the event and are ardent supporters of SHDF, made a very generous donation. Dr. Kanwal said “I feel quite confident that the SHDF initiative will continue transforming thousands of lives”. He exhorted the audience to come forward and donate generously for the noble cause.
A unique feature of this year’s event was the presence of special guests Dustin Cook, Jeff Dance and Allan Ragan of Innovative Health, who especially flew from Alabama to join the event. They praised the life-changing work being done by SHDF and made a large donation. They said they will continue their support to SHDF who are involved in the noble cause of helping the poor children. The audience followed their lead and quickly responded by making generous donations. Devenderpal Singh of the Indian Idol fame enthralled the audience with his numbers and had them sing along. Guests celebrated the success by joining at the dance floor.
Several young children went around the tables collecting checks and pledges following an appeal by SHDF Board members, Dr. Rajwant Singh and Dr. Manmohan Singh Kumar. The children also sold raffle tickets and raised $2,000 for 4 scholarships.
Kanwal Singh, Director of Finance, thanked the audience and said, “SHDF’s success is truly based on the confidence of the donors in its program. We are grateful to all those who have made SHDF their favorite charity. We need more of you to join in this movement”. She added, “The students supported by SHDF are from very poor 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.”
Dr. Rajwant Singh, Outreach Director of the Foundation, said, “SHDF has been a single source by which NRIs have been pumping critically needed funds for higher education in Punjab. The need is much greater and ours is still a very small effort. There are thousands of students who are unable to pursue their dreams due to their difficult family circumstances. A lot more needs to be done and we hope people from all over the world will join us in this endeavor”.
Dr. Manmohan Singh Kumar, Director, Special Initiatives, said, “The positive results of this scholarships program are already in place because so many of the young people have become successful professionals and they are lifting their siblings and relatives out of dire poverty. That is the positive ripple effect stimulated by our generous donors”.
Jaspreet Kaur Ahuja, Secretary General of SHDF, thanked the guests and volunteers, without whose help the event would not have been successful. She added, “These dedicated volunteers are inspired by the Sikh spirit of Seva. To our esteemed guests who have come from far and near, I just want to say in Guru Nanak Dev ji’s words, ‘Vich Duniya Sev kamaiye, taan darge besan paiye’. May he bless you all”.
The event also featured a movie of testimonies of some of the students and heart-wrenching stories of the struggles of parents of these students. It brought tears in the eyes of many in the audience. SHDF scholarship recipients, Pardeep Singh and Ankush Chhabra, connected with the audience, via Skype, from Punjab and told them how SHDF helped them on their journey to success. Harjot Singh Saini, an SHDF scholarship recipient, who has now become an IT professional and is based in Richmond, VA, thanked SHDF for the much-needed support. He shared his family’s previous experiences of poverty and now a changed life. He said, “I am the proof that your assistance has worked and it has given me an opportunity to succeed in life.” In addition, Jasmeet Bhatia, another scholarship recipient of SHDF, joined the event.
According to Manpreet Singh, a board member of SHDF, 539 scholarships were awarded in 2016. More than 65% of these students are from rural areas of Punjab and more than 74% are female students. The scholarships are provided to these students so they become doctors, engineers, scientists, computer experts, agriculturists, architects, educationists and the like. Many are now working in companies like IBM, Microsoft, Infosys, and other good companies. Abinash Singh, Director, Tehnology, led the technical aspects of the event planning. Annumeet Rao, Program Manager of SHDF in Washington, played a key role in keeping the entire planning process organized and focused. Dr. Sheena Khurana handled the stage ably and kept the attention of the audience. Planning and implementation of the program was supported by many dedicated volunteers including Amar Pal Singh, Arvinder Goomer, Beneeta Ahuja, Bhavraj Singh, Ginny Ahluwalia, Gurmeet Kanwal, Jasmeet Bhatia, Jaspreet Kaur Ahuja, Kiran Kumar, Meeta Singh, Meeta Grover, Neeta Singh, Pervaan Ahuja, Reena Nagra, Sarabjeet Bhutani, Saroj Singh, Satinder Sodhi, Sheena Khurana, Simmi Singh, Sonny Ahuja, Sunena Wadhwa.
The evening ended with vote of thanks to the donors. In all, it was a successful event due mainly to the generosity of the donors and hard work put in by the entire SHDF team.