By RI Director Shekhar Mehta
More often than not, each of my days starts with meeting one or more children who need to get heart surgeries done.
Their mothers and fathers wait for nine months for their bundle of joy to arrive but soon after the child is born they realize that the child has got a hole in the heart. And this creates holes in their hearts and their pockets. Their yearly income is not more than US$600 and the expense for a heart surgery is $3,000. It would take them five years to spend all that they earned to try and save the child, but who knows if the child will survive or not.
Fortunately I got initiated into the project of “Saving Little Hearts.” Over the last five years we were able to save more than 1,500 children’s lives by performing heart surgery, many coming from across the border from Pakistan. But one such instance made me realize it was far more than only saving their lives.
Rashi and I had travelled about 300 kilometers from our home to visit one of the patients who had come from Pakistan. Nazar Ali was just nine years old. He and his mother had travelled 14 hours by bus to reach the border of Pakistan and India, then another 12 hours by bus to reach Delhi. From there they travelled another 20 hours by train to reach the hospital where the child was operated on.
We met the mother and the child at the Hospital bed. The boy was smiling but the mother had tears in her eyes. Soon we realized that these were tears of joy – joy because her child got a new life. She said “it was a painful journey no doubt, coming so far but with my child now better and happy it means the world to me.”
And then she made a profound statement. She said “my son was born in Pakistan but he got a new life in India. He has not only just Pakistani but Indian blood in him too. Long Live India.” I suddenly realized the enormity of the statement.
For two countries who have fought three wars in 60 years, what could be a better way of bringing peace amongst their people? These hundreds of children who come from Pakistan for their surgeries in India under a program called “Aman ki Aasha” meaning “hope for peace” are all ambassadors Peace through Service.
Each day when we save three lives and do our bit to bring peace, I live my Rotary moment.
Adapted from a My Rotary Moment speech delivered at the 2013 International Assembly.