Washington DC: December 10, 2017. (PCP) Over 350 guests from all across the Metropolitan Washington area came to support the scholarship program of the Sikh Human Development Foundation at Gaithersburg Hilton in Maryland. The glittery gala, featuring Bollywood actor and a Punjabi comedian, Gurpreet Ghuggi, raised over $210,000 for underprivileged youth pursuing higher education in Punjab. Gajinder Singh Ahuja, Chairman of SHDF, while welcoming the audience, invited all to donate by saying, “Your assistance is lifting young people out of poverty, tragedy and painful circumstances.”
SHDF provides scholarships to bright but poor students in Punjab and surrounding areas. Based in Washington, it has been giving scholarships to students since 2001 and over the years USD 2 million in scholarship money has been provided.
Addressing the donors, Gajinder Singh Ahuja, Chairman, SHDF, declared "SHDF has so far given more than 5000 scholarships. Of these, 2,700 have already graduated and found good jobs. They have become doctors, engineers, scientists and the like. Some of them are now helping other needy children. This is one of the major impacts. SHDF now has 7 centers in Punjab and Delhi. All of these centers are being managed by volunteers such as college professors and students. This program is executed in partnership with the sister organization, Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council based in New Delhi."
He added, “In my humble view, this is no small achievement. You inspired us to do this work. Also, we have a very committed team of Board members and a Program Manager who are working long hours because they all feel the pain of these needy children.”
Jasdeep Singh Juneja, an IT professional from Dallas, Texas, narrated his own inspirational tale of being the recipient of an SHDF scholarship and now running a major operation for ATT. He said, “If there was no SHDF then I will not be in USA and I would have been lost in life. My family was not able to support me. It is only because of financial assistance at a very crucial time that I was able to become a professional. I am now able to support the education of my own younger brother.” Similarly Jasmeet Singh Bhatia, another scholarship recipient, shared his journey from an underprivileged family to being a professional in Richmond, VA.
Dr. Manmohan Singh Kumar and Dr. Rajwant Singh led an appeal requesting for donations from the audience, who then opened up their hearts and wallets to write checks for SHDF. The audience, who were already convinced about the cause, donated funds for 420 scholarships with each scholarship worth $510.00.
Dr. Manmohan Singh said, "Education is the key to bringing positive change among the youth in Punjab. This has the aggregate effect and it transforms families and the communities. Punjab has gone down in many aspects and especially in education. This kind of initiative is so critical for the future of the community and the state."
Dr. Rajwant Singh said, "The supporters of this cause can be proud of the fact that they are holding the hands of the students who are dreaming to stand on their own feet. He added, “SHDF is perhaps the only organization which provides scholarships to students for higher education. It is a small effort but the need is immense in Punjab.”
SHDF scholarship is based on need and merit. Students are selected from colleges and universities throughout the State of Punjab and surrounding areas with vigorous screening. This is done by the SHDF India Division based in New Delhi. The four-member staff, supervised by the sister organiztion, Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council, and an eminent SHDF Adviser, Pritpal Singh Bami, maintains the records of the recipients and verifies credentials of the students. Most of the students receiving assistance are from families earning less than a dollar a day per person. SHDF has provided over $2 Million in scholarship money since 2001.
Dr. Baljit Singh Sidhu, an orthopedic surgeon from Richmond, Virginia and a Benefactor of SHDF, said, “I am a firm believer that only thing which will make Punjab survive is education. The only way to get out of the drug menace is education. Education is the best Daan – charity. We feel proud that we are part of this organization.”
Chief Guest at the dinner event, Gursharan Kaur Kandra from Toronto, appealed to the audience to donate wholeheartedly for the scholarship program.
Drs. Ranvir Singh Achereja and Manjeet Kaur Achereja of North Carolina, along with Satinder Singh Chadha, a well-recognized entrepreneur and a firm supporter of SHDF from UK, were Guests of Honor. They were honored for their Sikh Spirit of Sewa, Commitment, and Contributions Towards Empowering Our Youth with Higher Education. The Acherejas were honored by Dr. Jatinder Kaur Sidhu from Richmond, VA, and Mr. Chadha was honored by Dr. Manjeet Kaur Achreja. Special Guest Harbinder Singh of UK flew from London to attend he function and support the cause.
Dr. Jatinder Kaur, a physician from Virginia, said, “If we don’t hold the hands of our own children, then who will? This is the best investment. We must think that this is the panthic cause. Especially empowering women is key to the better future. Each Sikh should become part of this endeavor.”
Jaspreet Kaur Ahuja, Secretary General of SHDF, said, “One of the highlights of the evening was the offer made by a former SHDF scholarship recipient, Jasdeep Singh Juneja, that he would like to work as a volunteer for SHDF. He recommended we open an SHDF chapter in Dallas and that he would like to be a part of the chapter. This is where the future of SHDF lies, and it is a great feeling to know that it would be in good hands.
She added, “I also want to take this opportunity to thank each and every volunteer, who worked hard to make the event run smoothly. We could not have done it without their help."
Gurpreet Ghuggi appreciated the efforts of SHDF and said, “You all are lighting candles in many homes in Punjab and this is the best possible Sewa one can render. In actuality, you are fulfilling the dream of Guru Nanak who had said, ‘Vidiya vichari taan Parupkari’ – True education makes one benevolent.” He added, “Guru Nanak will be proud of you all and those who are supporting this cause.”
Guests were entertained by Raginder “Violinder” who enthralled the audience with his solo rendition in the beginning on Raag Charukeshi and many in the audience danced with his fast numbers.
Brigadier Upjit Singh Narula, an SHDF Board member, said, “The growing poverty in Punjab has to be met with full vigor and focused attention. Education is the only method to improve the status of the underprivileged families. This is the true human development.”
Kanwal Singh, who manages the accounts of SHDF, said, "Our program is running effectively. We keep the overhead of running the scholarship program very low and most of the donation money goes to the scholarship recipients.”
Manpreet Singh, a Board member of SHDF, said, "More than 65% of the students are from rural areas and 74% are female students. SHDF is also holding workshops to teach these students communication skills and interview techniques, thus making them confident for the job market.
Simmi Singh, an SHDF’s Board member, said, “This year's event is again a grand success. We were especially thrilled to have some of the beneficiaries of our scholarships to come here at the event and share their inspirational journey. The audience was indeed touched by their emotional appeal."
At the end, Harbaksh Singh Sethi, a Board member of SHDF, thanked the audience and said, "We are grateful to our donors for their confidence in this critical initiative. Most of the students cannot afford the high tuition and we are helping to brighten the lives of their families.”
This year, Parminder Singh Ahuja of PSA, CPA, Bhutani family of AXXIS Financial Group, Dr. Charanjit Singh Khurana, Dr. Sheena Khurana, Manjit Singh, CPA, Surinder Singh Raheja and Family, Harpreet Kaur of Nanak Insurance Agency, Ruby Saluja of digital point, Mehtab Kahlon of Punj Tara Restaurant, Sonu Kaur of the Wedding Nation, Ameeta Singh of Trendy Needle and Sam Video joined hands as local businesses promoting the cause. DJ services were provided by DJ Lucky and Dcs Platinum.