Balan Subramunier, CFP, still remembers when, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, he’d go to the Tongaat Child and Welfare Society around Christmastime and see people handing out simple things like custard, jelly and syrup. The items tasted so good Subramunier felt like they were “sent from heaven.”
His father had died when Subramunier was 11, and his family, which included his mother and seven siblings, received assistance from Tongaat.
Subramunier, a 29-year MDRT member from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, recognizes the remarkable contrast of now being able to dine at a five-star restaurant, which is one of many reasons he has spent decades giving back to the organization that gave so much to him.
In 2019, he received a $10,000 Quality of Life grant from the MDRT Foundation in honor of his volunteer work with Tongaat and to support a program providing breakfast to more than 1,600 children each day.
“Before we started the program about 10 years ago, we did a survey and found that many of the children coming to school weren’t concentrating and were falling asleep,” he said. “Further studies indicated it was because they were coming without having had anything to eat in the morning. After we started the breakfast program, we saw a remarkable change in them, and their performance improved.”
In fact, Subramunier’s involvement with helping Tongaat goes back to when he was only 17 years old and working in a clothing factory. Even though he had very little and was earning money to support his family, his mother encouraged him to give back.
“She was a very humble person,” he said. “She said, ‘If you have so much, give to people less fortunate than you. And there are always people less fortunate than you.’”
It’s now been more than 50 years since Subramunier, who has won multiple awards for his community work, began helping with Tongaat, giving up to 10 hours per month to the organization. He served as everything from a volunteer caseworker to board member to president. The latter happened to overlap with South Africa’s transition after apartheid, a mission for which Subramunier marched.
He is proud to have met former South African president Nelson Mandela, the leader of the anti-apartheid movement and the epitome of generosity and activism in South Africa.
“When working out in the community, you realize how fortunate many of us are, compared to many people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Subramunier said. “What I have given pales in significance compared to what was given to me.”
Tongaat primarily supports children from rural communities, often stricken by unemployment, HIV/AIDS, child abuse and a lack of infrastructure. Subramunier said that he has always utilized his relationships to encourage clients to contribute to the organization, and one of his sons is a supporter of it as well. Part of that, he added, is realizing that Tongaat needs not just money but volunteer involvement to maintain donations, ongoing programs and internal paperwork.
No matter who gives or how, Subramunier wants them to understand the role that Tongaat played for him. “You always knew there was somebody you could go to when you needed help,” he said. “That was the big advantage.”
He makes sure to acknowledge how many “ordinary people” were behind those efforts. He remembers women passing out milk to children in preschool. And he remembers an Indian doctor who served as a chairperson for the organization for 25 years. That is an example of someone who did not need to be there, Subramunier said, but chose to be an inspiration and dedicated his time to helping out.
“There’s no such thing as not having time; you have to set aside time for community work,” he said. “It could be your neighbor, your relative, or anybody, but there’s always someone crying out for help.”