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“Savaya Kutchi”, (a person exalted more than a Kutchi) Fr. George Kunnath, our mentor, guide, inspiration and the unmatched icon of service for the poor, marginalized and downtrodden, has left us for his heavenly reward. It was his love for the sick and invalid that prompted him to travel to Bangalore to meet his ailing Old Friend and Guide Rev. Fr. Robert Cutinah S.J. In spite of his ill-health and fatigue, he decided to take up the journey and on the way in Mumbai on 27th October 2012; he had a Massive Cerebral Hemorrhage and was admitted in Lilavaty Hospital Mumbai. There, despite the best efforts of the Medical Fraternity, he left this world on 31st October 2012 at 8.00am.
Born on March 12, 1940, at Chelav, near Karimannoor in Idukki District of Kerala as the second child of 12 children to Late Mr. John and Mary Kunnath, Fr. George joined the CMI congregation at the age of 16 and made his First Profession on 26/05/1961 and was ordained on 21/04/1969. After his ordination, he was appointed the manager of Dharmaram farms, and after 9 years of innovative and dedicated services there he took up the role of Prior of Vazhakkulam monastery. Here too he accomplished creative and illustrative enterprises, including Jyoti Super Bazaar in Thodupuzha. Upon the request of late Rev. Bishop Jonas Thaliath he came over to Rajkot in 1981 to realize the dream projects of the prelate.
The brain behind the dream project was Fr. George Kunnath who accelerated the growth of Catholic Presence in the district of Kutch. Registered as a Non-Governmental Organization, Kutch Vikas Trust branched out to different areas of operation within a short period of time, catering and caring for the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the disabled and the uncared for.
He walked in the footsteps of our Founding Father Blessed Kuriakose and was always concerned about the growth and health of the people in this parched land of sand and storms. He developed an oasis in the desert that surprised very many people. He was conferred with many national and state awards. He was a great missionary who conveyed the message of the love of God to the poor and suffering people on the hard terrains of Kutch. The visually, physically and mentally challenged, the hearing and multi-sensory impaired- all found new energy and life in him. He was considered by the locals the uncrowned king of Kutch because of the amount of welfare work he did and the influence he had in the society and with the Government.
He was convinced of the enormous need for education that would bring lot many positive changes in the lives of the people. He went around the villages and towns; he met the local leaders and community members, and with their backing and support he opened various educational institutions in different parts of the district. His ardent love for the disabled and the poor enthused him to start integrated schools in all the major towns of the district. He wanted the less privileged to compete with the elite. He envisioned that without education, there will be no social transformation and empowerment. He preached Christ through his actions and accomplishments.
He wanted to reach out to the poor with his health care and developmental initiatives. He established eye care facilities, he built homes for the poor, he sheltered the HIV/AIDS infected, he executed watershed programmes for village development, he started cooperatives, he conducted medical camps for the poor, he went in search of the disabled in the villages, and he conducted programmes for the farmers and peasants. He left no village in Kutch untouched. He did not wait for perfect times, he perfected the times. His motto was “God Will Provide”.
The various developmental initiatives that he began and the multitude of centers that he established in Kutch all stand witness to his enormous vision and magnanimity. He was hard working, a visionary, a good economist, a good religious and above all a good human being with a high sense of humor. He had great ideas and greater courage; the disabled and the elderly were his only weakness. He started KVT a quarter of the century ago from zero. Today KVT forms a well-established organization with well-laid infrastructure, well-planned strategies, and well-trained staff.
The Kutch Vikas Trust which reinvented the rules of business to restore sight to the blind and new life too differently abled children is an institution marked by elegance and clarity. It suggests that choices that seem naive or unworkable can when executed with wisdom and integrity, yield bafflingly extraordinary results.
In 1981 he came to Bhuj in Kutch District of Gujarat. He conceived a project he believed in. He opened an institution for the care of blind children in a small rented home with 5 children. He had no financial sources but had a special way of seeing, a vision perfectly aligned. Starting a house for the blind and physically handicapped in arid Kutch was a revolutionary, spiritual act, a manifestation of Christ’s compassionate love for the unfortunate people.
Fr. George was a prudent priest preferring to rely on the life of Jesus who went about doing good. He had a vision, larger than other entrepreneurs in the field. His mission was to eliminate curable blindness and other disabilities and to rehabilitate the poor people in the villages of Kutch. With this mission in mind, he toured all the 964 villages in Kutch District and conducted medical camps in each village. His philosophy was “To see all as one. To give sight to all”. The radical essence Fr. George’s strategy was to provide free eye care to those who cannot afford to pay. He started eye hospital and K.V.T Hostels. Thousands were treated and thousands were given shelter in the hostels and free integrated education was given to the children.
