29 Mar 2017
Firoz Patel was 34 and working as a London Underground tube driver when he experienced an epiphany that was to change his life.
“I was 34 years old and happily married with two daughters,” he recalls. “Then, one morning, I thought ‘there has to be a higher purpose to my life’.”
He has certainly found it. Nowadays he is the founder and CEO of Childreach International – a global charity that has raised £18m to help more than one million disadvantaged children in Brazil, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Tanzania, Morocco and the UK through education, sanitation, healthcare and skills training.
And he is no doubt what brought about such a remarkable transformation – his decision to resume his education by studying for a degree in international development and NGO management at the University of East London (UEL).
“At UEL there’s a lot of teaching outside the classroom,” he says. “I went out to Tanzania and spent four months studying at the University of Dar es Salaam. It opened my eyes to international development. I came back buzzing. I wanted to create social change.”
By the time he graduated with first-class honours, he and some fellow students had already set up an international development charity.
“Coming to UEL, I found encouragement to follow my dream,” he says. “It was UEL’s then vice-chancellor who gave me the initial funding and office space to start the charity, and lecturers who acted as trustees.”
In recognition of his achievements, Firoz was rewarded with an honorary doctorate by UEL last year, though the true reward is the impact he has had on the lives of others across the world.
He says, “The work Childreach International does really hits home when I meet young girls we’ve saved from child marriage in India or rescued from the danger of being sold into sex slavery in Nepal, or supported children with mental and learning disabilities. It’s very moving.”