A Letter from Dr. Vinod Prakash, Founder and CEO of IDRF
My story will sound quite like that of most Indians who immigrated to the U.S. in 1960s. My wife and I came to the U.S. for higher education and settled here. As a typical Indian couple, we kept in close contact with our family and friends. But we went a step further – emotionally, rationally and spiritually – in connecting our lives here with our roots in India.
Emotionally, we are deeply bonded to the U.S. – our adopted land for living and action (karmabhoomi) – and to India – the land of our birth and ancestors (matrabhoomi). We feel immensely grateful to both these great nations for who we are today.
Rationally, we consider ourselves to be privileged because we had the opportunity to receive an education in India. While millions of Indian children were and still are deprived of education, I received a quality college education which enabled me to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), work at the World Bank and create a comfortable life in America. For this, I felt I owed a debt to Indian society at large and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the less privileged.
Spiritually, I began reflecting on my life’s mission, often holding intimate dialogues with myself. Are material accomplishments and loving friends and family enough to realize one’s contentment (atmasanthushthi) in life? Or is there a bigger meaning waiting to be discovered?
In what now seems to have been a instance of divine guidance, I decided to retire during the 1987 World Bank reorganization and established a charitable organization called India Development and Relief Fund, Inc. (IDRF). It was approved in 1988 as a tax-exempt public charity under IRS Code 501(c)(3).
An amazing journey has been unfolding for my wife and I ever since. As IDRF expanded its programs and built partnerships with donors in the U.S. , we realized that people have an innate desire to do good. I also felt a deep sense of joy, which multiplied every time I heard how IDRF’s beneficiaries were enjoying better quality of life and realizing their potential.
Two decades ago, we saw the dire need for medical facilities in the interior of India when we came across four people walking miles to a clinic while carrying a sick patient on a cot. Since then, IDRF has funded 30 mobile medical clinics in 15 states, mostly serving rural and tribal communities.
In places where there was nothing resembling a school, IDRF started supporting one-teacher schools (ekal vidyalayas). These schools provide about 3 hours of lessons a day to 20-30 children. IDRF supports each school for just $200 to $300 a year. Former students of these schools have gone on to earn college degrees.
These are some of our many heart-warming stories of progress. IDRF’s mission of service to humanity has thus become my life-long passion as well. But all this would not have been possible without the unstinting support of my family and our dedicated volunteers. No words can adequately express my immense gratitude to IDRF’s donors, who have continually put their trust in us and the non-governmental organizations in India who are committed to the cause and are working tirelessly for it.
I encourage and invite all our donors and the curious minded to visit any of our program sites in India for a truly enriching experience!