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Featured Organization - North South Foundation

Nirmala Garimella

Way back in the early nineties when Indians in the US were trying ways and means of helping out the land of their birth- India, a man by the name of Dr. Ratnam Chitturi in Illinois was moved by the plight of underprivileged children in India who had no means of pursuing higher education due to lack of money or funding. A deep sense of obligation came upon him and he desired more than anything else to help them in whatever way he could to help in the process. Established in his own field of Industrial engineering, he floated the idea of providing scholarships to underprivileged children that would facilitate them in higher education. Initially Dr. Chitturi admits it was met with skepticism. How does one start on a project of this nature? Can a program like this work? How do you identify the truly worthy children? Living in a country so far away who will coordinate this effort from India? What will be the guidelines and criteria? Questions like these and various more came to his mind but the strong will and determination to go ahead led to the birth of the North South Foundation, in 1989, a non-profit tax exempt entity in Illinois. Its counterpart in India is Bread (Basic Research, education and development society) that helps implement these educational programs

The North South Foundation’s initial focus was in providing scholarships to exceptionally qualified and needy children and a donation of $150 was established as a reasonable amount that translated into rupees could send a child to college and take care of part of the expenses. The implications were fourfold:
1. To invest in a child’s future by providing him an educational opportunity
2. To assure that atleast one child goes to college from a single family.
3. The scholarship recipient improves the quality of life of his own family by understanding the value of education and providing the much-needed motivation from within.
4. Once this was assured, Dr Chitturi, hoped, these individuals could help others outside of their family infrastructure. In other words the alumni would help Bread sustain its effort.

As of today, the North South Foundation has disbursed as many as 1400 scholarships to these children. Each scholarship is $150 dollars per student per year and covers roughly 50% of room, board, books and tuition. This is not a one-time payment and the grant is continued until graduation as long as the students meet the high standards of excellence. Approximately 200 scholarships were awarded in the last two years.

The North South Foundation motto ‘to encourage excellence and develop the area of human resource that has the maximum potential’ which they have identified as education and undertake this task regardless of religion, gender, caste and geographic origin has won it a lot of support and credibility in US and in India. The scholarships are distributed from several regional centers in India: Bangalore, Bhavnagar, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Guwahati, Kolkata and Hyderabad. Jodhpur and Pune centers will be coming online this year.

In India there is now a strong infrastructure of dedicated volunteers at each of these regions who help in spreading the awareness of the program through media, the formation of a selection committees and the final selection. Two focus points are emphasized: academic brilliance and financial need of the student. Every effort is made to make sure that the need is genuine. Once the most eligible students are identified and decided upon, the scholarships are disbursed to the students subsequently.

Beside the scholarship program, the Mentoring Program is another successful initiative of this foundation. Dr. Murali Gavini, a Compliance officer in the Food and Drug administration and a resident of Maryland has initiated and spearheaded this program for the benefit of the talented and interested ‘BREAD scholars’, to help them study abroad. They are assisted in several ways:
1 Given guidance in GRE and TOEFL exams.
2.Help coordinate their effort in contacting universities and professors.
3. Provide career guidance in choosing a suitable specialization in college.
4. Support with initial financial help.

The Spelling Bee and the Vocabulary contests are also the brainchild of Dr. Murali Gavini. This program was begun in 1993 and in the words of Dr. Gavini “It was a unique way of improving the English vocabulary of children in this country”. In his opinion the quality of public education was not challenging enough for children to excel, thus the concept of developing a good English vocabulary at an early age as a stepping-stone to success was emphasized. To Dr. Gavini, who has single-handedly worked on these contests for many years, it provides a forum for comparing the kids to the rest of the nation. “There is a great deal to learn with nation-wide exposure”. He hopes to extend the vocabulary contest (that was started a year after the spelling bee) to younger kids also to nurture the talent at an early age. North South foundation has the unique distinction of holding a contest of this kind and it has provided a tremendous boost to its image and support for its causes.

