April 3, 2001

'Asha' Charity Benefit Finds Success at C.U.

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More than 250 people feasted on traditional Indian dishes at the semi-annual Asha Charity Dinner Saturday evening to support Asha’s various projects to ameliorate the problem of education in India.

One of the projects the dinner benefits is the Institute for Social Work which is located just north of Calcutta. The school prepares the children from the local villages and first generation literates for admission into secondary schools, with an 80 percent success rate.

“It was really interesting to see how the kids are getting help,” said Krishanu Maulik grad, who is from Calcutta and has visited the school. “I think this project and others are helping improve literacy.”

Primary education in India is free, but schools are frequently located too far from families’ homes. In the most dire situations, even the marginal income a child can contribute to a family becomes so important that families may not have the freedom to invest in a child’s education.

Founded in 1991 at the University of California at Berkeley, Asha means “hope” in several Indian languages and aims to bring hope to underprivileged children through educational opportunities. Asha-Cornell, founded in 1993, is one of 35 chapters and works with organizations in the Indian states of Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.

For Fazeela Rashid ’01 Asha treasurer, the program is a “worthy cause and one of the ways I connect with India.”

The organization provides flexible school hours for to accommodate children with classes during unconventional hours. It also provides classes for children at their workplace.

“We feel education has made a great difference in our lives and feel it is a way in which many problems such as poverty can be solved,” said Asha member Karthika Sasikumar grad.

For the past six years, the Cornell chapter has organized several fundraising events, such as two dinners each year. The organization has no administrative costs, so all proceeds go directly to the projects sponsored in India.

All of the dishes were traditional Indian dishes prepared from scratch and nearly all were vegan. The menu included: pan bhaji (bread with vegetable curry), rice dishes, nan (Indian bread), shahi paneen (cottage cheese in tomato-cream gravy), avial (South Indian dish of mixed vegetables seasoned with coconut and buttermilk), rasam (tomato soup Indian style), mango lassi (smoothie), and rasmalai (ricotta cheese in syrup).

The feast attracted a diverse group of Cornellians and Ithacans from a variety of ethnicities.

“It’s delicious, we always come,” said Ithaca resident Azucena Ortega, who has been attending the dinner for four years.

Archived article by Anastasia Handy