Late Ms Mina Kumar, New York, USA

Late Ms Mina Kumar (June 4 1972 - January 23, 2016), a great friend of FFEI

It has been little more than three years my friend Ms Mina Kumar passed with cancer at a very young age. At that time she was in her mid 40s. Though we were friends for more than a decade, we never met in person. I didn’t see her picture till her death, she must have seen mine as it is all over internet. I had no opportunity to see her dead body either as it was donated to a hospital in her will. When I visited her apartment in New York after her death, all I saw was her apartment, her belongings, and a few memorabilia she preserved for me with a note (some books on Dr Ambedkar and some magazines).
Our friendship began in 2006 with a one line email she sent me after reading an article on my small non-profit (Friends for Education International was Ambedkar Scholarships then) in Outlook India. Our correspondence continued with questions and answers, opinions and arguments, agreements and disagreements. She donated substantial amount for my non-profit during that time.

All our friendship was via frequent emails and phone calls (she used to call me while waiting for chemotherapy). I knew she liked my work and admires my highly opinionated point-blank messages on private and public forums. She knew I speak what comes to my mind without reservations. At times she would adamantly disagree with what I say. We agreed to disagree on several issues. We both love Dr Ambedkar and his work, love books, very concern on the situation of Dalits, and believe in education as panacea. We differ on several issues. She is a stanch atheist and I am an agnostic (but a follower of Jesus.) She is a Tamil chauvinist (she loves Tamil language to death and I used to tease her) and I am lover of English, though it was not my first or second language in school. She is also very interested in Dalit woman’s emancipation. At times, we used to talk for hours on these issues.

Born in a rich family in Tamilnadu, Mina lost her mom when she was still an infant. Her father put her in a boarding school for a while in India. Then, she did most of her education in Malaysia and moved to US as an IT professional. She lived in New York till her death. I don’t know much of the details of her family as refused to discuss it with me, but came to know that her stepmom is living in Los Angeles and siblings in US and Canada.

She was diagnosed with cancer some time in 2012 and I was one of the first persons to know about it. Though she was in great pain she used to live her full life, mostly travelling in India. She had great taste for arts, sculptures, and folk music. When I visited her apartment, I saw her collection. She was also active participant in several woman and labor organizations in New York.

I knew she likes my work, but never imagined that she would donate her estate to FFEI. To my surprise and without my knowledge, she willed her estate (bank accounts and an apartment in Manhattan, New York) to my non-profit. This I came to know after her death through a phone call from her lawyer friend. Three years after her death, FFEI is in receipt of the amount.

So far, FFEI is tiny and in existence for 16 long years. Started in 2003 as Ambedkar Scholahips with just Rs.10,000, it is rechristened and registered as Friends for Education International in 2008 in US disbursing Rs. 10,00,000+ every year depending on the donations received. It is tax exempted under 501(c)(3) in US. FFEI works among the most discriminated communities in India- Dalits and Tribals, mostly in education. FFEI believes that education is the only instrument that can change lives for better.

It survived with small donations from friends I met on internet. Our work include scholarships to Dalit students called Ambedkar Scholarships, Ambedkar Awards, Ambedkar Microloans, Ambedkar Libraries, Healing Hands (help to caste atrocity victims) and Helping Hands (help to individuals). These projects are implemented depending on the donations we receive on each head. At one point of time, FFEI operated in several states. Currently it is in operation only in Andhra and Telangana states due to lack of resources and logistics. It runs with complete transparency and with no or minimal overhead expenses. All its staff are volunteers, both in India and US.

Now, with this generous gift, FFEI’s responsibility is enhanced hundred folds to put the money in the best use possible. It has to keep the trust that Mina imposed on it and I am sure FFEI will never betray that trust.

We, at FFEI, are looking for dedicated volunteers who can help us to take our work forward. We are looking for viable ideas to wisely use this money. We are also looking for advice to multiply the money in the form of more grants and funds from funding organizations around the world.

If interested, please let me know how you can help us. We are only looking for sincere and dedicated people; not people who come, spend some time, and go.

Currently, our website is down and we are working on it. You can reach us via facebook or email ffeintl@gmail.com.
Come and join us to change lives.