Babita Rana, 21, had never imagined she would be traveling to the United States, and talking about herself in a room packed with more than 600 guests, including leaders of influential corporations, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 CEOs, luminaries, community leaders, philanthropists, and think tank leaders of Silicon Valley,
A member of the American India Foundation, Rana joined the celebration of its 18th anniversary on the theme of women empowerment March 19 at Fairmont in San Jose, California. AIF has raised $ $1.5 million in the past year to support its health-care and poverty-alleviation programs across India.
“We are five sisters. I am the fourth,” Rana said, describing how just a year ago she went from being a girl who was a burden to her family to having people in her village follow in her footsteps.
“Thank you, AIF,” said Rana, a native of Garhwal in Uttarakhand and who is associated with AIF’s MAST financial empowerment program, which promotes an entrepreneurship culture among low-income women.
She told indica that in the program she learned to stitch bags and make earrings. The work supplemented the meager income her mother brought in from working at the family farm. Her father had died when she was very young.
Rana got her first check three months after she began training.
“My first income was Rs 108,” Rana said with a laugh, adding, “This gave me hope and confidence to do more. Now I earn Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 each month.” She works standard hours – 9 am to 5 pm.
She has a 12th grade education but cannot expect more than that.
“I don’t study and, currently, I cannot study. I need to earn for my mother. I can concentrate only on one thing,” Rana said. “I have to do a lot in life. Now that I am getting better in my work, I want to open my own boutique and help others earn.”
According to AIF, the MAST program has created nearly 100,000 jobs and provided skills training to almost 125,000 youth in 206 centers in 24 states of India.
Savitri Devi, 38, who had also come over from India, said she wished AIF had been around when she was younger.
Devi volunteers at the Maternal and Newborn Survival Initiative (MANSI) as a health care worker. She described how she was married in 1990 when she was 10 and had a life-threatening pregnancy at 17. She has has two sons and a daughter.
MANSI uses a public-private partnership model to reduce maternal and child mortality by providing resources and support, helping local communities take care of mothers and children while improving the local health systems.
Devi, also a native of Uttarakhand like Rana, joined MANSI in 2016.
“I was 17 when I had my first child. The life-threatening pregnancy was a turning point in my life,” Devi told indica.
“I feel so good today. It’s the first time I have traveled outside my village,” Devi said. “I never thought I could come here. I feel blessed that I joined AIF.”
She said she is bothered by her lack of education, but works hard to help children at MANSI now.
“I don’t earn, I just volunteer. and enjoy my work. It makes me happy saving a child, Devi said.
Bharti Dangwal, who traveled with Devi, and who works at MANSI in Uttarakhand told indica, “We dealt with 849 children. Out of them 847 are alive. These are children that were below 1.5 kg [3.3 pounds] and of whom doctors said there was no chance of survival.”
“Below 1 kg [2.2 pounds] newborn children are at high risk,” said Dangwal, said they work with a different section of the society, people who do not have enough to eat and take care of their infants. If there is a 900 gms [1.98 pounds] baby is there and doctor says the chances of survival is very little or not at all, that is when MANSI comes in,” she said.
“We have a warm box, locally prepared. It works as an incubator for babies,” Dangwal said. “If they take babies to [a private] facility they have to pay Rs 4,000 per day. They cannot afford that.”
She described the other challenges woman in villages face: the difficulty traveling over hilly areas with little road connectivity.
“We provide home-based newborn care,” she said, adding that the government provides moral support even if does not provide financial assistance.
At the AIF gala this year, the Corporate Leadership Award went to to Sumir Chadha of WestBridge Capital.
Maya Patel, president of the Tarsadia Foundation; and Mona Shah, director of the Health Funders Partnership of Orange County were honored with the AIF Service Award for making a significant impact in the lives of women, both in the US and India. Sophia Nesamoney was given the AIF Youth Leadership Award.
Nishant Pandey, AIF’s CEO, told indica that AIF’s new board expansion from the east coast to the west coast was in preparation for its approaching 20th anniversary.
“We are creating two regional boards, one in the New York tristate area and another in California. These two boards were launched in January… The idea is to have very strong regional volunteer body,” Pandey said. “The objective is to mobilize volunteers who want to give back not just in terms of money but also in time and talent.”
Co-founder and board co-chair Lata Krishnan said her mother, who died a few days ago, taught her many things, including a fierce love for friends and family and an emphasis on financial independence.
“All parents want to do that for their child is to bring them into this world safely, give them a good education and equip them with tools so that they can be self-sustainable,” she said. “In a nutshell that is exactly what AIF does. We work with marginalized communities in India and ensure that a young mother can deliver her children safely, make sure they are safe, and ensure they get an education and jobs.”