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  who's who >> Irfan Merchant >> Raahat & GIFT


Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Irfan Merchant, resident of Perry Cross Road, is an example of that.

Merchant, the founder of two NGOs, has dedicated the last 32 years of his life to social service and education.

Says Merchant, "It is only through education that a country can progress. Education must be accessible to everybody and must reach everywhere — the slum, the chawl and the rural areas.

I honestly feel that education is the key to a better India."

It is this thought that gave birth to Raahat, his first NGO, in 1992. Today Raahat sponsors the education of 350 children and also runs the Shaheen Girl's High School in Bharat Nagar, Bandra (E).

As Merchant explains, "The local municipal school has classes only upto Class 7 and most students drop out after that.

We started Shaheen High School to fill this gap." When the school started in 1992 in a small hut with just two teachers and 57 students, no one had thought that some day it would have its own building, 450 students and a handful of success stories.

Merchant strongly believes in the 'power of one'. As he reiterates, "nothing is impossible". This belief gave way to the Greater India Friendship Trust (GIFT), which came into being in 1995.

The aim of GIFT is to offer educational assistance to the orphan-child with a special focus on the girl child.

GIFT sponsors children under the Total Educational Sponsorship Scheme (TESS). This scheme takes care of all the educational needs of the child like school fees, bus fees, textbooks, notebooks, tuition fees and school uniform.

A donor can sponsor one child under TESS for Rs 3,000 annually. Today GIFT has approximately 100 children under its wing.

GIFT puts up a cultural programme Sangam, every year, where school children from different milieus participate. Children from English, Marathi and Urdu medium schools participate in the programme.

Some special schools like the Spastic Society of India is participating this year. "However, Sangam is not a competition and every child who comes on stage gets a gift and a certificate of participation," says Merchant.