When Kamal Daya came to the United States after a childhood spent in poverty in Mumbai, India, he vowed that he would not forget his roots. Like countless immigrants before and since, Daya carried with him both a haunting sense of what he had left behind and a deep desire to help spare other children the deprivations he himself had suffered. After building a lucrative career as a financial planner for several years, Daya was finally in a position to put his intentions into motion.
Daya and his wife, Connie, established the Kamal and Connie Daya Fund, a donor-directed fund at the Dallas Foundation, and set about honoring the promise Daya had made to himself years before. An Ismaili Muslim, Daya retained strong ties to his home community. He enlisted the support of other Ismailis to identify the most vulnerable children in the areas north and east of Mumbai and to tell him what they needed most. What he learned was that government schools in the area were spotty at best, and that many children had to work outside the home to help support their families and couldn't attend school regularly anyway. Girls, in particular, had little opportunity to attend school at all, and most were destined for lives of poverty or, at best, domestic servitude. He concluded that traditional schools would be of little value to the poorest children of the Maharashtra district.
Daya's first gift was in 2008 to a small rural school for girls with a limited enrollment. The gift allowed the school to build a residence to house students who would come to them from the Mumbai slums. There, they would not only be educated but also cared for in a nurturing environment that allowed them to focus on their studies while retaining their family ties on weekends and vacations. Instruction was in English, fostering development of language skills that the teachers thought indispensable to social and economic success in a new India. Daya also built a modern computer laboratory with 70 PCs.
The Daya Fund has subsequently identified and supported other nontraditional schools in the poorest areas near Mumbai. In each, students are exposed for the first time in their lives to a formal study of English, to history and cultural studies, and to computer technology, opening a previously closed window to the rest of the world. Since 2008, the Dayas have contributed to the education of nearly 2,000 young people who otherwise would have had little chance to step outside their prescribed lives. They accomplished all this through total gifts that did not exceed $250,000.
And this year, half of the girls attending the school first supported by the Daya Fund five years ago took the unimaginable step of enrolling in university. Lives and communities, forever changed.