My Life with KHEL
Beni P. Bhatt
There was a turning point more than 30 years ago that changed me and showed me how to live a life of purpose and meaning.
I was born in Ambala, Haryana. My father died when I was very young. My mother was unable to take care of me due to a serious illness and was forced to place me in an orphanage. It was a violent and scary place, so in my teens I ran away to Dehradun to look for my married sister. After many months on the road I finally found her. Because I had not been educated past the fifth grade, I went to work as a daily labourer doing simple but physically challenging jobs like carrying bricks on work sites.
I was an angry young man, having spent so much of my life simply trying to survive. This changed when I met Dr. and Mrs. Arya in Dehradun. From the very start I called Mrs. Arya ‘Ammaji’, which means ‘mother’ in Hindi. She was already involved in social work by running an informal school. She would help the kids of the slum colony where I lived by giving them milk and trying to teach them to read. Some of us wanted to help, so I would go to the Arya’s home and do odd jobs, as I wasn’t qualified to do anything else. While working for them they gave me the opportunity to improve my skills by teaching me how to paint walls, which was considered a more skilled labourer job and was physically less arduous. I didn’t understand the instructions on the boxes of paint so Ammaji read them with me and told me what to do. This may seem like a small thing, but this is just one example of the kindness the Aryas showed me. Nobody in my life had treated me with respect and care the way they did.
(Beni and his wife Kamli)
During this time, I would often accompany Dr. Arya on long walks. One day, he asked if I wanted to go with him into the mountains to Gangotri, the source of the Ganga river. We trekked into the mountains to this isolated place and I took care of him. The work was easy, but I questioned what I was doing at age 17, living in a lonely forest. Of course, there’s no electricity in a cave so the nights were dark and there was nobody for me to talk to. I was bored and missed the company of people my own age. Youth has its own priorities; I was also disappointed to be missing the International World Cup of cricket, and I spent a good deal of my time wondering what the scores were and who was winning. Sometimes I thought about leaving Dr. Arya, but he trusted me and I couldn’t cheat him by running away. Nobody in my life had put their trust in me before.
(Beni with KHEL staff)
I was very much impressed with Dr. Arya’s grace and gentleness. One day he asked how I spent my time and if I was bored. He must have noticed how restless I was because he then taught me how to calm my mind and since there was nothing else to do, I listened and learned. In that hilly, quiet, forested environment I started feeling the silence as peaceful. Up to that point my entire life had been one of struggling, sometimes just to stay alive. Having time to think about what I wanted in my life was a luxury I’d never had.
(Beni Distributing Clothes at a Leprosy Colony)
Those 45 days in the mountains changed me and hold special meaning in my heart. I discovered a vision for my future, one that would be fueled by positive energy and purpose. KHEL employed me when no one else would, and helped me to gain my Masters in Commerce, as well as diplomas in Computer Studies and Co-operative Management. Over the 33 years I’ve been with KHEL, I’ve had the opportunity to develop scholarship programs for our kids, helped to rehabilitate and support several leprosy colonies with medicine, food and construction, arranged many medical clinics at Lakshmi Devi Academy (LDA), KHEL’s school for under served children, and worked on many other projects focused on encouraging parents to educate their children. I serve the same community that took me in when I was homeless and poor, and I hope that I can continue to help others to improve their lives for a long time.
(Beni Gives a Uniform to an LDA Volleyball Player)
Beni has been KHEL’s General Manager for over a decade. He lives with his wife, Kamli, a city councilor, and their two children in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India.
(Beni with LDA Kids)
In Hindi, the language of North India, khel means ‘to play’. KHEL Charities was founded over 35 years ago by Dr. Usharbudh and Mrs. Lalita Arya to promote four essentials rights of children – Kindness, Health, Education and Laughter.
KHEL is a non-profit, secular organisation based in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India. We provide equal opportunity education, support and employment, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion. KHEL actively promotes the ideals of non-violence, tolerance and respect.
Lakshmi Devi Academy (LDA), KHEL’s school for under served children, is a permanent project of KHEL. Through education, long term change is possible. But because poverty affects all aspects of a child’s life, we also provide medical and other emergency aid, basic needs, school supplies, sports and other activities not only to our kids but to their families and community. After all, it takes a village to raise a child, so that village needs our support, too.
KHEL gives future generations the necessary tools to improve their lives.