Hove resident to celebrate 85th birthday with a day in the office

Sylvia Holder, who lives in Hove, celebrates her 85th birthday on Wednesday 6 December but she has no plans to give up work anytime soon. She tried retirement 20 years ago after selling her London PR consultancy but instead of becoming a lady that lunched, she set up a charity in India. She’s still running it full-time.
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The sudden and major change of lifestyle came about through the tragic death of Venkat, a boy Sylvia met in 1989, when he was 12 years old, on the beach at Kovalam a poor fishing village in south east India, while there on business and whose education she’d sponsored (there was no free secondary education in the village). Against all odds for such a disadvantaged boy, Venkat graduated from Madras University and had gone on to a good career when he was killed in a road accident aged 27. Sylvia was heartbroken - they’d stayed in touch throughout his school and university years and he was like her surrogate son. She resolved that all Kovalam’s children would have the same educational opportunities she’d given to Venkat and set up the Trust in his name in 2004.

From a semi-literate village with no free secondary education, Kovalam now has a reputation throughout the area for academic and sporting excellence. The Venkat Trust, in partnership with the Tamil Nadu government, has built an 850 pupil free higher secondary school from which most students go on to further education. Four hundred children from the poorest homes are sponsored through the Trust, which also pays for their university or vocational training fees. There are now hundreds of graduates, all the first in their families, who are carving out good careers and seeing an end to the poverty which blighted their families for generations.

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It is a remarkable story which Sylvia herself finds difficult to explain. “I bit off more than I could chew, knowing little about India, education or charities, but somehow, thanks to Venkat’s brother JR, who heads the team in India, and our wonderful supporters and trustees, we have succeeded in bringing education to Kovalam beyond our wildest dreams.

Sylvia Holder in India with children from the Venkat TrustSylvia Holder in India with children from the Venkat Trust
Sylvia Holder in India with children from the Venkat Trust

“And all because of a boy I met on the beach all those years ago,” she says. “Dear Venkat, you did not die in vain.”

Although Sylvia will spend much of her 85th birthday at her desk as usual, there are plans for celebrations later in the day.

More information www.venkattrust.org.uk

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