Retired air force squadron leader in search of a few good Canadians to support his army fighting poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy in India.
By Fabian Dawson
As India celebrates its 72nd Independence Day, the headlines boasting the country’s emerging economic prowess, don’t mean much to Prem Kumar Khullar.
“What’s the point of being rich, if you can’t help the poor,” asks Khullar, a retired Indian air force squadron leader, who leads a small army fighting poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy in India.
The International Monetary Fund this month said India’s economy is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies—accounting for about 15 percent of global growth. India, with around 1.34 billion inhabitants, has become the world’s sixth-biggest economy, pushing France into seventh place, according to the World Bank. Khullar, however, points to a different set of numbers.
“Over the next few years there will be 100 million people living in slums in India without drinking water, toilets or a roof over their heads…some 700 million people in 623,000 villages live in abject poverty, many unable to send their kids to school or afford to see a doctor…One woman dies every five minutes giving birth…every third newborn is underweight…some 12 million kids aged between 6 and 14 work as child labourers,” the soft-spoken philanthropist told the South Asian Post.
Khullar, founder of ABLE Charities in India, deals with the people behind these numbers every day. For nearly a quarter of a century, Khullar and his ABLE Charities have been operating near Faridabad in Haryana, a predominantly rural state in India. The flock of needy comes mainly from the 63 slums around Faridabad with an estimated population of about 300,000 people living in about 50,000 squalid shelters.
“Our mission is to improve the quality of life for people living in the slums in general, with a specific focus on assisting orphans, widows and their children,” said Khullar, who is in Vancouver to drum up donations for his efforts. Khullar’s saga of service and compassion began in 1993 in a 150 square feet mini-hospital, 75kms from Delhi, just off the road to the Taj Mahal city of Agra. Today, thanks to local and international benefactors, the ABLE Charitable Hospital is 50,000 square feet, 100 bed hospital that conducts over 700 major general surgeries annually. The hospital serves over 25,000 patients a year, many of whom turn up with horrible complications due to malnutrition, neglect and backyard interventions by village midwives.
“Many of those seeking our help have cleft lips, congenital heart diseases, polio affected physical deformities, and eye problems,” said Khullar. The non-profit organization with branches in the UK, US and soon in Canada also provides free education to about 1,400 orphans, children of widows and underprivileged children living in the slums of Faridabad. “Many of the poor won’t let the kids out of the slums to go to school because they need them to work hauling bricks or herding animals…By setting up the schools in the slums using abandoned buildings or unused places of worship, we have better success,” said Khullar. “Our target is to operate 50 schools in the slums with 3,000 children.”
Khullar has also established an unlimited medical insurance program for 550 widows and last year opened ABLE’s Home of Hope – an orphanage for 30 girls. Relentless in his pursuit of financial support, Khullar spends his government pension travelling around the world in search of benefactors and donations. In B.C., Khullar’s son, Kundan, is working with his dad to establish Able Canada as a conduit for Canadians to donate or volunteer their services.
“Anyone and everyone can help…we are looking for doctors and medical students who can donate their time, money for medical machines and yes the $1 a month to send one kid in the slum to school for one month,” said Khullar, who has been dubbed the Father Theresa of Faridabad. But the octogenarian will have none of that comparison.
“I am a professional beggar,” said Khullar as he vowed to continue his odyssey to help India’s poorest of the poor. His latest mission is to raise funds for a kidney dialysis machine. “I am hoping someone in Canada can help me realize this dream,” said Khullar, adding “you can help me build new lives.”
How you can help
In addition to donations, ABLE is also looking for volunteers to coach children in life skills and soft skills. The ABLE Internship Program also provides opportunities for students to gain experience in their field, determine if they have an interest in a particular career, network, or gain school/college/university credits.