More than 200 people attended the Diwali charity lunch banquet hosted by Silicon Valley based SAI Global Mission (SGM), a non-profit organization that offers free health care, education and nutrition, and also runs free pediatric cardiac hospitals for underprivileged in India.
The banquet, attended by several other non-profits and community people was held early this month in Milpitas, California.
SGM was founded by Arvind Thiagarajan, founder & CEO of HD Medical Inc and inventor of the Visual Stethoscope that has helped to detect cardiac murmurs and defects, He told indica his dream is to have children cardiac hospitals across India.
Thiagarajan and his wife Dr Shelly Gupta, who is executive director of SGM, said the idea for the organization came about after they met a 70-year-old farmer in Andhra Pradesh who had high blood pressure and suffered from diabetes. His daily meal was rice led to diabetes, said Thiagarajan, who, like his wife, is not a doctor by profession though he has worked in health care for years.
The couple started SGM to help poor farmers and others who cannot afford health care, hosting their first camp with help from local doctors on October 2, Gandhi’s birthday, in Thaiyur in Chennai in 2006.
Today SGM hosts weekly camps, providing free health care and food services to over 600,000 people in more than 200 villages in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.
Asked what motivates him, Thiagarajan said, “It’s the whole group of people.”
He then revised that when he went on: “My motivation is from my mentor, Dr Abdul Kalam (Dr A P J Abdul Kalam is former president of India and a scientist).”
Thiagarajan said Dr Kalam’s view was that beyond passion and passion and good intentions action was also necessary.
“We took action to make a difference and it has really expanded beyond our own belief,” Thiagarajan said, adding, “We also started looking at how science and technology can contribute to social advancement and so started the heart hospital.”
Thiagarajan runs two Sri Satya Sai Sanjeevani hospitals dealing with pediatric cardiac problems. One in Raipur in Chhattisgarh state and another is in Palwal in Haryana, not far from Delhi. A third is to be soon inaugurated in Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra.
He said SGM set up the hospitals after the medical camps showed a need for accessible heart surgery, given that many children were dying of congenital heart disease.
In India, 300,000 children born every year have CHD, and the cost of surgery is prohibitive, given that open heart surgery can cost about $5,000.
“We have offered over 6,500 free surgeries,” Thiagarajan said.
According to Gupta, “We have helped babies as young as 10 days old. Parents come from all over because this is their only last hope to save their child. He [Arvind] is passionate about his work, and it’s so wonderful to see these children getting an opportunity to see life due to these hospital [when you earlier were sure] this child is going to die because you don’t have fund to help it.”
She said SGM also run residential based school from grade six to pre-university levels. It has 5,000 students enrolled across 19 campuses, 30 educational institutions in 14 districts in Karnataka, and one school in Telangana.
SGM also offers free daily breakfast for over 120,000 children at 1,600 centers in five countries. The program is expected to cover 500,000 children in 2019. It tried to set up village camps in parts of Africa but were discouraged by the local mafias.
In India, SGM started by offering free food and medical care in two villages. Then, recognizing that there was no infrastructure, set about making sure good water and education were also available.
Gupta who advocates for girls being educated, pointed out that a literate girl can transform her family. She said that local government schools do not stop students from dropping out – to work as laborers in the case of boys or, in the case of the girls, to get married early and often end up victims of domestic abuse.
The residential schools also offer students an opportunity for further education and gain undergraduate degrees. According to Gupta, many of these children become teachers themselves.
SGM plans to expand the rural services to more than 1,000 villages in the next 1,000 days.