The Regional Junior and Senior Spelling Bees are open to all children of South Asian origin who are of age 8 or younger and 12 or younger, respectively. The vocabulary contest is a word meaning contest open to children of South Asian origin who are of age 16 or younger. The focus is help children in their PSAT and SAT exams. Typically words from these exams are used in the contest. The Brain Bee and the Geography bee have also been part of the academic enhancement efforts.

This year regional contests were held in 27 centers in US. Regional winners and other participants who meet the national criterion will be invited to the National Finals, at Wong Auditorium, MIT campus, Cambridge, MA, on August 3rd & 4th. The North East chapters of North South Foundation are hosting the event with the help of AID-Boston, MIT. These celebrations become significant, as this year is the 10th anniversary of the spelling bee contests. In a stunning performance that caught national attention, North South Foundation Champions won five out of the top seven ranks at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee Finals in May, 1997 in Washington DC. The foundation has the distinction of sending some of its winners onto the Scripps Howard spelling bee contests.

The Bread role Model awards Program is the latest addition to the North South Foundation efforts to recognize individuals in India who have made an extraordinary contribution in areas that can make a difference in the development of India. These are in the areas of Agriculture/Bio tech/genetics/, medicine/health, education, rural development, entreprenuer, communications, peace endeavors, and scientificand mathematical advancement.

The foundation is funded with the generous donation of individuals and matching grants from companies wherever possible. The Foundation also conducts walkathons/bike-a-thons in each region to raise funds. Two major corporations that have participated in this venture are Pfizer and Allstate. According to Dr Ratnam Chitturi, President “If it has achieved anything during the 13 years of its life, it is because of the dedication of hundreds of volunteers both in the US and in India as well as the generous hearts of thousands of donors. The only thing they receive in return is self-satisfaction knowing that they are making a difference to someone's life. NSF overhead is less than 5 percent. Our biggest expense is our annual newsletter.”

The New England Volunteers of the North South Foundation.
Raghavendra Rao Paturi , based in Connecticut is an enthusiastic, energetic individual who has been with the foundation for more 10 years and has dedicated his time and effort to popularize the various programs in the Northeast after moving to the New England area about 3 yeas ago. He is thankful to his employer, global pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, for the encouragement to participate in community service and the financial support. He acknowledges the gratifying spontaneous support from many more like minded volunteers. “Our emphasis is primarily to stimulate learning than glorifying winning. NSF is an infrastructure, available for the community to help our children to improve their skills, recognize their talents, and nurture leadership skills. We want everyone to come forward, be part of it, and thus help others”, he says earnestly.

Dr Samit Bhattacharya, Venkat Gade, Dr. Yadagiri Pendri Dr. Prasad Chaturvedula, Nagaranjan Chevula have also been actively involved in the North South Foundation in Connecticut. Samit Bhattacharya while admitting that almost everyone has a commitment to a certain cause of their own (whether here in US or in India) and do contribute in some form or other, feels proud to be part of NSF as “NSF provides an avenue of letting people do service and volunteer efforts aimed at poor kids in India (we welcome anyone who want to help, to be a volunteer) and helping our kids here get an opportunity in volunteering & leadership efforts as well.” Mrs. Madhavi Nathan, Gaugarin Oliver are leading both the Massachusetts and New Hampshire chapters of North South Foundation and have also provided a tremendous boost to the foundation activities in the region with the help of other volunteers like Sudhakara Rao and Professor Meledith Govindan. Mrs. Raji and Venkat Subramanian; Mrs. Gayatri and Sateesh Saraswatula are leading the RI chapter activities.
Here are a group of people who are contributing to a common good, and reaching out to a range of people especially those with the least voice and power in society to overcome problems like financial deprivation and tackling them in new and hopeful ways.
For more information on the North South Foundation visit www.northsouth.org

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