How the Pappa Fund was started.
At the beginning of 1994 not only did the Pappa Fund not exist, but the idea of it had not entered anyone's head. The story of what happened in the succeeding two months is a sharp illustration of the realities of life in Rameswaram. John Lane, the co-founder of the Fund, takes up the story.
"I was in India at the beginning of 1994 as a freelance journalist researching hospitals and healthcare in the south of the country. During a week off in Rameswaram, I was struck by the island's cultural diversity and richness and by the friendliness of the people. I made many friends, including a family of poor but highly motivated and determined fishing people. When I left I promised I'd keep in touch with them.
"A month later, after a particularly busy time in Manipal, an impressive medical centre in the state of Karnataka, I had another few days to spare before my next assignment, and decided to return to Rameswaram. During this visit, the mother of the fishing family I'd made friends with, confided in me that she had a serious heart disease. It had been diagnosed four years previously, and an operation to replace a faulty valve had been recommended. She was only 36 years old, and the prognosis for somebody of her age was excellent, provided she had the operation in good time. Her lack of financial means, however, had made the operation impossible. Although she felt that her condition had not deteriorated significantly in the four years since her diagnosis, she was worried about doing nothing. So was I.
"I set about using my new contacts to find a hospital that would carry out the necessary operation without charge. Such hospitals, I knew, existed in India even if they were few and far between. With barely more than an hour to go before I had to catch a train to Calcutta, I received news of a hospital 500 miles away that could and would do the operation without charge. I left the family celebrating the good news, and promised I'd return in a month to find out how the operation had gone.
"The month passed, and I'd barely been in my Rameswaram hotel room for ten minutes before there was a knock on the door. It was one of the family's sons. "Come in, come in," I said, excited to hear how his mother was. No answer. The boy brushed past me and slumped on my bed before the tears started to roll from his eyes. It was half an hour before he could speak. His mother had collapsed at home and died an hour later just a week before her hospital appointment.
"When I was back in England, I couldn't free my mind from the anguish at the waste of this woman's death. It was a completely avoidable tragedy. Money, or lacking that, simple information given at the right time, would have saved her. But worse, I knew this was not a unique case; it just happened to be the one I knew about. What could be done? How could money or information be available to the next person in her situation? These were the thoughts I shared with my friends during my first few weeks back in England.
"I told Ann Christopher and Ken Cook who began to ring friends, repeat the story and ask for donations. By the time I was due to return to India, they had collected £500 and told me to find a way to use it.
"It was nearly a year before I spent any of it. I reckoned I needed to get to know Rameswaram better first; find out what made the place tick; get to know more of the people; assess the needs and find local people I could work with. It was early 1995 before we made our first grant - to provide drinking water at Ramakrishnapuram Primary School and Women's training centre - and nearly another year passed before HEART, a local organization we used then to deliver our health programmes, was born. But by then, there was no going back. The Fund was up and running, and my life had taken a new direction.
"One minor question had still to be resolved: what to call it. The woman whose death had started it all was known by everyone as "Pappa". "Pappa" means "child" in Tamil. It seemed that to honour her, and commit ourselves to the futures of the island's children was a neat solution. Thus the Pappa Fund was born."