A Passage to India

URI alumna establishes school to educate India’s poor

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Laurie Sharma with students
Laurie Sharma with students from the Salvation Tree School

KINGSTON, R.I., April 16, 2018 — The two sobbing boys, naked but for a scrim of grime, wrapped their arms and legs around Laurie Rockwell Sharma ’92 and held fast. “One was maybe a year old and the other, maybe 3. And they looked up at me with their big brown eyes and they were saying something, and I didn’t know what they were saying,” Sharma recalls. “And I looked down at them and it just broke my heart.”

The year was 2006, and it was the former Portsmouth resident’s first trip to India as the new lead designer at JPC Equestrian, a company that manufactures equestrian clothing and gear. She looked to Varun “Timmy” Sharma, JPC Equestrian’s owner and her future husband, for guidance. “I looked around to see if there was a parent around caring for them. There was nobody. I remember asking Timmy, ‘What is this? Isn’t anybody doing anything about it?’ And he just looked at me and said, ‘No. This is just every day in India.’”

Laurie and Timmy Sharma
Laurie and Timmy Sharma surrounded by Salvation Tree School students

Every day in India is 20 million orphaned children begging in a country that is home to one third of the planet’s poor. Every day in India is a world in which children are pressed into service as beggars or prostitutes. Every day in India is a place where gangs maim children, or place babies in the care of toddlers, to stage more pathetic tableaus. Every day in India is a danger for a beggar child.

Every day in India was unacceptable for Laurie Sharma. In that moment, she resolved to do something for the country’s impoverished children. Twelve years and $10 million later, she is the founder of a school that is giving its poorest students a chance at a college education while simultaneously undermining India’s 2,000-year-old caste system. She is introducing Christianity into a predominantly Hindu culture. And she is laying to rest the lonely childhood of an adopted child whose search for her biological mother ended with the elder woman’s murder just weeks before the two were to reunite.

Read more of Laurie Sharma’s triumph in QuadAngles’ A Passage to India.