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Touching the hearts of millions

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Arun Vaghjibhai Patel

Diagnosed with polio at the age of one, Arun Vaghjibhai Patel today stands tall as he goes on to change the lives of over 1,000 children living in the same condition, writes Anjana Parikh.

Arun Vaghjibhai Patel
Arun Vaghjibhai Patel

As a mark of recognition for his extra-ordinary contribution to the society, Patel has been conferred the prestigious British Citizens Award for his selfless service to healthcare especially for the polio-stricken children. The award includes a medal and a certificate.

The British Citizen Award is a new recognition program for any individual who has made a meaningful impact on those around them. Nominees come from various cultural backgrounds and community spread across the UK. Awards are given in the following categories: Service to Community; Service to Industry; Service to Arts; Service to Education; Service to Healthcare; Service to Business; Volunteering and Charitable Giving; and International Achievement.

This year, 28 individuals were recognised for their contribution to society at the House of Lords.

“I feel humbled to receive this award. Though polio is almost a forgotten disease but seeing the support, I feel proud for those who’ve joined us,” said Patel, the founding trustee of Polio Children.

Right from its inception, Patel made it clear that the administration fees for the running of the charity should be borne by the charity’s trustees so that every penny donated will be used for the benefit of a child in need.

Through his efforts since 2002, his charity, Polio Children, has raised £1.3m to fund projects for the under-privileged children with polio in India, Tanzania, Sudan and Sierra Leone.

After initial schooling in Uganda he came to the UK in 1970 and qualified as a Chartered Accountant, being placed amongst the top 10 candidates. After having worked for KPMG, he built up his own professional practice from a zero base before selling it. Later, he decided to channel all his efforts into helping those unfortunate children from extremely poor economic backgrounds, who were struck by polio.

As he continues to champion his cause while fighting his own battle with post polio syndrome, Patel said that initially it was difficult for his parents especially his father late Vaghjibhai Patel to accept his disability. “Those days, people weren’t aware of a disease like polio. One day, my mother Kanta ben took me to a doctor. When he asked her to lift me up for examination, they noticed that my right leg was shorter than the left one,” Patel said adding, “It was during that time when the disease had also ravished the Western world.”

Determined and passionate to excel in life, the 62-year-old said, “Since my parents gave me a fair chance and treated me like a normal child, and brought me up in the same way as they did to my other four siblings, I never felt that I suffered from polio.”

However, he did have his own challenges. When his father relocated to Kampala to work as a school treasurer, he was teased and taunted at school. “Out of 2,000 students, only two of us were polio-stricken. The boys used to tease us; I used to feel hurt but instead of confronting them which I always avoided, I made myself mentally strong and determined to excel in whatever I do in life,” said Patel who was born in East Africa in 1953.

Praising the invaluable contributions of the trustees of the Polio Children (UK and USA), he dedicated the award to them and to the hundreds of donors and well wishers without “whose unselfish and relentless support; Polio Children could not have accomplished what it has”.