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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Indian consultant orchestrates Sichuan earthquake relief effort


Staff writer

This summer, near the first anniversary of the massive, deadly earthquake that hit China's Sichuan Province, Somasundaram Soma, an Indian management consultant in Tokyo, plans to hold a charity concert in the capital to raise funds to build schools for children in the devastated region.

News photo
Proactive: Soma Somasundaram, chairman of Professionals for Children (PfC), is surrounded by schoolchildren during a visit to China's Sichuan Province earlier this year. COURTESY OF PFC

Soma recently launched Professionals for Children, a support group for kids in need around the world. Supported by colleagues and friends, he wishes to help out people struggling without proper infrastructure and to demonstrate to the world that Japan can contribute to needy people through their activities.

Born in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Soma first came to Japan as a computer software engineer.

Since 2001, he has been with business risk management consulting firm KPMG Business Assurance Co., where he currently holds the post of senior managing director.

In Hong Kong on business a few days after the deadly China earthquake last May, Soma saw photos in the local newspapers depicting the plight of the disaster-struck children.

According to news reports, about 10,000 children died and 7,000 schools collapsed either partially or fully in the temblor.

A frequent visitor to China, Soma felt it was his duty to help out.

According to the Indian philosophy he learned as a child, "The smallest help provided in a timely manner to someone in need, is larger than the universe."

"In the wake of such a historical earthquake, I cannot simply forget it and do nothing," he said.

A great believer in education, Soma said, "I would like to do something that will help the victims over the long term."

However, he couldn't do it all by himself.

Soma started calling on professionals, including accountants, lawyers, financial experts, musicians, painters and others, to join in his project to help educate the children of Sichuan.

About 20 people agreed and Professionals for Children was launched in March, with Soma as its head.

Estimating school construction costs of around ¥20 million to ¥30 million, the members started calling on corporations and individuals in their spare time to donate.

To further the goal, the members also decided to hold a charity concert around August, hoping to draw 2,000 people. Several Chinese artists are expected to perform and Sichuan children are also expected to attend the event, Soma said.

Despite their busy schedules, the members are looking for sponsors and arranging the venue. Soma is heading the preparations.

"Everyone has been doing various things," he said, lauding the members' selfless support. "It's like I'm the conductor of an orchestra, able to create something useful only with the help of a number of participants."

Not only giving money to the devastated region, PfC is also considering providing a variety of professional assistance to the project on a voluntary basis.

Experts on quake-proof architecture are expected to check the construction while educators oversee teacher training and other school management. Accountants will ensure the whole process is transparent.

While assisting children who have lost their parents, or suffered debilitating injuries, is difficult now, it is possible to do something to help alleviate suffering, Soma said.

"Since schools are places where children can go for many years to come, there is still some time left for us to help them build," he said.

Through this project, "we want to convey the feelings of the people of Japan to China at this time."



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