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Honour for Indian American who feeds 2,000 slum kids

May 24, 2012 20:17 IST

Sheela Murthy, founder, president, and managing attorney of the Baltimore County, Maryland-based Murthy Law Firm, will be honoured by the Children's Guild with its 2012 Sadie Award for her philanthropy and humanitarianism.

She will be honoured at the Cabaret for Kids fundraising event April 14 in Hunt Valley, Maryland, US.

The event will be for the benefit of special needs students and adolescents who are difficult to educate due to autism, multiple disabilities and trauma.

The Children's Guild is part of The Children's Guild Institute, and includes special needs schools in Baltimore County and Prince George's County. It also operates three group homes, a treatment foster care program and an outpatient mental health programme in Baltimore and Anne Arundel County public schools.

The Cabaret for Kids events will also feature a musical production, Bangalore to Baltimore: the Sharing of the American Dream, about the transformative effect of Murthy's philosophy of life on the disadvantaged and the immigrant population.

Besides practicing immigration law, Murthy is also the key person behind the Murthy-Nayak Foundation, a non-profit non-governmental organisation that seeks to help with children's and women's health and educational needs in India and the United States, supports programs that assist immigrants, and supports disaster relief efforts.

Less than two years ago, Murthy was honoured as Philanthropist of the Year by the United Way of Central Maryland for her $1 million gift to the United Way, a large portion of the gift marked to go to India.

Earlier, Murthy had been judged Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young for the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Apparently, this was the first time that a person was both philanthropist and the entrepreneur of the year in any region.

Murthy, a Baltimore resident since 1989 and former co-chair of United Way's Women's Leadership Council, told that the Sadie Award was "especially meaningful," because not only was it the first time that an Indian American or Asian American was receiving this award, "it's also the first time a woman has been nominated singly to receive this award.

Earlier, some couples have sometimes been nominated, but never a woman by herself before. It has such a special significance because the focus of the award is only for work to help alleviate the lot of children.

They (the award committee) were apparently very impressed because not only am I the chair of the board for the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, with an invitation to join the Girl Scouts USA board, but the fact that we feed and support 2,000 slum children in India, in Bengaluru."

When she won the United Way award, she had told that she had specifically wanted part of her contribution to be for a project for slum children in the Chennakeshava School in Indiranagar, Bengaluru.

"There are about 1,800 kids and the school offers meals to the students as an incentive for them to attend school," she had said.

"Because of the mid-day meal scheme through the Akshaya Patra Foundation, they get lunch, but these kids are starving when they come to school -- the parents don't have money to give them breakfast. So, we provide the cereals, the milk, the breakfast. Then we give the ones who don't have money for uniform, uniforms, tuition, and scholarships and transportation for those who have to walk 5 miles each way without chappals (slippers) to come to school."

"When I think back to my own story," she added, "all of this has special meaning because my father came from a very, very poor home. He was one of 13 children, sharing one room.

He studied real hard under a street light at night and came 10th ranked out of 10,000 children getting into engineering college in Karnataka.

He brought himself and his family out of poverty. And throughout my growing up as child, he would say to me, 'It's a curse and a crime if somebody who has money does not share it with other people.'

Although I was brought up in India as Hindu, because my father was in the Indian army, all our friends were either Christians or Muslim or Sikhs or Hindus and the secularism and the neutrality and the caring about helping human beings and treating them as human beings was uppermost in our minds."

Baroda-born Murthy, an alumna of Stella Maris College in Chennai, University of Bangalore's College of Law and the Harvard Law School, said she goes back to India about three times a year.

"We go back mainly to do charity work," she explained. "So, besides just writing checks, which are easier to do, we actually go and work on the field -- we go and teach in the schools, I hand out food to the children, I read to the kids."

Image: Sheela Murthy at a school for slum children in Bengaluru


Aziz Haniffa