LOS ALTOS, Calif. — A mesmerizing dance drama titled “Nandalala” by Bharathanjali marked the annual donor appreciation event of the Bay Area chapter of the All India Movement for Seva at the Smithwick Theater at Foothill College here on the evening of Oct. 6.
AIM for SEVA is a pan-India charitable trust tasked with opening and sustaining free student hostels in remote and rural parts of India to help children from rural and remote regions stay in school.
Since its inception in 2000, the trust has helped over 30,000 children in 16 states in India, with over 105 free student homes with an average of 30 students in each home. Each hostel costs about $100,000 to set up, while the total annual support of a student is about $450.
The Bay Area chapter of the non-profit is responsible for sustaining seven hostels for about $100,000. There are around 30 chapters of the non-profit in the United States.
In addition to contributions by other donors, Indian Americans Jagat and Bimla Kishor from Pleasanton have committed to $500,000 toward the construction of the Swami Dayananda Residential School and Free Student Hostel complex in a village in Madhya Pradesh.
A rural ambulance service and health sanitation program for the local community are also planned at the facility.
“People from AIM for SEVA are very honest and hard-working. There is no hanky-panky or cheating. We can relax after donating. We went for the Bhoomi Pujan (ground breaking ceremony) in January this year, and we are looking forward to the opening of the facility,” said Bimla Kishor about the commitment she and her husband made toward the project and the choice of the non-profit.
AIM’s Free Student Hostels house children from 4th through 12th grade during the most impressionable years of their growth and development. The hostels provide children a nurturing milieu combining academic coaching, nutritive meals with knowledge of health and hygiene for the children’s holistic growth.
“For me, this is a labor of love. As an engineer by profession, what impressed me about the way it came about is the same way a product becomes successful. You start with a real need and devise a way to fulfill the need,” stated Vijay Kapoor, a founding member of AIM for SEVA in the United States and coordinator of the San Francisco chapter of the non-profit.
“My teacher, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, was having a satsang at his ashram in the remote village of Anaikatti in Tamil Nadu. During the satsang, an elderly village woman gave him an excellent idea. The discussion was around the difficulties of educating young children, leading to unfulfilled lives. She identified that it was not the lack of schools but the accessibility to schools that was a problem,” said Kapoor, recalling the start of the FSHs.
“She proposed a solution of constructing boarding houses next to schools. The idea resonated with Swamiji. He got the first one constructed within a year, and collected a couple of dozen youngsters from the Adivasis and Vanavasis in the area.
“They attended the school close by, and a caretaker of the boarding house attended all other duties outside of schools such as meals, clothing, medical assistance, recreation, and some value education.”
Kapoor added that “it is not just about educating the children or providing them hot meals. It is bringing them up, better than the village parents can do. That includes everything. We keep them for seven to eight years, until they are close to graduating from high school, and in many cases through vocational school. Now our emphasis is going to be on training them for jobs.”
Swami Dayananda's words “are etched in my mind. He used to say, if you have children and do not take care of them, that's not good. If you have children and you take good care of them, that's par for the course. But if you take good care of children that are not yours, then that is very good, above and beyond your duties,” he added.
Emphasizing the involvement of corporations from India, Rani Goel, a long-time volunteer with the non-profit, opined, “Many corporations like State Bank of India, ONGC, Indian Oil, Cognizant and others in India also donate toward the building of hostels for the most needy children.”
Some of the upcoming projects in 2018-2019 include FSHs in villages in Uttarkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.