By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Steiner Ranch resident Animon Jose has begun another year of fundraising with his charitable project, Giving Portraits, to help less fortunate in India while helping local families with their family Christmas card photos.
Every year in December, Jose, a computer programmer by trade, rents a local photography studio and invites anyone to sign up for family or individual photos. In lieu of payment, Jose asks for donations of any amount, which he then donates to a charity in India.
Jose and his wife, Suja, and their daughter Anupriya and son Pranav all help with Giving Portraits. Even now with his daughter away at university studying biomedical engineering and his son a busy sophomore at Vandegrift, Giving Portraits is a family affair.
“(The kids) are doing this with me. Every year they help me with marketing. They help me with the shoot itself,” said Jose.
Jose embraces the opportunity to teach his children and community about the crushing poverty that exists in the world. “These are people who have been in this never-ending cycle of poverty for generations. This is not, you know, because they didn’t work, they didn’t get out of poverty. They have been working (themselves) to the bone.”
The project sprang in 2014 from Jose’s passion for photography and a desire to support charitable organizations in India, where he grew up. “I said (to myself) I have a skill which I can use to fundraise and contribute to a charity.”
Jose vetted his first and subsequent charities through former classmates and friends with connections to various projects. The first was a home for adults with developmental disabilities.
“One of my old classmates, he became a Catholic priest and he contacted me and said… he’s running this house and anything you can do will be great,” said Jose. That first year, he was able to raise over $2,000 for the group home.
The following year, a friend in Houston referred him to a spinal cord injury rehabilitation facility that provides wheelchair bound individual with the training to live productive and independent lives.
The third year, said Jose, “I went to a college reunion back in India and found out that one of my college mates is running a nongovernmental organization geared towards educating teachers,” especially to work better with students living in extreme poverty.
The NGO’s goal was to reach, “people living in the slum areas… highly crowded, highly (impoverished)…They probably earn less than $2 a day,” described Jose.
But it was Jose’s wife who decided which project their next year’s efforts would support, and all thanks to a Netflix documentary series, “called Daughters of Destiny,” said Jose. “(Suja) was very impressed by the work they were doing and she said, this year we’re fundraising for this.”
The Shanti Bhavan school was founded by an Indian-American entrepreneur, Abraham George, who returned to India with the hope of helping the poorest of India’s children to rise from poverty.
A public education is available to anyone in India but, according to Jose, does not provide the rigorous standards of a private education. “It’s almost like showing (students) the taste of food and showing that there is a big buffet out there, but it’s not accessible. You can’t eat from that, right. You just get a taste of it.”
George’s solution when founding Shanti Bhavan in 1997 was to every year find 12 boys and 12 girls (all 4-year-olds) from all over India and to provide them with a pre-K to high school education in Bangalore, after which students attend university.
“They are being trained in such a way that they’re given the same opportunity as an affluent family would give to their own kids,” explained Jose. “Education, along with a lot of other things, is a key to success, is the key to social upward mobility.”
Besides providing a free education, the school emphasizes the importance of students maintaining a connection with home.
“(George) doesn’t want the kids to have complete isolation from their (home) living environment,” said Jose. “So he made this rule saying that, okay, kids will live and study here, but for every vacation they’ll go back, live with their families.” In this way students can best learn the challenges facing their communities and direct their studies toward solving those problems.
Still, said Jose, “It’s a tough, tough thing to do, for a 4-year-old to be separated from their parents, right? But that’s the sacrifice that you make.”
Jose explains that it costs approximately $1,500 a year for each student to live and study at Shanti Bhavan. In 2017, he was able to raise enough with Giving Portraits to sponsor two students.
“This year I’m planning to up the ante,” said Jose. “I’m aiming for four kids. So that’s about $6,000.” His first studio session was December 1, during which families already pledged over $1,300.
Shanti Bhavan is more than a school for the students lucky enough to attend it. said Jose, “It takes a few people to go someplace and start earning money and then the chain reaction stops. That in itself can lift people out of poverty.”
To schedule studio time with Jose during his two remaining sessions Dec. 15 or 16, email email@example.com.
Jose encourages anyone who needs family or individual portraits to sign up. “You’re getting pictures which you can use for your Christmas cards… plus the satisfaction that you’re supporting a cause.”