The Stirring: It all started nearly five decades ago when a teenage medical student in Guntur, a large town in Andhra Pradesh state in India, was touched by the sights of misery and deprivation being experienced by people in poverty around where he lived. This stirring in Satya Prasad Koneru led to the first step in organizing Praja Seva Samithi (People Service Society) along with his fellow medical students and like-minded friends and peers. It was 1967. A sapling has been planted.
It took a year to gather enough spare cash to register the organization as a society for helping the poor and from there the concept took concrete shape in setting up a medical centre for slum dwellers, book-banks and mid-day meals for poor students, and a rehabilitation centre for visually impaired and the disabled. The young man’s inspiration to serve and to achieve impressed many around him and it encouraged him to take it up as his life’s mission.
HEAL UK: In 1976, Dr Prasad travelled from India to the UK to hone his skills further as a medical practitioner. After completing further training in the UK through the National Health Service, he set up a family health practice in 1981, in one of the UK’s most deprived areas. With his concern for the deprived and a strong desire ‘to make a difference’, Dr Prasad decided to deliver his services as a doctor to the people that would benefit from them the most. He recognised that people’s needs are the same, regardless of the specific country that they live in and so continued his original mission in the UK – and it is here that the first HEAL (Health and Education for All) charity organisation was formed and was registered in 1992. Several empathetic volunteers started giving him a helping hand to take this movement forward.
HEAL India: Next, Dr Prasad wanted to create a base to continue his original work back in his home country and thus HEAL India was established in 1993. The first project was started with the donation of his family home ‘Ankitha’ in Guntur to HEAL India to establish an orphanage. This first orphanage was home to 26 children for about five years, until the first custom-built HEAL children’s village was created in a nearby village. Today this village is a home and a health-care centre for 225 children, accompanied by 16 house mothers. HEAL USA (2008), HEAL Australia (2014), and HEAL Spain (2015) were established in order to widen the HEAL family.
The aim was to spread awareness and encourage more people to be involved in this laudable effort. There was need to widen the sphere of contributors and offer opportunities to philanthropic minds to give a meaning to their concerns, develop further resources and donations to support the work of HEAL. Today, HEAL is an international charity, registered in each of these individual countries with tax exemption status. It is unique from other large charities in that HEAL is entirely run by volunteers. This means that there are NO administration costs and so the money received from donors goes directly towards the projects.
The Mission: HEAL is a family and believes that all mankind has a right to seek equal opportunities. HEAL is committed to providing health and education to all children in their care with the strong belief that education of the children is the best tool for them and their families to escape from the ‘poverty trap’. Maintaining good health is a prerequisite to achieve any goal. When a child is taken into a HEAL project, he or she joins the HEAL family – surrounded by nurturing love and care – the same as one would give to one’s own children. All HEAL children will continue to be supported until they are able to support themselves in society. HEAL currently has well over 1,000 children in its care and aspires to raise this number to 10,000 children by 2020.
Projects across the state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana:
HEAL Children’s Village, near Guntur, is currently home to 225 children and providing healthcare and education to all these children;
HEAL-Makineni Health Centre, also at Chodavaram, Guntur, provides healthcare for 300 children of local farmers and quarry labourers;
HEAL School at Bhadrachalam, in Telangana State provides school fees, uniforms, books and lunches for
300 of the most needy children at this remote rural school;
HEAL-supported ASNRAZP School in Vijayawada takes care of 350 underprivileged children living in a deprived area;
HEAL Paradise Village, near Gannavaram Airport, of Vijayawada City, is the most recent and ambitious project to date.
HEAL Paradise Village is built on a 27-acre site next to the village of Thotapalli at a scenic location adjoining a picturesque lake, surrounded by hillocks, paddy fields and gardens. This will be home and a holistic learning centre for 1,000 children – orphans and the most underprivileged and uncared-for children from across India. In addition, the Village will be a homogenous residential community with staff and volunteers living together with children.