Defying conventional business logic K.V.T is the largest provider of the eye – care in Kutch District, perhaps in the whole of Gujarat. “The greatest business case for compassion-has treated over lakhs of patients in 31 years majority for free or marginal payment. Today K.V.T is self – sustaining and highly appreciated.
Fr. George’s dramatic decision was based on the inexpressible logic of his spiritually guided awareness. But his critics realized that his institution yielded tremendous benefits for the unfortunate differently abled children. Initially, he staffed the organization with low profile workers. Today a team of 300 strong workers are rendering care and in three places to nearly 200 children in K.V.T.
The K.V.T eye care-system comprises two eye hospitals in KVT and Naliya, hostels in K.V.T and other hostels in Nakathrana, Naliya and Bachau. The depth of insight elevates the narration beyond enumeration of the success of a care enterprise.
This is a true story of one man’s pragmatism and belief that healed thousands. Charged with profound insights it reveals the radical principles behind Fr. George’s baffling success. This explains the mystery of a model that integrates innovation with empathy, service with business principles and inner change with outer transformation.
The institutions he started reveal Fr. George’s indefatigable spirit and beliefs of a man whose life was guided by Gospel ideals, by divinity, compassion, and spirituality which focused on clear goals. Thoughtful strategies and sound management practices produced results. There is the continuous sense of wonderment and administration that leaves all hopeful about trying to make difference in every aspect of the running of the K.V.T from the provider and recipient. What shines is the simple principle that compassion and humility bring satisfaction in the institution as a whole. The obvious commitment of the entire staff has been captured brilliantly and stresses its crucial importance in the project of this scale. The dedication and belief are palpable and I was astonished at the volume of patients handled, the facilities and surgical skills available and absolute dedication to the workforce. The extent of employment provided to the local population is a wonder in itself. K.V.T educates people from neighboring villages and most support staff is locally procured. This feature, which may never be duplicated, makes K.V.T Gujarat’s largest socially relevant service provider.
The K.V.T which leaves you wanting to contribute is about leadership, service, institution building and the power of a model that contributes business discipline with compassion. K.V.T reaffirms our admiration for the work that Fr. George did for the society for the last three decades.
Fr. George is a man of dynamism and initiative. He had the courage to take calculated risks. He succeeded in all the fields he touched. He initiated the efforts of afforestation with a rare farsightedness, dedication, cooperation and participation of the people; as result, today, not only K.V.T area but the surrounding villages also have more trees and plants. The three decades of service for the disabled had been widely recognized and appreciated by the people, both the state and central governments.
Today the K.V.T is the beacon of hope for thousands of visually impaired and physically challenged people in Kutch district spread over 46000 sq km, a district bigger than the state of Kerala. Fr. George Kunnath with his pioneering spirit, dynamism, and love for the handicapped worked over three decades. And as a result, the K.V.T is a symbol of Christ’s compassionate love for the less privileged people of our motherland.
Name: Fr. George Kunnath CMI
Father’s Name: Mr. John
Mother’s Name: Mrs. Mariam
House Name: Kunnath
Date of Birth: 12/03/1940
Place of Birth: Karimannor
Director of Dharmaram Farms: 1970-1978
Prior, Monastery, Vazhakkulam: 1978-1981
Parish Priest, St. Mary’s Church Bhuj: 1981-1984
Director, Kutch Vikas Trust: 1981-
KVT School at Bhuj – 1984
KVT Integrated School at Raidhapar – 1986
KVT Hostels – 1986
KVT Eye Hospital – 1987
KVT Old Age home – 1999
KVT center for the deafblind – 2000
KVT center for MR – 2006
KVT center for HI – 2008
KVT CCC for HIV/AIDS – 2010
Integrated School at Bhachau – 1993
Integrated School at Nakhatrana – 1994
Integrated School at Naliya – 1995
English Medium School at Dhaneti – 2006
Western India Fish Hatcheries – 1990
Centre at Lakhpat
Centre at Dayapar
Centre at Mandvi
Centre at Mankuva
Centre at Lodai
Centre at Nadapa
Center at Mundra
National Association for the Blind, Kutch
Blind Welfare Council, Kutch
Federation of Blind, Kutch
Diocesan Advisory Council
Provincial Advisory Council
RCH committee of GOG
Committee for Child Labour Abolition
Lead NGO, Hariyali Project
Lead NGO, Watershed Management
Fisher people’s association