Vacation time is typically synonymous with taking a break, taking time out for fun. That could be anything from seeing the sights to just kicking back. It can also mean taking a different path and seeing what locals do or finding what life is really like even further off the beaten track, such as learning about slums and areas of poverty in cities like Mumbai.
Gary Kaplan of the HG Kaplan Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children around the world achieve dreams, finds more vacation value in seeing life firsthand. And having a positive impact through interaction.
He donates his time. He delivers food and clothes and necessary supplies and gives money and services wherever he sees a need.
Gary Kaplan is an international businessman and founder of three charitable organizations, each operating on different continents, helping distressed populations around the world. While on family trips to India, he not only attends to his business engagements but also spends the off hours on unplanned visits with his family to slum-area communities, distributing meals as a group to the men, women and children living there.
Wherever Gary Kaplan finds himself, he will spend days at a time out of vacation visits on chance encounters and assisting local communities. When on his first day in Mumbai on an excursion through the streets, he met a tour guide named Torab. As it was Kaplan’s first visit to India, he accepted an offer for a tour through Dharavi, a location appearing in the Academy Award-Winning Bollywood film, Slumdog Millionaire.
Dharavi is one of Mumbai’s largest slums – about two-thirds the size of Central Park – and the site of approximately 60,000 predominately shanty shelters and one million Mumbaikars carrying out their lives and businesses.
At the 13th Compound, for example, a recycling industry of some 15,000 single-room workshops recycled 80 percent of the plastic waste created in Mumbai.
According to the tour guide, many of the structures in Dharavi were unauthorized but rented per-room nevertheless by local landlords. The majority of the structures comprised a garment industry where workers in small spaces produced and packaged brand-name apparel later sold at a high markup in developed parts of the world.
Kaplan discovered that Dharavi was a center of skilled industry where small factories produced goods ranging from crafted leather and aluminum bricks to wax prints and pottery. He realized that Dharavi diverged from his original concept of a slum. It was an area with a high poverty-rate but, at the same time, an area of hardworking people meeting basic needs.
Kaplan asked the tour guide if there were other parts of the city where he could provide help or deliver food. After disappearing into the neighborhood, the tour guide came back, reporting that he had learned of places selling prepared meals intended as handouts to people who needed them. Kaplan agreed to the idea, and both of them continued their day.
Their first stop was an orphanage for girls where they provided lunch for some 60 girls or more. They next visited a mosque, where they brought more than 40 meals to a group of resident boys. Kaplan and the guide concluded the day by handing out an additional 50 meals or more to passersby and other people in the area, whether they were young or old.
The experience was worthwhile for Kaplan, and he asked to make arrangements the next day. Also knowing his daughter would be arriving for a short visit, he and the tour guide found a work area where Kaplan and his daughter could prepare bags containing basic needs for particularly-impoverished areas.
After his daughter arrived, the two of them, along with the tour guide, visited a Mumbai wholesale area, or black market, where they bought enough bags and towels and necessary items like toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap to make 100 care packages.
Having gathered the items, they passed a school where loud children’s voices caught their attention. Gary Kaplan inquired and, after meeting with the headmaster and receiving a tour, they took note of areas where he would be able to help at the school as well.
They carried out the morning assembling gift bags and went with Torab to some of the slum’s most desolate areas where whole families lived on roadsides or in small, 4×4 tin shacks stacked on one another. With the help of another local, they went to every living area and asked one representative from each to create a line and pick up one or more care packages.
It was during this time they validated the reason Gary Kaplan and his family take time from their vacations for giving: the excitement in the children’s faces as they handed out care packages and some lollipops.
For this reason, Gary Kaplan’s one request sending for donations to the school was that the headmasters send back a photo – once the donations and some candy arrived – with all the kids in it, each with a lollipop and a smile he was certain would be there.