IRVINE, Calif. — The main banquet hall at Hotel Irvine was filled here Sept. 16 with an engaged audience — many from the Indian American community — to help Pratham USA reach its $2 million fundraising goal for educational initiatives in India. Aiding the nonprofit’s efforts were two Bollywood celebrities – Nargis Fakri and Evelyn Sharma – and a motivational speaker in Rahul Kapoor Jain.

Pratham had already raised $1.75 million prior to the Sept. 16 gala here in Irvine, and the nonprofit hopes to raise the remaining $250,000 to reach its goal.

The theme for this year’s Pratham USA gala was overcoming adversity and providing second chances.

Gala organizers invited one of Pratham’s beneficiaries to demonstrate to the audience its theme of overcoming adversity and providing second chances.

Mangala Mehar, a former Pratham vocational student who grew up in a small Rajasthani village, was forced to drop out of school and take up work to help support her family after her father was incapable of working following a serious injury.

The situation both threatened Mehar’s ability to earn an education and placed her family in a tough economic situation.

Pratham, through vocational training, eventually helped her learn a few skills and land a job to help support Mehar’s family. Mehar now works in the hospitality industry in Udaipur.

“Now I believe I can write my own destiny on my own,” Mehar said during her speech.

Jain, who presented a 30-minute keynote address, spoke of the value of giving and why Pratham USA is in a position to grant second chances and help people overcome personal adversity.

“Your money is going to the right place,” Jain told the gala audience during his keynote address. “Charity begins at home … the home of your soul.”

Meanwhile, Fakri and Sharma were each presented with the “Pride of India” award.

Sharma, a Bollywood actress of German-Indian descent who gives clothing to those in need through her own charity, told India-West of the need to ramp up educational initiatives in the world’s second-most populous country. She commended Pratham on its foray into vocational training.

“I think we have less than two percent of vocational training in India. [Pratham] has been helping India a lot with education and curing illiteracy. Now they are getting into a new field, which is vocational training, trying to help skilled laborers,” Sharma told India-West. “No other NGO is really getting into that field.”

Fakri said education should not be a luxury, but something accessible by everyone.

“I hated school. I never wanted to go. I almost dropped out, but thank goodness my mom forced me to even go to college, because I think if she didn’t, I wouldn’t be standing here today. I know that education is so important,” Fakri told the audience. “To give is a beautiful thing. Giving to other people and actually making a difference in their life is happiness.”

Giving is something Ernie Iseminger is well versed in, as the Claremont Graduate University vice president of advancement helped raise millions of dollars for one of Southern California’s most recognizable liberal arts colleges. He told attendees Pratham is one of the best nonprofit or charity organizations they could support.

“There is no greater cause than to support something you truly believe in,” Iseminger said. “What is going to be your legacy? There is no other efficient nonprofit like this in the world. Every dollar [to Pratham] to help make a difference for a young girl or boy.”

In the past year Pratham reportedly reached 5.7 million children (either directly or through partnerships), trained about 200,000 teachers, re-engaged nearly 4,300 female dropouts in learning, supported some 300 entrepreneurs and provided skills training to an estimated 24,000 youth.

Navneet Chugh, who was the gala’s emcee, recognized Pratham’s efforts to build a technology institute in the name of Pravin Mody, who donated $1 million to the nonprofit before passing away last year.

Co-chairs for this year’s Pratham USA gala in Irvine were Ritu Chugh and Ashesh Kamdar. The gala also featured a pledge drive to help Pratham reach its $2 million fundraising goal.

Currently heading up the nonprofit’s Los Angeles chapter are Board of Directors chairman Sudesh Arora and president Rajen Dhami.

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