Washington, April 22, 2009: Sikh Human Development Foundation (SHDF) has awarded 314 scholarships to needy students in Punjab and other Northern Indian states for the academic year 2008-2009. This is the highest number of yearly scholarships in the history of the ten years' old organization, involving transfer of $ 120,000 (60 lakhs of rupees) by the Foundation. This is perhaps the largest financial grant for higher education given by any overseas NGO to Punjab. SHDF has given 1,100 scholarships since its inception in 1999. The mission of the organization is to assist meritorious and needy students to improve their access to higher professional education in disciplines like medicine, engineering, agriculture, nursing, information technology, business administration, and architecture. Last year it gave 200 scholarships and this year the number jumped to 314, a 57 percent increase in a single year. This happened largely because of the sharp increase in the number of applications from students from Northern India. The scholarship scheme has been gaining wide attention among the students from families with poor financial support and without these assistance students cannot pursue professional degree courses. SHDF Secretary General, Gajinder Singh Ahuja, said "This is a major undertaking by our organization to fulfill our commitment to support these deserving students. This has also challenged us to redouble our fund raising efforts. All of the scholarship recipients are selected from low-income families. In fact, in many cases, annual cost of studies of a student exceeds the annual family income. About 70% of the students are from rural areas with incomes of less than a dollar a day per person and half of these students are females." Amar Jit Singh Sodhi, Chairman of SHDF, said, “While reviewing and approving scholarship applications, we make sure that each candidate deserves this scholarship. It is a humbling experience to read their circumstances and their aspirations and what role this assistance plays in their lives. We sincerely hope that our donor base will continue to grow and many others will join in this worthy endeavor. Let us all make SHDF our preferred charity." Mr. Sodhi has recently visited many grass-roots institutions in Punjab and met with the scholarship recipients to make an assessment of the program. He also met the vice-chancellors of the Guru Nanak Dev University and the Punjab Agriculture University. He also visited Khadoor Sahib and educational institutions there to explore partnership possibilities with SHDF. Dr. Rajwant Singh, a founding member of SHDF, said, “Although providing 314 scholarships is substantial, the need is far greater in Punjab. According to recent governmental statistics, there are over 70,000 students from poor households who need assistance to pursue higher education. The Punjabi diaspora is yet to engage in a sizable manner in lifting people out of poverty. We will make all efforts to reach out to as many potential donors as possible to support this worthy initiative. There are thousands of students having the dream of becoming engineers, doctors and IT experts and they deserve our support.” Students must fulfill the criteria of maintaining a good grade point average, proof of admission to a recognized institution and financial need. They are required to appear for an interview and a moral exam to be eligible for the SHDF scholarship. This year, the test and interview was conducted at five different locations so that the students do not have to travel long distances and over 100 students showed up at each examination and interview center in Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Amritsar, and Faridkot and New Delhi. These examinations and all the details related to this program are facilitated by the Delhi based Nishkam Sikh Welfare Council on behalf of the SHDF. SHDF has also given scholarships to students pursuing a master’s degree course in Gurmat Sangeet in Punjabi University. Other officials of SHDF include: Surinder Singh, Harbaksh Singh Sethi and Veena Kaur Oberoi in Washington.