LIFE

A friend of India in Geneva

Pamela Walsh  

HER WIDE grin, her colourful salwar kameez and her hand glittering with bangles make it known that she is a friend of India.

In fact, Pamela Walsh is the founder of Friends of India, a Geneva-based charity that funds several development projects in Tamil Nadu.

Now in Chennai, for three weeks to monitor the projects, Ms. Walsh has already raised 200,000 Swiss Francs since 2001. Eight-year-olds from private schools, bankers, and corporate donors make donations. ``I was in Geneva for 35 years and I know this enormous network of people. I send them a newsletter of what we need in India and people adopt the projects they want.''

So far, Ms. Walsh and her friends have supported several schools with a toilet, a partition or tables and chairs, built water tanks at Kovalam, near here, bought mosquito nets for an orphanage in Salem and built a vocational training centre at Medavakkam, near here.

``I used to run a language school in Geneva. At our 25th year party, we had games and choirs and we made Rs. 17 lakhs that we sent here to India.

The money has made three classrooms for girl students in schools at Katpadi and Vellore,'' she says.

By tying up with the Tamil Nadu Foundation and the Society for the Uplift of the Economically Backward, Ms. Walsh gets to see where her money goes. ``We keep our donors updated on their projects.''

The web site, friends-of-india.net, carries the details: One Swiss Franc — nine meals for one child; 25 Swiss Francs — extra tuition for one child for one year; 35 Swiss Francs — an overhead classroom fan; 30,000 Swiss Francs for a 20-seater bus for an orphanage at Salem.

``All the money I have ever raised is though word-of-mouth,'' says this former French teacher who has been honoured by the British Queen with a distinction of Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

And thanks to Ms. Walsh's annual visits to Tamil Nadu, she can roll off a gracious ``Ungal Varaverpukku Nanri'' as well the next person.

``I like to help in a big and a small way. This time, I met a woman who lost her husband in the tsunami.

Her husband's body has still not been found. This widow lives in a small room with her children and mother-in-law. I was moved to see her. I couldn't bear to stay in the room for long. So we are providing for the education for her children.''

Ms. Walsh is a savvy businesswoman too.

Forty per cent of what she makes selling pashmenas, jewellery and jute bags goes back to Friends of India.

``I am going to start a new fashion trend when I go back,'' she says standing up to show off her short kurta that, she says, is ``Western enough.''

She is all set to make Indian clothes the toast of Switzerland. ``I'm going to have a party and model them myself,'' she says with panache.

By Dhanya Parthasarathy

Photo: N. Balaji