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Field Notes

A Pathway to Hope

Our story begins in India, 1975. At the time, Dr. Prasad, a speech pathologist and audiologist, was 22 years old and treating patients in Madras (now Chennai), India.

Photo by Pathway Chennai Center

As he saw the general destitute state of his patients, Dr. Prasad was deeply moved; most of them were sacrificing basic necessities so they could pay him for their care.

Fueled by a desire to create a supportive and inclusive method of healthcare, Prasad embarked on a journey that would eventually lead to the establishment of the Pathway India in Chennai: a haven for those in need of medical, psychiatric, pediatric, and dental care.

Initially, Prasad’s noble conviction didn't do much to help with the logistics of creating such a place. For the first several years, Prasad cared for his patients from a small, dirt-floored house he was renting in the slums of Chennai. And though Prasad often went without basic necessities himself, he continued to care for those in need.

One day, a struggling woman brought in a child to see Prasad and left, promising to come back later in the day. She never returned to retrieve the boy. Prasad did what he says that “any upstanding person would do” and began taking care of the child himself. Unfortunately, word soon spread of Prasad’s kindness and within a three-month period, Prasad had 20 abandoned children under his care, most of them intellectually or physically disabled.

In 1983, Prasad married a bright woman named Chandra, who faithfully joined Prasad in his endeavors. Their first years of marriage were no stranger to hardship and difficulty as they sacrificed much in favor of doing good. Fortunately, only six years later, American judge and philanthropist William Sheffield would travel to India, meet Prasad and Chandra, and discover the mission of Pathway. By 1992, money was pouring in from American donors with the support of Judge Sheffield.

As the years have progressed, more people from around the world have contributed their funds, time, and/or money to the mission of Pathway. Every day, Pathway India serves over 300 disabled individuals as well as 250 able-bodied children and adults. Since the first days of Prasad’s mission, Pathway has worked to help over 40,000 children and adults in various states of need.

Why Pathway?

The name of Pathway India holds as much symbolism as it does meaning. According to Prasad, he chose “pathway” because of a dual meaning: it is the name for the connections that make up the brain, and it is also used to describe something like a footpath or trail. “Since I had chosen to tread the path with these extraordinary children,” Prasad explained, “I decided to name it ‘Pathway,’ and I thought it was the appropriate word to describe the motto of the organization.”

Poverty in India

Poverty in the 21st century forms an almost impenetrable, insurmountable wall on the front of global modernization. India, a country with a population of more than 1.4 billion people, sits at a poverty line of $3.65. (To compare, the poverty line for Americans in January 2023 was $14,580.) By definition—a poverty line being the minimum income level an individual can have without being considered impoverished—that means that more than half of India’s population is in poverty. And to fine-tune that statistic even more, about 250 million people—more than 75% of America’s current population—survive on less than $2 a day.

As the world’s largest democracy, India functions similarly to the government in the United States. Unfortunately, the United States also shares the perpetual occurrence of class stratification: in both countries, the top 1% hold considerable power over their economies. However, the problem is amplified in India, where the 1% controls 58% of the economy.

In other words, the wealth of the 16 richest people in India is equal to the wealth of 660 million of the poorest.

As India continues in its growth as an economic world power, this disparity between the country’s classes will only widen unless changes are made—changes like the ones Dr. Prasad's organization is working hard to make.

Finding Meaning in His Mission

Dr. Prasad’s generous vision came at an opportune time for the people in his community. In the late 1970s, the poverty rate of India was at a staggering 63%. There were many reasons for this level of poverty in India: the lingering effects of British colonialism, wars with neighboring countries, food shortages, disruption of natural resources, and more. Almost none of these things, however, directly affected Prasad’s life. He was just one man, working hard to better the lives of his patients and those who cared for them.

Prasad recalled the many times his family members visited him in Chennai and, upon seeing all the children under his care, expressed concern for him. They questioned him relentlessly, asking him why he would choose to offer his services to people who couldn’t even pay him. They told him of other doctors they knew who had moved abroad to earn a lot of money, thereby earning a lot of respect among their families.

But Prasad was not deterred and forged ahead. He explained that his conviction stemmed from a childhood practice of always doing the right thing. And it has been his determination—and the determination of others who share his compassionate ideals—that has created the driving force that is Pathway India.

In the words of Chandra, “[We] must touch the lives of many more who do not have any opportunity, any facility or even normal life, as much as possible. [We] must offer these things as much as [we] can.”

Prasad might be the heart of Pathway India, but his legacy has spread into the lives and hearts of hundreds of others. And with a strength of will such as the one Dr. Prasad has exhibited, Pathway India continues to shine in the darkest corners of impoverished India, offering a beacon of hope for those in need. At its heart, Pathway India stands as a testament to the power of compassion and the immeasurable value of doing what’s right.