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Acting globally

Davisites reach out to help impoverished children in India.

Special to the Enterprise
Davis Enterprise, Tuesday March 24, 2009 (page A1)

Davis residents' donations to children and families of southern India are making a difference in their lives, says Koen Van Rompay, founder of the Davis-based nonprofit organization Sahaya International. The organization, which was created to help empower women and children in India, will hold its annual meeting at 3 pm Sunday at International House, Davis, 10 College Park.

“In these times where we get overwhelmed with lots of bad economic news, it is refreshing to hear some stories of hope and achievement, and feel part of it,” Van Rompay says. 

Ramin with childrenRamin Yazdani of Davis gets to know a widow and her children during a visit in January to southern India. Upon hearing of the family's financial plight, Yazdani and his wife Rebecca, a teacher, decided to sponsor both children. Rebecca is pictured on the webcam in the background.

“Over the past year, many Davis residents have been incredibly kind and generous and have given us their support via contributions and acts of volunteerism,” adds Van Rompay, who returned recently from his annual trip to India, where Sahaya has been collaborating with the local organization READ to run a variety of programs to help and empower rural communities. Van Rompay and Sahaya volunteer Ramin Yazdani of Davis will give a slide presentation describing their visit beginning at 3 p.m.

“Many of our friends may have forgotten about the miscellaneous small seeds of social work that we have been planting together during previous years,” said Van Rompay.  “Therefore, I’d like to update them on our efforts and show them new photographs that will highlight how our efforts have been growing exponentially. This is one way of saying thank you!”

Van Rompay, an HIV/AIDS researcher at UCDavis, was eager to see many of the HIV-infected children and adults whom he met before.  “On my previous trips, some of the kids looked very malnourished and had symptoms of AIDS, and so I was worried that they would not survive much longer,” he says.
 “But we did our best to help them get access to good doctors, medications and better nutrition. Now on this trip I felt some tears welling up in my eyes when I saw many of these kids again, looking a lot healthier and stronger, and expressing smiles of happiness and gratitude. Such moments remind me that I receive so much happiness and satisfaction from this work that it totally outweighs the efforts that I put in it. These children are growing up fast, and all of that is thanks to the many people in Davis who have been donating money directly to Sahaya’s orphan sponsorship program or through our fundraiser events, such as the Hope Walks of last October. ”

Also speaking on Sunday afternoon will be Yazdani,  an environmental engineer in Davis,  who is a Sahaya board member. He traveled to India in January with Van Rompay.  "It was fantastic to see all the progress being made in our villages including the two schools - the Mother Teresa School and the Jawahar Matriculation School - that have been built thanks to our fundraising events of the past years, and that are together now educating almost 200 children,” Yazdani says.

For Yazdani, this trip to India was extra special because he had been sponsoring four orphan children via Sahaya.
“While I had been receiving letters from them, meeting these children for the first time was one of the most rewarding moments in my life,” Yazdani said.  “I realized that my monthly $30 contributions are making a huge difference for these children, and are not only fulfilling their basic needs in life - food, clothing, tuition - but give them hope and strength.
“ I decided to sponsor two more children while I was there, and feel very blessed with my extended family,” he says.
Currently, more than 140 orphan children are supported by people in Davis.

While in India,  Yazdani also taught a solar cooker workshop to the field staff. “They said it opened their eyes to this form of environmentally clean technology, and some of them are now using the solar cooker at home,” Yazdani says.

 In addition, as part of his volunteering work he visited many waste management sites in several cities in India including Mumbai.

“He has stories of children and families that will definitely remind you of the movie Slumdog Millionaire,” Van Rompay says. “But he also speaks to the possibilities that we can explore on how we can help such children.”

“Learn how your donations to Sahaya have been making a difference, or come to learn how you can get involved,” he adds.

 For more information, e-mail or visit

solar cooking
Ramin Yazdani, a Sahaya International board member (kneeling, third from left) shows the staff at READ - a local organization in southern India that runs programs to help and empower rural communities - how to use a solar cooker. He and Sahaya founder Koen Van Rompay, an AIDS researcher at UC Davis, will show slides and talk about their recent visit to India at the nonprofit's annual meeting Sunday afternoon.

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