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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Concert tour raises $250,000 for India's disabled poor

Vegesna Foundation, the only institute of its kind for complete rehabilitation of extremely poor and handicapped children of India, raised more than $250,000 during its whirlwind fund-raising tour in 33 US cities.The concert tour titled 'Ghantasala Aradhanotsvaalu' (to commemorate the 85th birth anniversary of the legendary Telugu singer, the late Ghantasala), began in Atlanta on Sept 23 and ended in Cleveland on Dec 15.

Well known singer "Gayaka Siromani" G.V Pabhakar and internationally reputed multi-language Houstonian singer "Gayaka Ratna" Mani Sastry performed in all the cities. Vegesna's humanitarian services resonated well with over 6000 people who donated about $250,000 from all over the US. This entire nationwide musical extravaganza designed as Vegesna fund raiser was conceived and organized by Houston-based Dr. Raju Vanguri, Hon. Executive Director, of the Foundation.Essentially an arts patron, Vamsee Ramaraju established Vegesna Foundation in 1988 with the help of a few NRI friends from New York and New Jersey area.

"We started with a handful of children with severe disabilities such as missing limbs and legs, in a small rental facility. Our goal was to offer complete rehabilitation including medical treatment, surgical corrections and post-operative care," Ramaraju explains.

"We found that while there are a lot of NGOs and even Governmental bodies to help orphans and poor children, there was nothing out there in all of India that we know of to take exclusive care of children who are not only very poor, but are also physically handicapped, mentally retarded, hearing impaired or blind." Ramaraju, who was in Houston last week, adds, "We pick up these children from bus-stands, trains, villages, at door steps of temples and village huts.

It is painful to know that most of them are made professional beggars by their own parents." The Foundation shelters more than 400 kids in its facilities, offering food, clothes, separate dormitories for girls and boys, free food and clothes, education up to 10th grade, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, regular services of orthopedic surgeon, daily medical check up, surgical corrections, supply of calipers and repairs, vocational training in tailoring, embroidery, printing & dyeing, music, yoga, computer learning.All the expenses are met by generous donations, primarily from NRIs.

"Unfortunately," says Ramaraju, "Government of India has severely curtailed all funding since 2003 except for special schools such as for mentally retarded, visually impaired or hearing & speech impaired kids and that too with a lot of strings attached. We are proud of the fact that several of our kids are now enrolled in to medical and engineering colleges and well on their way to becoming productive citizens, in spite of being disadvantaged physically and economically. But for Vegesna, I am afraid that they would still be begging on the streets."

Over the last two decades, Vegesna Foundation has expanded its services vertically and horizontally, with help from NRI donors. Recently, it established a vocational college for poor girls from villages to train them as physical therapists, teachers, computer programmers and other income generating skills. "But, there is always a financial need because our operating budget is about $100,000 per year to pay for food, staff salaries, clothes, books, medical treatment & equipment costs and maintenance," says Ramaraju.

"Our goal is to establish a corpus fund of about $1.5 million to be maintained in a fixed deposit and use the interest to pay for operating expenses and expansion. We are currently evaluating possibilities of setting up facilities in other cities and other states of India." Meanwhile, Dr. Vanguri who organized the US fundraising concert tour said, "Our goal is to raise about $1million in the next year or two from generous donors, corporations, and charitable foundations that are concerned about the welfare of India's destitute children who are physically or mentally handicapped.

We are seeking Grand Patrons ($10,000), Grand Benefactors ($5,000), Patrons ($1,000). The "Adopt A Child" program with $250 per child per year to offer free food, education, clothes and medical treatment has become very popular with many donors. And all donations are tax-deductible in USA.

And I am very sure that our community will continue to respond well for Vegesna's dedicated humanitarian service. Ramaraju, who has won several awards and recognition for his humanitarian services says of his Foundation, "As long as I live, I will take care of any number of such children. But, it is my dream that this foundation should thrive long after I am gone."


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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