Dr Prasad with children at the HEAL Village in Guntur
EACH day on his way to university during the late 1960s and early 70s, a young Indian medical student would witness the appaling plight of poverty-stricken, slum-dwelling families. That experience was to change his life forever.
Training for a career in health care, Satya Prasad Koneru quickly made up his mind that he wanted to dedicate his life to helping those less fortunate than himself.
Despite very limited funds, he enlisted the help of his fellow students and other members of the community to secure a base for a health clinic to service the slums and by the time he finished medical school, he and his helpers had built a rehabilitation centre for the blind and disabled.
But he didn’t stop there and, years later, he went on to donate his ancestral home in Guntur to young people pursuing education as a way of escaping the Indian poverty trap. With that simple act of kindness two decades ago began a charity which would transform the futures of thousands of youngsters from destitute backgrounds in India.
HEAL – Health and Education for All – was born and, nearly 21 years later, Dr Prasad’s devotion to changing the lives of so many under-privileged children has been recognised in his home city of Peterborough, where he has lived and worked as a GP for more than 30 years.
Dr Prasad was not available to collect his Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Pride in Peterborough 2013 ceremony which paid tribute to the city’s local heroes. Typically, he was 5,000 miles away in India, overseeing HEAL’s latest and greatest project, the £4.75million Paradise Village which will soon become home to 1,000 needy and orphaned children.
A surprise celebration in honour of Dr Prasad's Lifetime Achievement Award
His son, Anish Koneru, currently studying medicine at Imperial College School of Medicine, London, went along to pick up the prestigious prize on Dr Prasad’s behalf and commented: “I couldn’t be more proud of my Dad!”
But there was to be no escape from the celebrations for the unassuming Dr Prasad as the staff and children at the HEAL Village in Guntur could not let the day pass without throwing a surprise party for the charity’s founder.
“After visiting the Children’s Village, I was getting ready to head back to Vijayawada,” said Dr Prasad. “I was having a casual chat outside when I was taken back into the school auditorium. There, I was greeted by garlands, children and flowers… it was a nice surprise.
“The children were very excited and we had a lovely time with them. It was a real treat.”
And, in a special message from India, Children’s Village administrator Mrs Marudwathu told Anish: “We are all proud of your Dad, who has become Dad of many dadless! He is our pride of the human race and we are fortunate to have him with us on this auspicious day to show our gratitude and share the happiness we have celebrated this evening with a great pride and joy.”
Dr Prasad emigrated to England not long after his graduation, and later moved to Peterborough with his wife Usha, a fellow GP he met when she volunteered for his medical project. Rather than signing up for a lucrative Harley Street practice, Dr Prasad and Usha decided they wanted to work somewhere they could make a difference.
Arriving in Peterborough in 1981, he and Usha decided to join the Westwood Clinic, because they knew it was in an area with pockets of deprivation.
These days, however, he has cut down the hours he spends at the Clinic in order to make regular trips to India to oversee construction work at Paradise Village, as well as other ongoing projects in Andhra Pradesh state.
Recent excellent exam results from the existing Children’s Village in Guntur and other schools in the charity’s poverty-trap scheme are an indication that HEAL’s legacy will be felt for countless generations to come and Dr Prasad is looking forward to witnessing many more success stories from the children who become part of the ever-growing HEAL family.
Two decades on from its unheralded beginnings as a small UK-based charity – to this day run entirely by a devoted team of volunteers – HEAL is about to open the doors to by far its most ambitious project… which Dr Prasad could hardly have dared dream about as he set about helping poor rural families all those years ago.
Later this year, HEAL Paradise Village, an education-focussed community scheme combining state-of-the-art ecological and environmentally-friendly design, will welcome its first intake of children, all plucked from underprivileged and impoverished backgrounds in Andhra Pradesh and beyond.
The Primary School, currently under construction at Paradise Village
A proud Dr Prasad said: “Paradise is not just another school. This will be a place which will enhance children’s potential.
“HEAL’s vision is for this centre to be a model of excellence in design, sustainability and management, which will care for the most needy children and prepare them for adult life with education, skills, an awareness of their responsibility to protect valuable resources, and a caring attitude to the less fortunate people in society.”
The Village will comprise not only school buildings, but housing for the children and their carers, a health centre, sports and arts facilities, accommodation for visiting volunteers, vegetable growing areas, a care home for the elderly, an institute for the blind and buildings for community use.
“It is a big project, but we have a good operational team based at the facility and hope to see Paradise Village form into an independent organisation by around 2016-17.
“We are getting bigger as an organisation. HEAL came from small beginnings 20 years ago, but these days we have to be seen as a professional organisation to help us attract the donors and supporters we need to keep making progress in the future.”
The formation of HEAL USA as an extra fundraising arm of the charity has been a big boost and Dr Prasad is looking forward to the creation of HEAL Australia. From humble beginnings, HEAL is now becoming a truely global organisation.