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'Many people have a negative impression about Indians'

By George Joseph
September 20, 2009 16:10 IST
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While traveling through India on the Palace on Wheels, Rachel Varghese, president of the Houston based Indo-American Charity Foundation, witnessed the affection that Indians have for the Gandhi family. Varghese, a social worker, compares the Gandhi family to the Kennedy clan in the United States.

The foundation has been serving the Greater Houston area by raising funds from the Indian community and corporations for programmes in education, healthcare, children and family issues. The foundation also deals with issues like hunger and homelessness.

"After Hurricane Ike, it was my responsibility to raise funds for the programmes we support in education, healthcare, children and family issues. Recovery from Hurricane Ike was then compounded by changes in the financial environment, new laws preventing pharmaceutical companies from donating, the fall of Stanford Financial and other institutions," she told

"The corporate support we used to get earlier just hasn't been available. In January, I had left an invitation with our friends in India, requesting for an interesting speaker who might address the gala of the foundation (which is held to raise funds for its various projects). Meanwhile, I tried various avenues here in the US as well, including attending the South Asian Journalists Association convention in July," Varghese explained.

She entrusted a person in India with the task of getting a member of the Gandhi family to address the foundation's gala, who wrote to various members of the family, including Congress leader and Member of Parliament Rahul Gandhi.  In August, he received a reply from Varun Ganhi's office, indicating the Bharatiya Janata Party leader's willingness to participate in the event.

"When I heard from our friend in India that Gandhi's staff would talk to me, it was August. I made calls to our donors, our longtime supporters to see what they thought. Almost unanimously, the response was 'bring him...we do not agree with his speeches but we think he is an interesting draw'", Varghese recalls.

She added, "It generated interest. It also brought criticism. Messages attacking me poured in afterwards." .

Varghese, daughter of an Orthodox Church priest, moved to the US when she was seven years old. She is the wife of Dr Fremu Varghese, who is a donor for several organisations.

Varghese admits that she is not interested in politics and doesn't know fully about the political situation in India. "What we looked at was raising money to help people in need. Unlike other organisations, we collect money and spend it here only," she said.

"Many people from the mainstream have a negative impression about Indians. We are trying to change that with whatever is possible by us," she added.

The foundation was started 21 years ago and has members from all communities, she said.

Last year, the Indo-American Charity Foundation collected almost $275,000 and gave it to the local organisations, including three Indian organisations.

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George Joseph