Waking up at 5 a.m. to the sound of woodpeckers, heaving through dirt and jungle in 90-degree heat,
seeing the desolate poverty of a hungry child with
nothing to wear but a torn rag, and sleeping under a starry blanket (so many stars!) while a gecko stirs next to your ear is not the idea of Spring Break for everyone.
Fifty eager eyes watch fascinated as I peel the leaf and place it under a microscope. They scurry to look through the eyepiece at a totally different world. The eyes belong to village children in remote eastern India, where I spent six weeks teaching.
Looking back it seems rather naive I could have done much for them in such a short period of time. In fact, if anything, it was what they did for me. Rampant malaria infected thousands that summer, including my very hosts. The lack of electricity and running water were a playground for disease. Bad treatment allowed illnesses otherwise curable to claim myriad lives. I saw aÿlost, diseased generation begging on the streets; lepers being shunned by society; individuals with polio sitting on carts and dragging themselves by hand, bereft of human dignity.
I was 19.
I had grown up in another country where inequity and inequality were part of the daily fabric. Brazil has a GINI of 0.56 and 1/5 of the population lives below the poverty line. Straddling the fine line between the rich and the poor, I had the opportunity to extend my hand in both worlds. What was choice and what was destiny?
Back in college, youthful idealism pushed us. We raised funds to build a library. We raised funds to build a science lab. We sent 40 more fellow students to the NGO. Doing good and doing well was the mantra – all of this was in addition to work, play, and sleep. But I guess you can only have two of the three so one always suffered.
It is easy to forget and it easy to become complacent.
Coming to HBS gave me the opportunity to regroup and to rethink. And so we decided to think bigger and fulfill a bigger need.
The nearest hospital is at least an hour away and the nearest good one is two hours away. In monsoon season, it can be as much as a day away. According to the government there is a fully-functioning clinic serving the surrounding villages. One peek in the building, empty except for the rats scurrying the weeds, is enough to convince that corruption and mismanagement are the only rulers in this land.
A dollar a day will save a life.
We are now raising $100,000 to build a hospital to serve 100,000 people. It has been extremely challenging to raise funds in a down economy and we may need to revise our goals. Our team gladly welcomes all help on behalf of the people fighting on the ground for the last 37 years, who are among the most courageous individuals you will ever meet. You can read more at http://hospitalforhope.com.
Waking up at 5 a.m. to the sound of woodpeckers, heaving through dirt and jungle in 90-degree heat, seeing the desolate poverty of a hungry child with nothing to wear but a torn rag, and sleeping under a starry blanket (so many stars!) while a gecko stirs next to your ear is not the idea of Spring Break for everyone. But to me, the light of hope shining amidst the raw darkness of nature and the cruel ugliness of man was beautiful beyond comparison.
Are profits and social justice mutually exclusive? Or, is it possible to not have to choose between them and instead seek both?
Amit Garg was born and raised in Brazil, and first visited the NGO Jagriti Vihara
in rural Bihar (now Jharkhand) in the summer of 2000. He went to Stanford and worked at Google before HBS.