From his time in the Indian military to his journey to the NYU Stern School of Business to making his mark in India through his social work, Abraham George seems to be, and indeed is, a jack of all trades. He is the founder and principal of Shanti Bhavan, a school for students born into India’s lowest socioeconomic class.
“The last 29 years since I founded Shanti Bhavan, it has been the most rewarding and satisfying part of my life – I’ve done a lot of stuff, but nothing compares to what I’ve done with this,” George said. “The satisfaction comes from the fact that the children we have worked with are able to acquire jobs in Amazon and study in schools like Duke – one of them is here!” His words were infused with unmistakable passion. The crowd cheered the former student. We experienced a collective shiver down our spines; the fruit of George’s work was right in front of us – undeniable and beautiful.
The story of his life’s work was made into a Netflix documentary called “Daughters of Destiny.” Created and produced by Vanessa Roh, it featured the lives of students at the boarding school George founded. During his talk, we saw an ABC news segment called “Shanti Bhavan: haven of peace”.
After hearing the inspirations and motivations behind the creation of this boarding school, the designation of it being a ‘haven of peace’ is irrefutable.
George didn’t start in philanthropy. As an 18-year-old he found himself in the Indian military; he was posted near Tibet (in the Salem pass) where his job was to establish gun positions in case China invaded the country, India. In subzero temperatures, he lived through it for eleven months. During his time there, he read a quote ‘there is nothing right about war, it is about who is left’.
And so, George began asking himself questions: Why was he ready to take people’s lives? What was he truly doing with his life? And what would life be like in service of others?
He embarked on a newfound journey: to create a safe space where religion, caste or class does not matter. Today, Shanti Bhavan serves as a school for all – where students are not called ‘students’ but rather ‘children’.
A crucial question still stands: does the success of Shanti Bhavan prove the effectiveness of all charitable projects? When asked, George was quick to point out the fact that without money, there is no success. Consequently, his first goal was to earn, and second was to fund. Perhaps then all charitable causes could be effective if one has funding? It’s difficult to have a concrete answer, but it goes without saying that if it is true, George’s work serves as evidence.
George moved on from the life of a solider, to pursue education in the hopes of reaching a place where he could benefit others. “Think of a world only a heart can build and never ask why” – a memorable quote from a true benevolent force, akin to angelic presence.