Inspired by the true story of Saroo Brierley, who at the age of five became separated from his family, was taken into an orphanage after surviving for weeks on the streets, and ultimately adopted by a family in Australia as captured in the film, “Lion,” UNICEF USA has developed a new program, Project Lion.
Project Lion, which became a possibility because of a generous seed grant from New York-based Indian American couple Purvi and Harsh Padia, is designed to help support children without family care who are living in residential institutions in India. While Purvi is a luxury interior designer, Harsh is a hedge fund manager.
The project, which was launched May 30 in New York City, was attended by actress Sienna Miller (also a friend of the Padia couple), Caryl Stern, president and CEO of UNICEF USA; and “Today” show anchor and former First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager, among others.
Raised in the U.S., UNICEF USA New York board member Purvi Padia, according to the organization, made many childhood trips to visit family in India. The poverty she saw there made a “deep and lasting impression” on her.
“It was unacceptable to me that children whose origins are the same as mine were living such a different life than my own children,” Purvi said. “…We see these images and hear the news and go to benefits, and people do their best to understand, but it is such a different situation when you experience it firsthand, meeting people who have names and faces, who are fighting for their lives and for their children every single day.”
UNICEF said it believes that strong families are fundamental for the growth, well-being and protection of children and institutionalization should always be seen as a measure of last resort.
The program, which reportedly responds to the protection needs of an estimated 200,000 children living in residential institutions in India – in states like Gujarat, Odisha, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – aims to protect them from violence, exploitation and neglect.
For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.