Touched at the plight of starving children in Pakistan's Tharparkar district, Dubai-based Indian businessman and social entrepreneur Joginder Singh Salaria decided to cross a 'controversial' border and lend a helping to the community.
Salaria, who launched Pehal Charitable Trust in 2012 in New Delhi, India, has set up nearly 62 water hand pumps in Tharparkar through a social worker in the Pakistani district. "While India-Pakistan tensions were high following the Pulwama incident, we were installing hand pumps in these poor villages," Salaria told Khaleej Times. He also sent bags of grains to the community.
Salaria has been a UAE-resident since 1993, running a transport business called Pehal International Transport. "Whatever I make in my business, I give back to the society," he said. The 48-year-old reached out to social workers in Pakistan via social networking websites such as Facebook and YouTube, established contacts with them, and funded the entire operation.
"I spent weeks and months researching the plight in Tharparkar, and a lot of it was done through social media. What I saw, shocked me," he explained. He reached out to Bheal Khangar, a resident of Tharparkar and local social worker, who organised requirements of the entire project. The hand pumps were installed at a common area in the villages, providing free access to all residents of the village.
"I would send money to Khangar, and he would promptly respond by sending invoices, important documents, pictures, and videos. We stayed in touch throughout," he added.
As of now, providing water to the people of Tharparkar is a priority for Salaria.
"There are very few roads in the villages. The nearest hospital is 50km away, and people need to walk 25km to reach the main road. Schools are also very bad in those areas. Most children can't go to school due to lack of opportunities, lack of easy access to school, and lack of schools," he explained. "For now, the focus is on water and food. Eventually, we will look at developing education programmes and other projects," he added.
Salaria began his career as a plant coordinator in the heavy equipment business in 1993-94. In 2004, he started his own company and now owns a fleet of 26 equipment. However, he began social service as a childhood trait learnt from his father. Since 2012, his charity organised medical awareness camp, education programmes, initiatives for orphans, widows in the UAE, and the worker's community in Dubai. PCT Humanity also entered the Guinness Book of World Records for its hunger relief efforts during Ramadan. Salaria's charity has been providing vegetarian Iftars daily at the premises of his company Pehal International, Dubai Industrial Park.
"Living in desperate conditions, Salaria said children and families in Tharparkar do not have access to basic water, health, and educational provisions," he added.
According to a United National Development Programme report, Tharparkar district has some of the lowest social and development indicators in Sindh province and across Pakistan with poverty headcount of 87 per cent. Over the past decade, high levels of deprivation have resulted in a steady increase in the multi-dimensional poverty headcount in Tharparkar district.
The Tharparkar health department released a report on news publication Pakistan Times, where it said around 1,500 children die due to malnutrition, infections and lack of proper medical facilities in the remote region every year.
Also, a report released by the United Nation's Children Fund in April 2018 stated that Pakistan is among countries with the highest infant mortality rate, with 22 infants dying before turning one-month-old. Among these countries, eight are in Africa and two in Asia, including Afghanistan which is ranked third.
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