The Venkatraman Memorial Trust
May 2019

 You will notice we have a new format for our Newsletter. It gives us enormous advantages, such as e-mailing to everyone at the touch of a button rather than our laborious system and not being restricted to four pages.   

Every penny donated goes to the Venkat Trust. All UK costs are met by the trustees.
Update from Sylvia Holder, Founder Trustee
I’m writing this newsletter in Kovalam where I’ve come with fellow trustee Lindsay.  It’s not a time of the year I’m usually here as it’s so hot now but we have various new projects pending which are easier to research and discuss in situ and neither of us needs any second bidding! I’ve spoilt myself by installing an air conditioner in my new office at the Janakiraman Community Hall, a short walk from the house.

A voracious globe trotter in my younger days, I’ve endured or enjoyed many different commuter journeys from the dreaded rush hour London Tube to the delight of Hong Kong’s Star Ferry and San Francisco’s cable car. But my mini commute in Kovalam has to rate with the best.
Leaving the house for our short walk, Lindsay and I are immediately assailed by mega decibel Indian music blasting from a temple in honour of one of the endless festivals in the Hindu calendar. The street is already buzzing with activity. Children are drawing water from the well for their homes before they go to school, mothers plaiting their daughters’ hair and brightly coloured Rangolis are being carefully crafted on the houses’ doorsteps to bring good luck and happiness to the inhabitants. We pass the fish market where the fishermen’s wives are selling their husbands’ overnight catch. 
Cars, motor bikes, overloaded push bikes and tuktuks dodge around the cavalcade of animals. Cows are ambling along, munching rubbish as they go (but still appear to be in very good nick), the goats are snoozing in the sunshine, the chickens, many with a clutch of chicks, trot along purposefully, joined by a gaggle of geese and a few ducks for good measure. There are lots of cats and dogs, kittens and puppies, and sometimes a monkey or two on a wall surveying the scene. (That’s close enough for me, having recently had an uninvited primate in the house. I was in the kitchen peeling a pawpaw when a large furry paw suddenly came into view – and my breakfast was gone!)  
The monkey, or one of his friends, who came to breakfast!
As we approach the short turn-off for the JR Community Hall, we can hear the Primary School children happily playing before their lessons begin. And then we’ve arrived at the Hall for another stimulating day with JR, Ali and Aarthi to discuss, ponder and plan our favourite subject – the Venkat Trust.
The Big Birthday Bash
I asked one of our loyal supporters to write her impressions of the four-day Big Birthday Bash. It will bring back memories for the 44 of you who were there and I hope the rest of you will be tempted to come another time. There’s always my 90 th !
The giant banners adorning the Janakiraman Community Hall said it all: “Happy Birthday Sylvia Mam!!” They showed a beaming Sylvia “Mam”, arms outstretched to encompass the surrounding group of laughing children in their pristine white primary school uniforms.
They set the tone for four days of celebrations in the fishing village of Kovalam – not just for Sylvia’s 80 th birthday (“80! Sylvia? Don’t be daft,” exclaimed one of the guests of the youthful hostess) but for the remarkable achievements of the Venkat Trust. 
Four of the 400 sponsored children who entertained the 44 guests. These little girls are showing off their Republic Day drawings.
And it was the children who took centre stage – literally as well as metaphorically – during the four days of festivities. They welcomed the visitors to their schools and into their homes and, with the help of their teachers, staged a series of mini-Oscar winning performances ranging from traditional Bharatanatyam Classical dance routines to a cacophony of animal noises as they belted their way through Old MacDonald had a Farm. They demonstrated their impressive yoga and acrobatic abilities, and showed off their writing, creative and chess-playing skills. And that was just for starters.
The 44 guests, made up of VMT’s sponsors and supporters including Sylvia’s family and friends, flew from Britain and Australia to take part in the celebrations.
They included an afternoon of sporting activities followed by funfair stalls and an impressive fireworks display. There were balloons and a birthday cake – a cream sponge replica of the High School – a chunk of which, as tradition demands, was forced into Sylvia’s mouth while the children cheered and clapped. 
The sponsors were deeply moved when they visited their children’s homes – many of them little more than shacks with no sanitation. In the words of one of them “It was so humbling to meet a family that has so little and who made us feel so welcome”. It was a sentiment echoed by all the guests who were able to see first hand what an enormous difference they are making by enabling the children of this impoverished village to get a good education.  

