For Mohini Singh, the East Meets West Children’s Foundation is personal.
It started in 2006 when the now Kelowna city councillor and her then-husband went to India to pick up a little girl the couple adopted from an orphanage in Kolkata.
At the orphanage, a small boy with cerebral palsy grabbed her husband’s leg and, hanging on, pleaded with the couple to take him home. When Singh’s husband picked up the boy, he yelled out with glee: “I’m going home.”
Singh and her husband could not take the boy, and the incident weighed heavy on them.
“It really upset me,” said Singh, who was determined to do something to help the children at the orphanage.
When she returned to Canada and told the story to friends, she found people in Kelowna were more than willing to donate money to help the kids she told them about. It was then she decided to form a foundation to raise money to help poor, orphaned children in India,many of who suffer sever health and mental conditions.
The foundation was established in 2008 with a mandate of providing medical treatment and educational training for abandoned and destitute children.
Basing its mission on a quote by the late Mother Theresa: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love,” the East Meets West Children’s Foundation first took on the task of helping the orphanage in Kolkata where Singh adopted her daughter.
Over the last 10 years it has grown and now also sponsors a creche—a type of daycare—for the children of slum dwellers or the working poor. The creche provides 40 children with food, early education and medical care on a daily basis.
“Without a safe place to go during the day while their parents are at work, these children are at risk of being kidnapped and forced into begging, prostitution or being sold to those who prey on vulnerable young children,” said Singh.
The foundation also supports a centre in Mumbai called Family Home, which cares for 20 destitute boys aged four and 12 who have been committed to the care of the home by the juvenile welfare board of the state government.
The foundation says its projects in India have financed life-changing treatment for dozens of children over the years.
While Singh jokes the foundation’s office is “half her kitchen table and a few chairs,” it does have a board of directors,which includes former Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd, a number of local business people and individuals who want to lend a hand.
Singh said the foundation makes sure the money it raises and sends overseas gets to the people it is aimed at. The foundation insists not only on written and photographic reports about the where and how the the money is being spent, but Singh also visits the recipients in India from time to time.
Each year East Meets West raises tens of thousands of dollars from a popular dinner and auction it holds in Kelowna to mark Diwali, the Indian celebration of light. With the help of volunteers and and a growing number of sponsors, the dinner has become not only a tradition for many in the community, but also a huge success.
The most recent dinner, held at the Parkinson Recreation Centre earlier this month, attracted a sell-out crowd of 360 and between ticket sales and the money raised during the auction, brought in just nearly $50,000.
“Kelowna is a very giving community. People here have been very generous,” said foundation treasurer Biki Kochar.
“We have a very privileged life here, giving back is the least we can do.”
But it is not just children in India who are benefiting from the money East Meets West raises.
In the last year, the foundation has also started to support The Starbright Child Development Centre in Kelowna by purchasing necessary equipment required for therapy for children with neurological conditions. It also helps support the Karis Support Society in Kelowna, which provides a home for women struggling with addictions and mental health challenges.
“In keeping with our philosophy, our support is to help the children of these mums who are struggling,” said Singh, who said the foundation’s board feels it is important to “look in its own backyard” as well as to other parts of the world.
Recently, the foundation also provided 42 health kits for the 42 villages and hamlets of the Kandhmal district in the Indian state of Odisha. The kits benefited 1,104 extremely impoverished tribal families living in remote regions of Central India.
“In these regions, due to the scarcity of clean water the people and particularly vulnerable children are often prone to illnesses like cholera, and dysentery,” said Singh. “Unfortunately medical services are at least a 25-kilometre walk through tough terrain. By providing these kits the people are able to receive some immediate care.”
The work East Meets West is doing is making a difference. In Singh’s words,they are “little steps.”
But, as the foundation has proved over the last decade, those little steps are making a huge difference in the lives of many children, both at home and thousands of miles away.
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