Construction of Phase I is due for completion by the end of December 2015 and Phase II by the end of December 2016. Once completed, the Village will create a safe haven for the most vulnerable children of India to be nurtured to their full potential under the loving care of the HEAL family. We are also committed to establishing a self-sustaining and mutually beneficial community with the best available methods to minimize resource usage and reduce and recycle waste. The Village will comprise of four distinct kinds of spaces:
Phase I of the Village is substantially completed and by December 2015 it will be entirely in place. This phase includes learning and living spaces for boys and girls from pre-school through to secondary school, as well as specialised learning spaces for vocation-oriented skills development and an institute for the visually impaired.
The first building to reach completion was the school building which has been put to good use since June 2014, concurrent with the academic year. This building facilitates a variety of different learning environments besides the spacious and airy classrooms, which include a computer lab, a hobby and craft centre, science labs and a virtual classroom and open-air atrium, classrooms/performing arts areas.
Also completed is the Hans boys dormitory, supported by The Hans Foundation. This building provides accommodation for 414 boys in the first and second floors. After the soft launch of the school wing in the 2014/15 academic year, 60 children were housed there along with their house masters and this number continues to grow. On the ground floor is the campus dining hall which can seat up to 750 children and staff at a time. This space can also be used flexibly as an assembly hall or as an examination hall. A modern kitchen supported by solar power and hygienic cooking facilities is an adjunct to the dining hall.
The Rajeswari girls dormitory, also supported by The Hans Foundation, is getting ready for use soon. It will be home to 526 girls as well as providing living space for 14 female staff and volunteers. The design of this building also includes flexible learning and recreational spaces.
The completed institute for the visually impaired will be a learning space for the schooling and vocational training of 100 visually impaired children. Facilities will include a low vision lab, braille computer lab and printing facility and sensory gardens.
A skill development centre, which is also ready for use, will provide annual vocation-related training to 900 students in 10 different courses, such as electrical installations, plumbing, welding, carpentry, computer repairs, electronics repairs, tailoring and computerised embroidery, para-medical and artificial limb technician training.
The primary and preschool centre, expected to be ready by September 2015, includes facility for 160 children below five years of age to provide modern pre-school education, in addition to primary education learning spaces. Further, there will be living accommodation for 60 orphaned children under five years and for a caring mother for every 10 children.
Phase II of the Village, planned for completion by December 2016, will include healing spaces such as the health centre and artificial limb centre, as well as more living spaces for staff and guests, an indoor sports stadium for the children and an administration building.
HEAL Paradise Village envisages:
* Eco-friendly practices
* Solar power energy
* Bio waste converted to fuel
* Organic food farming
* Grey and rain water harvesting
* Industrial waste used for construction
Backing the journey: Donors, sponsors, volunteers, supporters, media, governmental support, friends and well-wishers – all are backing this journey. The merit is in the good deed – backing it is the innate good sense in every human being. HEAL is helped at every step by this spirit and with this confidence, HEAL looks forward to the future on this road ahead with enthusiasm and a sense of fulfilment.
The Journey of HEAL has so far been a great rewarding experience, not only for the inspired founder, but also to the numerous volunteers, contributors and beneficiaries. All the trials and tribulations met on this journey vanish when one looks at the beaming faces of the young and promising children who are the most valued members of this unique family of HEAL. What remains and sustains is the happy feeling that this Journey is full of lasting rewards for all.
What lies ahead on this journey?
HEAL Paradise Village takes shape as a model to be replicated in many rural settings of India, bringing hope and opportunity to the several bright and sharp-witted but indigent children of our society waiting to be discovered – ‘the diamonds in the rough’.
HEAL is inspired by the warm and ready response from members of the caring society who are keen to be a part of this journey. Setting its sights higher, HEAL now plans to establish a dedicated HEAL university to serve and to motivate the orphaned and underprivileged children to reach their full potential; not merely escape from the ‘poverty trap’ but excel in what they do and set an example to all. Each one, in his and her turn, will lead and ‘light a thousand lamps’. The Journey is just beginning…