At AFEC gala, gems from NASA Mars Rover’s Swati Mohan


Find your child’s talent and a niche that combines their passion with the skills they are naturally good at — that’s what will set them up for success in life. This was what aerospace engineer Swati Mohan (left in photograph above), who served as the Guidance and Controls Operations Lead on the NASA’s Mars Rover, Perseverance, on February 18, said.

The Indian-American achiever was delivering the keynote at the second annual gala of A Future for Every Child (AFEC), a nonprofit that supports orphaned youths 18 and above by preparing them to become economically self-sufficient.

The fundraising gala’s theme was ‘Reaching for the Stars: Stories of Hope and Inspiration.’

It was held on August 28 at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California.

Mohan said fundamentally they children “will have the personality or the skills to do well, and they’ll really enjoy doing it because they have a fundamental passion, so they’ll be motivated and will try hard.

That being said, it’s not easy,” she added. “I can tell you trying to figure that out is not easy.”

Mohan, who herself has changed her career path when growing up, wanted to be a pediatrician. In high school she realized she wanted to be a mechanical and aerospace engineer.

In the conversation moderated by Sumi Aggarwal, interim editor in chief at the Center for Investigative Reporting, Mohan was asked about supporting organizations like A Future for Every Child.

When we work together and find the place where people want to contribute and want to have that role, because now we’re functioning at a higher level and we can actually utilize that to make the world a better place, and AFEC is one small way to help them for those who need it,” Mohan said.

You never know what the children can become with this little bit of motivation or inspiration,” she added.

AFEC co-founder Gita Gopal, right, with her husband, Madan

AFEC co-founder director and president Gita Gopal told indica News that around 140 people attended the the gala and it raised enough to enroll 100 additional youth into the program.

She said that it costs on an average of $800 to provide livelihood training for one youth.

Our target was to raise enough to support 100 young adults and we met our goals,” Gopal said.

She said the money will go to AFEC’s ‘Launchpad for Adulthood’ program that prepares youth aging out of orphanages at 18 to become economically self-sufficient.

The program consists of career counseling, financial support for skills training, help with job placement, and mentoring for 2 years to ensure they are on a stable path to independence.

It has been heartwarming to see that once people hear about this vulnerable group they have been very generous in providing support, since they remember the support they themselves received in their journey to independence,” Gopal said. “We need to spread the word to make more people aware of the needs of youth aging out of institutional care.”

Mani Krishnan, founder of Shastha Foods, also spoke at the gala. Krishan told indica News he has hired four women employees in Mumbai through AFEC. The women have all graduated from the AFEC Launchpad for Adulthood program. They are provided with laptops and Internet connectivity and work out of their homes in Mumbai. They provide support for Shastha’s supply chain in India.

A snapshot from the AFEC gala held on August 28 at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California

Sonya Pelia, a board member of AFEC, told indica News: “The AFEC cause of empowering youth before they age out of institutions is very close to my heart.

Our daughter was adopted from India and she is the joy of our lives,” Pelia said. “When we embarked on our adoption journey more than 20 years ago, I was deeply impacted by the tragedy of orphaned and abandoned children in institutions in India. When Gita Gopal, founder of AFEC, reached out to me for advice when she began AFEC, I was honored and so pleased to become an advisor to the AFEC board.”

Aggarwal who is an adoptive parent of two little girls 7 and 11 told indica News, when she was in the process of adopting her daughters, she visited India multiple times and it was then she saw so many of those kids were older and she knew there was very little chance that they would be adopted.

“It broke our hearts to see these precious children and all their potential and knew that there was a high likelihood that they wouldn’t get the kinds of opportunities that every child deserves. That is why when I first heard about AFEC and the work Gita and Madan were kicking off, I was so excited to be part of it,” said Aggarwal.

Sharing her thoughts about young adults having no place to go on turning 18, Aggarwal said, “This is a forgotten and vulnerable population- more than 60,000 kids age of our orphanages and institutions in India. And the government needs to have better safety nets in place to help those kids transition to adulthood.”

“But the need is so great in India. And that’s when organizations like AFEC can come in,” Aggarwal said. “We are trying to take a data-driven approach to understand what kind of programs and support work best for these kids.”

India has 400,000 children between the ages of 0 and 18 living in orphanages, but once these children turn 18, they have to leave the institution they thought was their home. And that led Gopal to start AFEC.

Gopal and her husband Madan have two sons and a daughter they adopted in 1997 in Pune, India.