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Sikh News B.C. Doctor Starts Major Villages' Revolution !

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada

B.C. doctor on mission to help Indian villages
'We could start major revolution . . . of rural development,' ex-politician says of effort
Kim BolanVancouver Sun
Saturday, October 29, 2005

NEW WESTMINSTER I It all started six years ago, when New Westminster's Dr. Gurdev Singh Gill was on a visit to Kharoudi, his ancestral village in Punjab.

As he sat outside with an old friend trying to enjoy the evening, the stench from the raw sewage running along the narrow streets was unbearable.

Not one to sit idly by, Gill returned home with a mission -- to bring running water and sewage treatment to the farming hamlet he left 50 years earlier as an 18-year-old to come to Canada.

Two winters and about $150,000 in Canadian donations later, Gill had overseen the transformation of his boyhood home. A septic system, running water, treatment plant, street lights, paved streets and a computer system have all been installed, bringing about a new pride for the villagers and greatly improved public health.

"Amazingly, incidents of mosquitoes and flies went down 80 per cent overnight," Gill said. Childhood sicknesses, which can still be fatal in rural areas, also dropped dramatically.

Gill got more Indo-Canadians involved and undertook a second project, the village of Barhamour, with a matching grant from the Punjab state government. Villagers, eager to see the improvement in their lives, contributed the labour.

"We sat down with the villagers and got them to participate in the development," Gill said.

The retired Canadian doctor is heading to Punjab next week to undertake three more village modernization projects, now being done under the auspices of his charitable Indo-Canadian Friendship Society of B.C.
Next up is Dingrian, the ancestral home of former federal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal, who has made a sizable contribution to help his native village.

Dhaliwal is fully supportive of the project. Last year, he discussed the village development plan with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when they met. He also got a letter from Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, committing the state to providing continuing, financial support.

"This is really taking off. I have had people writing a cheque for the whole thing," Dhaliwal said Friday. "We could start a major revolution in terms of rural development in India. Our idea is to do some model villages and let people see what can be done."

Dhaliwal said the idea is to have a four-way partnership, with contributions from Canadians, the Punjab government and the Canadian International Development Agency, with local Punjabi villagers providing the labour.

CIDA has helped with one project so far and Dhaliwal said he is optimistic the agency will get involved in more.

About 70 per cent of Indian villages don't have running water or sewage. As growth and development in urban India have exploded, the traditional villages have been left behind.

"Imagine that in this day and age people have to go out in the fields," Dhaliwal said.

Gill's project is changing lives, said the former politician.
"This is started by Canadians. It is a great Canadian story," Dhaliwal said. "People who come from India are still connected to their village and want to do something to improve the lives of people there and this can do that."

Gill said what he likes most about the plan is how simple and cost-effective it is. All the money donated goes directly to completion of the new infrastructure, without red tape or bureaucracy.

The first project has become renowned in India, with the Indian president and many other dignitaries having visited to see the dramatic changes. The villagers joke that they are running out of tea because so many visitors are coming, Gill said.

"If we can do about 20 or 30 villages, it will have a snowball effect," he said.

Not just Indo-Canadians are contributing to the village modernization project. B.C. resident John Lefebvre recently donated $100,000.
Gill thinks countries like Canada with large immigrant populations don't do enough to take advantage of the special skills of their new citizens when it comes to international development.

"They know the countries. They know the bureaucracies," Gill said. "We have a deep connection to the old country. It is more like a family in the villages."

Gill is as busy in retirement as he was with his medical practice over forty years.

"It gives me satisfaction," he said. "It gives me a bigger purpose in life."


© The Vancouver Sun 2005

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