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Pratham Boston And TASA Present Penn Masala

Meena Sundaram

The Cohen Auditorium at Tufts University was the venue of a concert by Penn Masala on Saturday, February 9, 2008 to benefit Pratham USA, which is the US chapter of Pratham. Tufts association of South Asians (TASA) supported this event.

The fund-raising event on February 9th was attended by more than 400 people mostly students and enthusiastic music fans. Pratham is India’s foremost NGO focused on eradicating illiteracy and thus poverty by providing education skills to under-privileged children. It was created in Mumbai, India in the slums of Dharavi in 1994 with the support of UNICEF. Pratham’s mission is “Every child in school and learning well”.

60 million children in India are unable to read, write or do basic Math even though 93% are enrolled in schools. The ASER (Annual Survey of Education Report) was started in 2005 and the most recent 2007 report surveyed 16,000 villages, 700,000 children and 13,000 schools.

This data has enabled Pratham and the government to identify solutions and improve quality of education with innovative programs with further validation of their effectiveness in follow-up surveys.

Pratham’s programs cover 21 states in India and include 150-175,000 volunteers. They have embarked on a nationwide campaign called Read India whose goal is to ensure that children aged 6-14 learn to read write and do math by the end of 2009. The Read India campaign aims to target these children through partnership with schools, local and state governments using accelerated learning techniques, some of them demonstrating results in as little as 6-8 weeks.

We spoke with Mallika Singh, who works for Pratham in India and gave us an overview. “Pratham keeps costs low by using existing facilities and not building immovable assets. We are also focusing on child labor issues with the help of the council for vulnerable children on rescuing and providing shelters for children from rural areas sent to work in the cities or sending them home if their families are able to support them. We have also set up Pratham libraries and publish literature including fairly-priced book for children for our programs.” On the recent grant from Google she said, “ACER has received support from Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google in the form of a $2 million grant which will help us create the ACER institute to assess and analyze data and expand the survey”.

The evening began with a vigorous bhangra performance by Tufts Bhangra. This was followed by Penn Masala, a well-known South Asian ACapella group whose 12 members regaled the audience in their first set with a bunch of western tunes artfully combined with popular Bollywood hits.

 The talented group rocked the audience that included a number of loyal fans and an alumnus currently at TUFTS (Indranil Guha) who did a great rendition of Sting’s “Desert Rose”. The performance was crisp, well choreographed and incredibly synchronized with singers and percussionists seamlessly weaving in and out. Highlights included “Mere mehboob mere sanam”, “Roobaroo/ where the streets have no name” and “Vande Mataram”.

“We are a dynamic group at the University of Pennsylvania”, said Bharat Moudgil, “As our members graduate, we audition new members”. When I complimented his incredible singing style and smooth voice, he smiled shyly. “I have no formal musical training. I guess it comes from watching too many Hindi movies”!!

Special mention must be made of Ankit Shah with his incredible voice and Ameya Phadke who was the lead percussionist, and had a mean set of pipes to boot!

Vikas Taneja and Suchi Bansal, leads of the Boston chapter of Pratham presented an overview of Pratham’s projects and goals aided by a short film on the subject. They appealed to the community in Boston to donate generously to Pratham. They outlined the goals of Pratham Boston as increasing awareness of education issues in India in the New England area, raising funds and building a community of volunteers.

Please check out www.prathamusa.org to learn about programs in the Boston area in 2008  and www.pratham.org to learn more about Pratham and donate to this exemplary cause. Do check out Penn masala at www.pennmasala.com

Meena Sundaram is a cardiologist and music buff. She is a student of Hindustani music under the tutelage of Shri Warren Senders. She learns Bhangra, works with the musical group Bangalore and watches Hindi movies in her spare time.

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Pratham Boston Team

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