Desh hits the panic button

South Asian fest is going under, but can't give specifics

Desh Pardesh has sent out a cry for help, with volunteers and staff saying the annual South Asian queer cultural festival may collapse – but they’re not totally sure of how they arrived at their problem, nor at the extent of it.

“We are in a position where we are really fighting for survival,” says executive director Fatima Amarshi.

Still, she says there is no clear idea of the deficit’s amount and she cannot give definite reasons for Desh’s financial plight until she receives information from an audit later in December.

Despite the lack of information, letters were sent out last month to the public forecasting Desh’s permanent demise unless it receives big funding.

How bad is it, really? Amarshi’s not telling. The letters indicate that Desh needs $10,000 immediately to cover operating costs for the next three months, and $50,000 in the long run.

Amarshi, who has volunteered for Desh in the past, has only been the executive director since Sep 25.

She says that the fiscal year ended in August, and the budget was discussed the next month.

Amarshi also says there was already a debt when the board of directors ran through the numbers. She says that they did act as quickly as possible given how fast everything happened.

Amarshi says that each year’s budget is different. “There’s not much we can do in terms of predicting long term situations.”

But funding problems is nothing new to Desh Pardesh, which Amarshi says has been dealing with decreasing government funding for years.

She says that grants are limited because “Desh is a grassroots [small community] organization.”

And the annual festival, which attracts about 4,000 people annually, doesn’t make a lot of money. The not-for-profit celebrated its 10th annual Intra-National Festival And Conference in June. (Desh Pardesh translates as “home away from home.”)

It also gets sponsorships, but usually from small community organizations and businesses.

But now Amarshi is targeting corporations, a no-no in the past for political reasons.

Amarshi calls the crisis is a “blessing in disguise.” She says it could redirect and revitalize Desh Pardesh’s vision.

Plans for a cultural festival for 2001 look dim. “We want to get it out that it’s very serious,” says Amarshi.

Amarshi is the only paid staff. The program director was cut. The website features outdated information from June.

Amarshi says the coming year will see a focus on fundraising, with hopes of coming back strong in 2002.

There will be community forums, donation drives and auctions, and programs such as Brick By Brick – year-round South Asian programming – will most likely be put on the backburner.

The fundraising letters are also asking for alcohol. “It’s not for our office staff,” assures Amarshi with a laugh. It’s for dinner events.


“People always think that Desh will be around,” she says, “but they don’t realize that Desh could disappear.”

There are no plans to increase the $10 annual membership fee.

On Sun, Dec 17, a community forum to answer questions about the Desh mess will be held at 2pm at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.

For more info, call (416) 340-0485. Desh is at 401 Richmond St W, #450, Toronto M5V 3A8.

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