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Science Lab Dreams Come True

Shelley, Som, Lakshmi and Sandra at the TNF convention

Back in May, I was a keynote speaker at the Tamil Nadu Foundation‘s annual convention outside Philadelphia. This organization of non-resident Indians who support initiatives in their home state of Tamil Nadu, particularly centering around education and health, invited me to speak about my work and my book.

The convention’s chairman, Som Somasundaram, and his family were extremely welcoming to me. They are also a highly philanthropic family. I was especially impressed with Som’s daughter, Lakshmi, an 18-year-old girl who already has big dreams – and has accomplished big goals – to help further the education of less fortunate children.

Two years ago, Lakshmi arrived at Vedaranyam in India, to spend her vacation at the Kasturba Gandhi Kanya Gurukulam (KGKG) home and school for girls. Two years later, she returned to KGKG to fulfil a promise she had committed to herself – dedicate a science centre for the girls of Gurukulam.

For the young Lakshmi altruism came naturally, as the girls voiced their aspiration for careers in science and how they were handicapped by the lack of a full-fledged science laboratory. “During my stay here, I learnt about their way of life, what their needs and aspirations were…It was essentially sharing of experiences,” says Lakshmi.

Lakshmi Somasundaram (right), under whose initiative a science centre was dedicated to the Kasturba Gandhi Kanya Gurukulam

Inspired by their stories, she came out with a DVD on the Gurukulam and played it out to the audience at the Tamil Nadu Foundation convention.

“After my DVD presentation, I went around amid the audience with a collection box and it began with few dollars and someone dropped a cheque for USD 10,000. That gave me the confidence and finally we had collected over USD 40,000 over a period,” an elated Lakshmi told The Hindu newspaper.

This is just one more example of someone being the change they wish to see in the world, and a bright spot in our future generation.

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Tamil Nadu Foundation

Memorial Day weekend saw the 35th Annual Convention of the Tamil Nadu Foundation, held in Valley Forge, PA outside Philadelphia. I was invited to be the keynote speaker at this extraordinary event attended by about 1,500 people. I took my mother along with me, and we had a fantastic time with a great group of people who are absolutely passionate about, and dedicated to, supporting causes for children in India.

The Tamil Nadu Foundation is comprised of thousands of Indian-Americans living in the U.S., who promote educational, social and other charitable projects in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, as a way to share their good fortune with those less fortunate.

Shelley, Som, Lakshmi and Sandra

Convention Chairman Som Somasundaram invited me some months ago to speak during the main assembly of the convention, which I did late Saturday afternoon, May 29. I spoke about the children’s suffering that I had witnessed while researching and writing my book – children who have been impacted by such things as orphaning, abandonment, abuse, street life, child labor, AIDS and other issues. I also spoke about the success stories and changes I’ve seen happen, in kids who were lucky enough to have a caring adult or two take an interest in their lives. I spoke about my own personal heroes, such as Dr. Manorama of the CHES Home in Chennai, who left behind a successful medical practice to dedicate herself to housing, and treating, HIV-positive children whom no one else would take in.

Som’s beautiful daughter, Lakshmi, introduced me beautifully, before I spoke. She also invited me to join the youth group, comprised of high school and college age students, in an informal session discussing volunteer work in India and some of my experiences. All in all, it was a great day spent with a large group of people who are just as committed as I am to being the change they want to see in the world, to quote Mahatma Gandhi.

Signing books at the TNF Convention

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