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Lokvani Talks To Chand Pasha

Ranjani Saigal

Chand Pasha Shaik along with his wife Hameeda Shaik are founders of the BigHelp Foundation which supports education for the under priviledged in India. Some of the students they support have entered IIT. A software engineer by profession, Shaik works at IBM. He has a MBA from Babson college and lives with wife and two wonderful children thirteen year old  Haseef and eleven year old Sana in Franklin.

He spoke to Lokvani about the Big Help organization.

1. What brought you to the US? What is your professional background?

Like many other fellow Indians, I came to USA, the land of opportunities in search of my career growth as a software Engineer in 1998. I have been living in Boston area since 1999 and did my MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA. I am currently employed with IBM.

2. What motivated you to start BigHelp foundation?

There are several motivating factors including my parents and elder brother. But let me tell you one incident that happened 30 years ago… It was my first day in 6th grade when I notice one of my friend Sreenivas from 5th grade did not join 6th grade. After the school I directly went to Sreenivas’ home to enquire why he did not come to the school. He told me that his father passed away during the summer vacation and then he was responsible for earning the bread for his family. Being financially very poor, with couple of younger siblings and mother unable to work, Sreenivas had no choice but go to construction work to feed his family. I was moved by the fact that 5th grader had to take the entire responsibility of the family because no one was there to take care of them. By the time I reached 8th grade 5 of my friends dropped out of school either due to few of the girls got married at that young age or few others unable afford to continue their schooling like Sreenivas.  By the time I completed 10th grade almost 50% were dropped out and did not join the college. My concern to this situation continues to grow but I was helpless.

Thanks to my parents who worked hard and provided good education to me and my siblings and us taught good values to grow as responsible citizens.  After I settle down in a decent job in USA I started thinking of doing something to help the children like Sreenivas, but I could not find any organization that was transparent in their activities and accountable to report back to donors on how their donations were being spent. I realized lots of NRIs were looking for opportunities to help their motherland, provided they get a trusted avenue to route their funds for the right cause. So I decided to start an organization with lots of transparency to fill this gap and I consulted my childhood friends who came forward to help me start a formal organization to support children back home in July 2002 leading to start Bighelp. Last but not least my wife’s unconditional support is invaluable in making this happen.

3. What have been the big achievements of BigHelp so far?

Started with sponsoring 20 children and 5 schools in 2002, our activities have been expanded to 343 children and 120 public schools in 2010. Few of the big achievements include some of our sponsoring students getting admission in IIIT as well as Engineering and getting jobs in military as well as settle as software engineers. We also expanded our service to support schools that are catering education to special needs children in 2007. In several cases we were very successful convincing the parents to send their girl children to school and continue their college education instead of getting them married at young age.

4. Looks like you need lot of people for administration and run projects in India. Do you have many employees to handle this?

Bighelp is run by volunteers in both USA and India except couple of employees to perform accounting and clerical job in India. Our major resources are deployed at project locations as we want to closely work with children and schools to be more effective and all of them are volunteers. It is not hard to find dedicated volunteers in India as lots of people are looking for opportunity to serve the needy, but it is hard to make them believe that we are genuine. First they get  suspicious and surprise to know why someone from outside of their village come to help them without any hidden agenda, but they quickly collaborate with us when they see our commitment to the betterment of their own people and then become our valuable resources. The quality of volunteers exceeds the quality of employees because we can have highly qualified people work with us as volunteers for no cost.  Use of volunteers at every possible level keeps our administrative expenses below 5%.
5. What is your vision for the future of BigHelp?

Since 2002 Bighelp has touched the lives of thousands of children and we are very much encouraged by the support we have been getting from donors and volunteers.  The growth has been steady every year and our focus is more on quality of our programs. We are targeting to have at least one project in every state of India by 2020 and help thousands of underprivileged children of looking for the help. Through the benevolent arms of Bighelp and its supporters, we aim to eradicate the cruel clutches in India to bring light in to the heart of darkness and hope for the literate India.

6. How have been so successful in making the BigHelp event comparable to large events like Independence Day and Republic day?

Thanks for the complement but we are no where comparable to any large events like Independence Day or republic day celebrated by IAGB and other prominent organizations in New England area. We are still a tiny organization in USA and trying to reach many philanthropists who are looking for a right avenue. I am encouraged by the response that we received for our 8th annual event on Jan 8th and hope for more support in coming years. The key for our steady growth is the quality of our service, transparency and accountability to all the donations we receive. For example, in our website you can find the details of all children being sponsored through Bighelp by every donor.

7. You seem to have the power to draw very dedicated volunteers. What is the secret to that draw?

Friends and volunteers are the key resources to drive more volunteers. If I am successful in making one friend believe in my organization, he/she will help couple more people believe in it. The word of mouth is our power. The secret is, Indians are naturally kind to the humanity and our volunteers and donors are confident that their efforts will bring a positive change in someone’s life through Bighelp; hence they do not hesitate to go an extra mile and extend their help.

8. Any message for our readers?

Illiteracy is the root of the poverty as well as many other problems in India. We as NRIs collectively have the power to change the current situation in the lives of those children in poverty. They need our support and each one of us has the potential to make respective contribution and be a catalyst to bring a socio and economic change in India by providing good education to our future generation.  We do not have to be rich or achieve financial freedom or wait until we retire to help the people suffering in the poverty. Every time is the right time when it comes to reaching out to a needy.

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1.A great job April 13, 2011Shariff Gora 
2.A Marvelous and Heartwarming Story January 22, 2011Marcy Sheremetta 
3.What a Great Story! January 21, 2011M. Govindan 

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