EMBARGOED UNTIL 2230 ON 28 DECEMBER 2018
Sylvia Holder, founder of the education charity The Venkatraman Memorial Trust, had extra cause for celebration on her 80th birthday earlier this month: she received the news that she’d been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours.
To celebrate her 80th birthday – and now the news of the New Year’s Honour – Sylvia will be joined by almost 50 supporters of the Venkat Trust in the Indian village of Kovalam, where the Trust works, in January when they will meet the children they sponsor and see all the things they have helped make happen since 2004.
In the 14 years since Sylvia set up the Venkat Trust to provide education in the village of Kovalam, the prospects of the children of the poor south Indian fishing village near Chennai have been transformed. More than 400 of the poorest children now have sponsors to support them through their education. Of these 60 are now at university, 49 have graduated and are in good careers, a 1000 pupil High School has been built, the run down and ill equipped primary school has been completely revamped and the village now has a splendid community hall.
Before retiring to Hove, Sylvia ran a successful London PR company for over 20 years having worked previously in various parts of the world. She set up the Venkat Trust in 2004 in memory of Venkat, a child she’d met on the beach in Kovalam while there on business during the 1990s. He asked her for £10 to sponsor his year’s school fees and she continued to pay for his education through school and university. They stayed in touch over the years during which she visited him and his family. When Venkat was killed in a road accident aged 27, Sylvia returned to Kovalam and seeing the abject state of the primary school and wishing to give the village children the chance of the education Venkat had had, she set up the Venkatraman Memorial Trust.
The Trust is run in Kovalam by Janakiraman, Venkat’s older brother, assisted by a small staff who look after the building programme, sponsorships, university applications, career opportunities and pastoral care.
Although now 80, Sylvia works full time to run the UK end of the Trust’s work, including fundraising. There are no UK costs, these are all covered by the trustees and every single penny is sent to India.