The News International Not-For-Profit Award
Commended: The Shrimati Pushpa Wato Loomba Memorial Trust
Raj Loomba, who runs the fashion knitwear business Rinku of London Plc, supplying leading independent shops and stores, was one of seven children brought up by their widowed mother in the Punjab in India. Pushpa Wati Loomba devoted her time and her inheritance from her husband to her children's education. In her memory, Raj Loomba and his wife Veena decided to set up a trust to help India's many poor widows and their children. Tony Blair spoke at the trust's launch.
The 33 million widows in India have little opportunity of remarriage. Most were married before they had experience of paid employment; so, once widowed, they have little earning power and struggle to keep their families together. Their children are under pressure to leave school early and work for poor pay in unsafe conditions to contribute to the family income. Girls often have to do domestic work. Many children beg.
Raj Loomba and the other trustees decided that the way to help such youngsters, and their mothers, was to provide for them £10 a month for five years, to cover their school expenses and upkeep and to contribute to the family's needs. Immediately after the inauguration of the trust in India by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, it started its first programme. A fund set up by the Loomba family has provided grants for 100 children from 70 families in the state of Delhi.
Children aged 13 were selected, the age at which they might otherwise drop out of school. To qualify, their widowed mothers must have incomes below 1,500 rupees (about £23) a month. Those who were to take part in Delhi were chosen from 40 schools by the National Cadet Corps, which organises youth activities in many Indian schools and colleages. The NCC took account of aptitude and potential. Religion, caste and gender are disregarded. One boy selected said his mother earned a meagre living from sewing to provide for a family of five.
The next to benefit are a different group: 100 children aged five to 12 orphaned by the cyclone which hit Orissa on India's east coast in 1999. A local voluntary organisation is arranging education, nutrition, medical care, advice and recreation for them. The money has come from the British Indian Diwali of the Century banquet in November 1999 at which Princess Anne was guest of honour. It raised £70,000.
Raj Loomba was a guest on Virgin Atlantic's inaugural flight to Delhi in July 2000; and the Pushpa Loomba Trust received £95,000 from the Change for Children Appeal collections on all Virgin flights worldwide from July to September. This will pay for five years' education for a hundred children of widows in the Punjab. A further £90,000 raised at the London First Diwali 2000 Dinner in October will educate over 100 children in Gujarat.
The trust aims to extend its work throughout India. The annual dinner of the British Guild of Travel Writers raised over £4,000. Following an appeal by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic on BBC Radio 4 in December, over a hundred people have made pledges to support the education of children of poor widows in India.
The Pushpa Loomba Trust also wants to be an advocate for widows and to show how they and their families could be helped through enhanced literacy, skills training and small businesses.
Shirimati Pushpa Wati Loomba Memorial Trust, 39-40 Eastcastle Street, London W1N 7PE UK
Tel: 020 7631 3397 Fax: 020 7631 3347