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Why do you travel? To see new things, eat new foods, experience new cultures? To challenge yourself, learn a new language or just have fun?

I traveled to India for many of those reasons. But the No. 1 reason was so that I could visit Asha, a community organization in New Delhi, India, and see firsthand what this inspired group is doing to improve the lives of the most impoverished people in India.

And what was the result? I saw the Taj Mahal — beautiful. Seeing an Indian tiger in the wild was thrilling. Beautiful palaces, exotic sculptures and religious burial ceremonies on the sacred Ganges River were part of the itinerary. But the images of the Asha slum I visited and the people I met there are what I think about, what I treasure from the trip.

So by now you must be wondering – what is Asha?

The connection to Napa began in 1999 when Rep. Mike Thompson and Jan Thompson visited Delhi, India. As a nurse practitioner, Jan Thompson was interested in seeing what health care was like for the urban poor. She met a young pediatrician, Dr. Kiran Martin, who had started an organization known as Asha, meaning “hope” in Hindi. As a young pediatrician from middle-class Delhi, Dr. Martin had never seen a slum until she went into one to work during a cholera crisis. After seeing the lives people led, she decided her mission was to help the slum dwellers help themselves. She trained health workers, improved sanitation, facilitated micro loans and urged the children to go to school. Today, Asha has helped more than 400,000 people, including young people who have been able to attend and graduate from universities. This was heretofore unheard of in the slums.

When the Thompsons returned to Napa, they contacted K.C. Chaudhary, a prominent Napa civil engineer and member of Kiwanis, who became involved in fundraising for Asha. Each year, Dr. Martin comes to Napa Valley for Asha Day, to raise support for her projects in India.

Having met Dr. Martin and hearing about her work, I wanted to see it for myself. In Delhi, I met women from all ages living in the Jeewan Nagar community. I met elementary students, bright eyed, learning English, eager to share the values they were learning in the Asha Community Center — such as compassion, gratitude, dignity, justice and optimism.

I also met college students, like Rekha. A diminutive, shy girl in her early 20s, she had grown up in Jeewan Nagar with minimal comforts, in a tiny home at the end of a narrow walkway. Her mother was just out of the hospital. She showed us how she studied on a double bed, in almost complete darkness. What did Rekha accomplish with Asha’s support? She graduated with honors in Sanskrit and is continuing her studies to get a masters degree with a goal of becoming a professor.

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This year, Asha Day in Napa Valley is Aug. 29, from 4-7 p.m. at Hall Winery in St. Helena. This year’s event includes a delicious Indian dinner, generously catered by Jeet Bhangoo and his staff from Aroma, a new Indian restaurant in Napa that has quickly become a favorite destination for the unique and delicious flavors of Indian cuisine. There will be wine donated by Kathryn and Craig Hall, and a silent and live auction. Bhavana Modi, a Napa teacher, will demonstrate Bollywood dancing during the evening as well.

It’s an opportunity to meet and support an amazing woman who has built an organization with purpose and dedication and great passion. To learn more about Asha, visit the website Asha-India.org. or read Dr. Martin’s blog at drkiranmartin.blogspot.wordpress.com.

To learn more about Asha Day and to get the link to register online, email ashafriends111@gmail.comor or call (707) 252-3410.

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