JR, Ali and Aarthi, worked tirelessly alongside the UK Trustees, Sylvia, Lindsay, Sarah, Nick and John, to ensure that everything ran to plan.
The weather was perfect for a magical birthday party on the beach next to the gently lapping Bay of Bengal, where the guests ate fish curry and danced on the sand to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
They all agreed that the visit had been an unforgettable and life-enhancing experience. New friends were made, old friends caught up with, everyone got on. “I was particularly struck by the wonderful camaraderie between everyone,” said Sylvia. 
The camaraderie was evident from the start, as can be seen at the first evening's supper in the garden of the trustees' house.
One of the sponsors summed up the feelings of all the visitors when she wrote: “It is hard to put into words quite how much those magical days in Kovalam meant to all your guests. It is still quite hard to take it all in because it had a wonderful dream-like quality in its seamless gliding from one beautiful event to the next, and it was all so very emotional in its intensity."
New Year's Honours Award
I’m very proud to say that in the New Year’s Honours List I was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for “services to education in Kovalam, India”. I consider it an award for ALL of us: JR, Ali and Aarthi in Kovalam, my UK trustees, Lindsay, Sarah, Nick and John, volunteers, and last, but very definitely not least, supporters past and present and particularly those who have loyally supported VMT for many years. Without supporters’ generosity not a book would have been bought nor a brick laid. And hundreds of children would still be trapped in poverty.   To you all I dedicate this award and thank you for helping me create a wonderful charity of which we can all be justly proud.
What Does The Venkat Trust Mean To You?
“What does the Venkat Trust mean to you?” I asked 23-year old graduate Kather Mytheen, following readers’ enjoyment of others’ responses to the same question in the last Newsletter.
He told me that the Venkat Trust had been in his life since the age of nine. Without it he would now be washing dishes, with it he is a graduate with a first class degree in Computer Engineering and an excellent job.
He was born into poverty and accepted that that’s where he would stay. His father earned a pittance as a street seller and with three small mouths to feed the family was well and truly on the breadline.
He was a pupil at the seriously dilapidated primary school where teaching was of a minimum standard and the literacy rate was only 60%. He remembers that he was nine years old when the Venkat Trust arrived in the village and the school was transformed into an award winner with new classrooms, experienced teachers, books, uniforms, desks, even a sports ground. Most of all, he said, it became a stimulating and happy school where the pupils thrived, himself included. “I started to see that learning was fun and I was particularly keen on improving my English. I started reading English books and watching English TV programmes.”
If there had been no VMT, there wouldn’t have been a high school in the village for him to go on to. As it was, he was among the first students to join the brand new High School with all its wonderful facilities.
Meanwhile, he had been sponsored. “My childhood sponsorship was a godsend as it brought much needed money into our struggling family,” he said. “Another sponsor generously paid for my university fees and thanks to her I enjoyed the proudest moment of my life – being presented with my first class degree in Computer Engineering.
“The Venkat Trust has watched over me every step of the way, always encouraging and recently helping me make the big leap from village boy to a career in the city. Even now they are helping me to improve my spoken English: I have a weekly one-hour Skype session with one of the UK supporters”.
Now Kather Mytheen has his first job with Valeo, a front-runner in the technology and manufacture of driverless cars. “I love it” he says “I’m working on the software to enable the car to identify obstacles, other cars and pedestrians. It’s fun to be involved with a high tech company where my skills can be of use for cars of the future.” 
“What does the Venkat Trust mean to me?” he asks himself. “My family lived in a one roomed house with no water or toilet. Now we have a two bedroomed house with a plumbed in bathroom. We can afford to go to the cinema and not wonder where the next meal is coming from. When I marry and have children they will hopefully never know what it’s like to live in desperate poverty. I think that says it all”. Indeed it does.  
Charity Balls, Marathons, Piggy Banks, Boxing....
and the rest. Thank you to all our supporters who raised money for VMT. The indefatigable Uber Mummies once again ran the Brighton half marathon, followed by a couple of heroes who took on the full marathon. Their magnificent total will buy several university scholarships. Likewise, Expat Academy’s Charity Ball has given more children sponsorship throughout their childhood and university years. Trustee John boxed his boots off (and won) to give Kovalam children a better life. As have the Government’s fuel allowances sent on to us, piggy bank proceeds, the savings made from not sending Christmas cards and other fund raising activities. Bravo and our grateful thanks to you all. 
And Please Note...
PO Box Number:   Mail being sent to our PO Box is dwindling. Not, happily, due to a decline in our fortunes (au contraire) but because most donations are now made online (Venkat Trust, sort code 40-24-10, account number 11349406) or through our website ( ) and communication tends to be by e-mail. Cheques and letters by post are still more than welcome but in future please send to the VMT office: 12 Westbourne Gardens, Hove BN3 5PP. The PO Box will be in operation until October.

Missing parcels :   With the odd exception, cards, letters and presents sent to sponsored children in Kovalam used to arrive safely but unfortunately there has recently been a spate of parcels going missing. As they go from pillar to post in India before arriving in Kovalam, it’s impossible to track down those responsible. I’m afraid we need to recommend that in future parcels are sent by Royal Mail’s Tracking Service. The labelling alone should be enough to keep light fingers away.
About Us
When the Venkat Trust was set up in 2004, the only free education for the children of Kovalam, a poor fishing village near Chennai, was a dilapidated primary school. It has since been transformed into a village of educational excellence, offering opportunities for all its children and young people to realise their potential and see an end to the poverty which has blighted their families for generations.
DONATIONS are very gratefully received and are always put to excellent use in Kovalam. They can be sent by cheque to 12 Westbourne Gardens, Hove BN3 5PP, online to Venkat Trust, sort code 40-24-10, account number 11349406 or through our website, . Sponsorship enquiries should be sent to [email protected]
Special Thanks
My special thanks to Georgina Dunn who has designed our newsletters for many years. This will now be taken over by Expat Academy but her help will still be invaluable for other print matter. Thanks too to Sandra Huggett for her brilliant administrative help.
The Venkatraman Memorial Trust is a registered charity No.1104363
12 Westbourne Gardens, Hove BN3 5PP
| Tel: 01273 719362
| e-mail:  [email protected] | website:
UK Trustees: Sylvia Holder, Lindsay Swan, Sarah Da Silva, Nick Goslett, John Whelan
Kovalam Trustees: Janakiraman (JR), M. Ali