Tired of waiting for progress, activist works with India's poor

By Tiffany lu April 21, 2005

Abraham George named his school in India the Haven of Peace, and that is exactly what he provides for the impoverished rural society of India.

He has dedicated his life to improving the social and gender-based injustices in India through a non-profit organization that he founded: the George Foundation.

George was born and raised in India and served in the Indian military for 10 years. He received his doctorate from New York University and founded a financial software applications company.

George gave a speech in Huntsman Hall last night about his goal for the rural, impoverished parts of India -- improving literacy rates, health care and the work force.

Despite encouraging figures from the Indian government -- such as the fact that only 35 percent of Indian people live in poverty -- George detailed the extreme pervasiveness of poverty in rural India.

The government statistics are "not true," he said. "One dollar a day is considered to be the poverty level." However, India instead judges the poverty level by how many calories citizens consume per day. "The problem is, the amount of calories they consume a day is worth about 25 cents."

He pointed out that at least 75 percent of people earn less than $1 a day in India.

George also talked about literacy.

"India's goal for literacy is if you can add one plus one, say 'a-b-c' and read a sign post, you're literate," he said.

After selling his software corporation, George realized he could offer the American ideal of opportunity to India.

First, he decided to take children from the poorest parts of India and give them schooling at what is now called the Haven of Peace. The majority of the students are from the "untouchable" caste -- which performs much of India's hard labor.

"Before I knew it, the school was so big, I'd spent 10 times what I'd planned to within the first year," he added.

George then moved on to health care.

He said that doctors in rural India currently don't usually show up for work because there's no money to be made.

"So I created a 'doctor in a box,' a program where [people] can interact with a computer and diagnose any of 300 diseases themselves," he said.

George also stated that he believes the reason for all this injustice and poverty is the lack of ability to earn income.

However, he does not believe that waiting for the benefits of globalization to trickle down to the lowest class is an efficient way to improve society.

"I bought 200 acres of barren land from some landlords in southern India, and now it's the second largest banana grower in [the country]," he said. The entire surrounding area is now employed, and 90 percent of the workers are women - which he finds very important.

"If [Indian women] become income earners ... their husbands will listen to them and respect them," he said.

Audience members were inspired, if a bit jealous.

"My long-term goal is to do the same thing for Africa, but it's hard because you have to get rich first, before you give all your money away," said Lori Holmes, a Wharton MBA student.



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