In a Time of Coronavirus, a Story of Love

In a Time of Coronavirus, a Story of Love

April 23, 2020 | Author: Lavina Melwani, co-founder and board member of Children’s Hope India

Children’s Hope India & the Power of Giving Back

What’s the price of a face mask?

It is priceless.

In a world where supply and demand rules and the relentless powerful coronavirus is devastating the world, a mask becomes a shield and armor, a chance to protect and salvage lives. Imagine a gift of 2000 masks to a hard-pressed hospital in Jodhpur for an overwhelmed community.

To tell you this full story, I will flashback 27 years ago when a group of New York working women decided to step outside their professional lives and create something larger than themselves. I was a New York journalist writing for several media outlets when I got a call from my friend Dr. Dina Pahlajani, who is a noted and well-loved pediatrician with Northwell Health in Long Island.

Along with a handful of other women we brainstormed and founded a grassroots organization which we named Children’s Hope India. Each of us put in our own seed money, a modest $200 each. We took heady pleasure in building the scaffolding and structure of something new and unknown, something which may not even succeed.

None of us were experts from the nonprofit world. For two decades we struggled, nurtured and grew the organization out of a genuine passion, holding creative fundraisers, cold-calling major corporations and recruiting the Indian community for an urgent priority: education of vulnerable children.

(Children supported by CHI projects)

Our first project was Bal Asha, an orphanage in Mumbai, and as our circle of donors and supporters grew, so did our projects in India. Our nine dedicated board members are all volunteers – we take frequent trips to India to check out the various projects which are focused on the nurturing of the whole child, balancing all the needs from health to education to vocational training.

Two decades of organizing events in New York in order to fund projects in India finally paid off with over 20 projects spread from Delhi to Mumbai to Kolkata and Chennai. CHI currently has Special Consultative Status with The Economic And Social Council of the United Nations. We finally hired staff though we still pay for our own travel and other expenses, with all funds going to our projects.

We had created our own community-based educational model in Delhi called CH Prayas in partnership with Prayas, where we imparted nonformal learning, remedial learning, healthcare, vocational training and performance art to the children of the most vulnerable migrant workers in slum communities.

In order to get all age groups involved in supporting CHI, we created CH2 for young professionals who support the organization by hosting their own events for initiatives like solar power for a school in rural Maharashtra and eye surgeries for children with visual abnormalities.

There’s also CH3  which involves high school students in mentoring and raising funds to send the children of homeless populations in New York to summer camp. For me, one of the big thrills was when my own teenaged grandson Tyler traveled to India to work with children in our projects, teaching them English and art. It is truly generational!

As education became the anchor and mantra of  CHI communities, we founded our first school in Bhopal, The CHI Girls School in collaboration with Jeev Sewa Sansthan (JSS),  Since then CHI has funded several schools in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Jammu and Chennai . We also have a mobile school in Delhi which goes to children who cannot come to school, as well as two pre-schools. A few years back we started an India chapter to oversee our projects, and  in 2020 we’ve appointed a dynamic New York executive director, Anuja Khemka, to oversee all aspects of CHI.

Two years ago we encountered a truly needy migrant community in Jodhpur, recent Hindu refugees who had fled from religious persecution in Sindh in Pakistan. In this refugee camp they were housed in thatched huts in the wilderness and had no electricity and no income – and few dreams.

When we visited Jodhpur and saw the dire needs of this 3000-strong community which seemed shell-shocked and lost, especially the young women, we knew we had to help construct a new life for them. CHI opened a learning center for the children in collaboration with our partner UJAS ( Universal Just Action Society)  . We also funded a van which could drive the children to the distant public school so they no longer needed to walk 4 kilometers every day.

(Young women in the Jodhpur community)

CHI had planned to start a tailoring center to provide a living for the women in this community. When the coronavirus outbreak struck India and masks became the equivalent of gold, it seemed the women of this community had found their calling. Most of them were adept at stitching – and had nothing to stitch.

Dina Pahlajani sent them mask-making videos from New York and UJAS provided sewing machines and helped solicit clients. Meanwhile, CHI has also turned to the students of The Children’s Hope Girl School and their mothers in Bhopal to motivate them to sew 1500 masks for the hospitals in that city providing them them with the material and sewing machines. The mask project is being taken up in our other centers to help combat the COVID crisis, and being also donated to vulnerable communities. Over 10,000 masks have been made by these women and girls in our centers in Jodhpur, Delhi and Bhopal.

(Women making masks at Anganwa camp in Jodhpur)

A new vocation and self-affirmation for these women – and life-protecting masks for the community during this time of coronavirus!

And so it is that we come back to the question – what is the price of a face mask?

It is priceless because it really is about gratitude and giving back. It is about women helping women, the strong nurturing the weak to become stronger and reciprocate. It is about strength and empowerment at a time when everything looks bleak and hopeless.

At a time when jobs are being lost and health and food are endangered, CHI has started donating food rations to vulnerable families in the Anganwa refugee camp. As we all go through a difficult time with life at a standstill, won’t you join us in supporting these hard-working, struggling families to carve out a future? 

About Children’s Hope India


Over 300,000 children served – 20 plus projects – 27 years of service

CHI COVID-19 Emergency Relief by the Numbers – and Still Counting!

To date, CHI has provided essential resources to support the health of some of the most vulnerable children and their families in India and New York.

10,000 Masks

2000 Gloves

3030 Hygiene Kits

240 Minutes of Meditation

275,565 nutritional meals * and counting

2850 immune boosters.




Lavina Melwani is a New York based journalist who writes for and The Week, and blogs at Lassi with Lavina. She is a co-founder and board member of Children’s Hope India.