January 10th - 15th 2008
Meeting girl pupils at Dhilwan Village School
Paying homage at The Golden Temple Amritsar
A report by the Chairman of the Loomba Trust about Cherie's recent visit to India
As President of the Loomba Trust Cherie undertook a 5 day visit to India in January 2008 to highlight the plight of poor widows and their children. Cherie has been actively involved with The Loomba Trust since it was established in 1997 in the UK. The purpose of her visit was to spend time with these underprivileged children and their struggling mothers whom the Trust is assisting in India, and to raise awarenessof t heir needs. Mrs Blair also promoted the declaration of an International Widows Day on 23 June by the United Nations to draw global attention on the problems and concerns faced by widows. all over the World.
The Loomba Trust currently educates over one hundred children of poor widows in each of the 29 states in India - a total of more than 3,600 students - through its scholarships, which are guaranteed for a period of five years. These students are selected without any consideration for their religion, caste or gender. The Trust aims to create awareness of the plight of widows and to provide help for them and their families. The Trust has designated June 23 as International Widows Day as a focus for sustained international action to alleviate the plight of widows worldwide. The Trust is currently supporting projects in South Africa, Kenya, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh and will extend its support to Nepal and Uganda this year.
On her maiden visit to Mumbai, Cherie accompanied a group of underprivileged children together with their widowed mothers on a visit to the famous Bollywood Studios. They were able to see the set of 'Aladdin' in Film City and met some of the stars. She also gave gifts to the children who are all beneficiaries of the Loomba Trust scholarships.
Later in the evening, the Priyadarshini Academy honoured Mrs Blair with a memento for her humanitarian work. In her speech, she announced enhanced cooperation between The Loomba Trust and the Priyadarshini Academy in assisting widows and their children. The dinner organized by the Priyadarshini Academy also honoured Mr Raj Loomba, Lord Dholakia and Mrs Veena Loomba for their contribution to the Trust. Mr Jayantorao Patil, Hon Minister for Finance and Planning of Maharashtra was the Chief Guest and Mr Suresh Prabhu; M.P. was the Guest of Honour. Other honoured guests included The Sheriff of Mumbai, Mr Burman of Dabur, actor Poonam Dhillon and actor Nagma, among others.
From Mumbai, Mrs Blair and her party travelled to Chandigarh to meet the Chief Minister for Punjab, Mr Prakash Singh Badal, and some of his senior Ministers. On behalf of The Loomba Trust, she signed an agreement with the Punjab Government to renovate, refurbish and provide sanitation and drinking water for a school in Dhilwan Village, near Kapurthala, at a cost of Rupees ten million - half of this to be met by The Loomba Trust and the other half by the Punjab Government. The school will be renamed Shri Jagiri Lal Loomba Memorial School in memory of the late father of Mr Raj Loomba. Raj Loomba was born in this village and later migrated to Britain where he became a successful businessman. In the evening, the Punjab Chief Minister hosted a dinner at his residence in honour of Mrs Blair and her party.
Early next morning, Mrs Blair and her entourage set off for Dhilwan Village where she was warmly welcomed by the local leaders, the staff and the students of the school. Mrs Blair toured the school, met the students and gave special attention to the ones sponsored by The Loomba Trust. She learnt of the problems of their widowed mothers and how their lives had changed after assistance from The Loomba Trust. The students greeted her joyously with typical Punjabi folk songs and dances and invited Mrs Blair and Mrs Veena Loomba to join in with the singing and dancing.
Later, Cherie travelled to Amritsar to pay homage at the Golden temple, the holiest temple for the Sikhs. This visit was the first time that she had visited this holy shrine. The Akali Dal took note of her visit and honoured her.
On her final day Cherie travelled to New Delhi for a conference: 'Bharat Nirman (Development of India) Through Corporate Social Responsibility: Empowering Women and Educating Children in India'. "How can an Indian widow become an asset instead of a liability?" was the core concern of this conference addressed by Shri Vayalar Ravi, the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, as the Chief Guest and presided over by the British High Commissioner Sir Richard Stagg at FICCI Federation House. Among other dignitaries present were Lord Dholakia, Sir Mark Tully, Mr Dinsda, representatives of UNICEF, other NGOs and social activists.
At this event, Mrs Blair met 50 school students sponsored by The Loomba Trust, their widowed mothers and some of their teachers. A dossier was launched at this event by the main guests. This dossier highlights the situation of widows around the world and advocates the United Nations to declare 23 June as 'International Widows Day.' After the formal speeches, Mrs Blair distributed gifts and spent time tlaking to the participants. In the afternoon, she visited the Bahai Temple, the Catholic Church and the Akshardham Temple in New Delhi before returning home the next day.
The visit recieved a lot of media attention which has helped to increase awareness of the serious hardships faced by over 33 million widows in India and how The Loomba Trust is actively involved in assisting them. It also gave renewed impetus to the work of the Trust as it tackles the massive problems of empowering widows and educating their children.
From The Loomba Trust