Written by CEO, John Urpi

India has more billionaires than any other country outside the U.S. and China, according to an annual list of the world’s richest individuals, so why should we help them? The reason is that they also have one third of the world’s poorest people too, living in overcrowded slums.

We’ve been supporting the Kamla Foundation for several years and I’m really pleased that we chose this particular charity. Making a donation to a charity is an act of faith, especially when the charity is huge and you can’t actually see where your money is going or how it’s being spent.

We wanted to have the visibility to see the difference our support made, which is why we chose the Kamla Foundation.

The Kamla Foundation is a very small charity that was set up by a Bhupendra Mistry (Bhups), in memory of his late mother who came to live in the UK from her home in Gujarat. Their strapline is “Changing Minds – Changing Lives”.

Through their work and intervention they help people to sustainably change their lives for the future. They don’t just give people money!

I’ve been lucky enough to travel out to India to see the work they do first hand, along with another of our Directors Steve Farthing. This blog is a snapshot of our adventure.

Successful operations carried out by volunteer doctors and nurses

We first flew out to India’s Delhi airport, and then took another flight to Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat.

Ahmedabad is an enormous city, stretching out along the Sabarmati River. It was fascinating to see the maze of old buildings next to modern office blocks, slums and shacks all being swamped by traffic, crowding, noise, pollution and the extremes of wealth and poverty.

The locals have mastered dodging past whizzing bikes, cars, rickshaws, cows, elephants and camels but we didn’t even try to cross the road. Traffic jams and constantly beeping horns start at 7am and go on till midnight.

We started by visiting one of Kamla’s partners, the Medlife Foundation and its founder, Dr Shyam Sheth. They carry out operations to correct cleft lips and palates, mostly for children and babies. We visited their clinic and hospital to see and experience the important work that they’re doing.

When we arrived at the hospital we were introduced to a young boy and his father, whose operation is captured in the photo to the right. Like most of the patients we met, he’d travelled for over a day to get here from his home in a rural town. The little boy was incredibly brave, walking right past me into the theatre and then helped up onto the table without a word. The amazing thing is that Dr Sheth, and his team of medical volunteers, all give their time freely to carry out these operations, each lasting about 40 minutes and costing on average £150.

We visited many of the recovering patients (pictured left). In this picture you can see a pink cloth hanging underneath a bed, which we later found out had a sleeping baby inside - a great example of the resourcefulness of these people.

I asked Dr Sheth about the children he operates on and the effect it has on their lives. Here are some of the problems he described to me.

  • Babies born with a cleft palate and/or cleft lip struggle to feed because they can’t suck and a lot of the milk that they manage to get goes out through their nose.
  • This leads to other complications and problems with their development.

The problems don’t stop there.

  • The children then struggle to learn to speak and also bear the stigma and prejudice associated with being different because of their language skills and facial disfigurement.
  • There are the other obvious problems, such as bullying and being isolated, that children who look and sound different face in any society.
  • They also face other issues as they get older, such as the burden on their family due to them being unable to get married, get a job and to carry on a normal life.

These operations really do fulfil Kamla’s ethos of changing minds and lives, to make a sustainable difference.

Visiting towns and villages to find and help patients

Over the weekend we ventured into the Gujarat countryside, with the Medlife Foundation’s Camp Team. We quickly realised that this was nothing to do with camping. The Medlife Foundation Camps have been designed to reach out to the towns and villages to find the babies and children that have a Cleft Lip and/or Palate.

The whole area is leafleted and notices are posted to announce that the Camp will be held and that all are welcome to bring their babies or children, in some cases even adults.

The Camp was held in a small Temple of one of the hundreds of Hindu Gods that are worshipped in India. It started early in the morning and ran until all potential patients had been seen and assessed by the team.

It was impressive to see the process they used to screen and select their next intake of patients. The team carefully select those in the most urgent need, assessing family background, using the local representatives to make sure that the poorest are highlighted and helped with their travelling and subsistence. One of the questions they use to screen people is…

“What can you do to help someone in need?”
Their mission is clear, even at this level – “if we help you, who can you help?”

On a personal note, the little boy in the picture above nearly broke my heart when I saw him ambling away from the Camp with his Dad later that day. He’d obviously put on his best second or third hand shirt, jacket and trousers and a pair of old red and blue trainers that were several sizes too big, creating an image that I’ll never forget.

I could tell you so much more about the great work being done, but I hope this helps highlight it a little. It’s impossible to really understand the plight of these children and I’ve probably only just scraped the surface, but it was an amazing experience and one that I’d certainly recommend.

Do you think we should we be supporting people in a country that has the world’s third largest number of billionaires?

I do.

Find out more

You can find out more about the Kamla Foundation and the projects they support by visiting http://www.kamlafoundation.org. If you can make a donation or an offer to support them, I know you will find it a worthwhile and rewarding experience.