FROM A POOR INDIAN BOY TO A MAN EMBRACING A LIFE OF ADVOCACY
I, Manjinder “James” Kumar, was born in the Jalandhar, Punjab region, in the northern part of India. Punjab is a huge place and among its many communities is the village of Rurka Kalan, where I spent my early childhood years.
My memories of Rurka Kalan is that it’s rural and poor. The houses back then were small, more like shanties, built close to each other, and we—my dad, mom, and siblings—lived in one of those. I remember that region having farmlands and rice was a predominant produce.
My life was tough as a kid. My dad was a cook, with daily earnings not even enough to feed us decently. My mom would do some laundry work for another family so she could augment our financials. With her extra income we could at least eat twice a day. We had nothing. I would go to school barefoot. Our classroom had no chairs and tables. We had to sit on the floor.
When I was seven years old, I first set foot in the Philippines, a land of promise for my parents. We were enticed to move in by my uncle, who migrated first and started a lending business. At first, it was only my parents and little brother, Mandip, who migrated. My late older brother, Sonu, and older sister, Baby Penji, were left in the care of my paternal grandmother in India.
Life was still tough when we were starting over in Manila. From a shanty, our home became a 20sqm studio unit in Valenzuela City. My parents started a meager lending business, with the aid of my uncle. We were still poor; but, I, even as a child, could feel life becoming a little more bearable here than life in India.
After two years, we moved to Pasay City, where a lot of Indian nationals lived. Again, life improved just a little bit for us. I transferred to a private school. Our home got upgraded into a two-bedroom apartment.
In high school, I had to juggle my education with work. I started helping out my parents in their lending business; learned the tricks of the trade and did some modeling on the side. At that time, I realized I had good people skills. I discovered it was quite easy for me to get to know people, build rapport with them, and gain their trust. Not to brag, but I was good with numbers too. These, later on, proved to be essential recipes for building my dream life in the Philippines.
I’ve always been good with people; call it fate or destiny, but my uncle trained me to assist fellow Indian expats so that they could live, do business and thrive with ease here in the Philippines. Soon enough, I mastered the trade and got to set up my own consultancy firm, which not only assisted expats in documentation, but also offered legal assistance among many things. Through the hardwork of my parents and my own, coupled with faith in myself and most especially to God, I thrived here in the land that I now also call my home. I got the opportunity to invest in a restaurant business and to open up my own business process outsourcing company. Also in the pipeline are other business ventures—one is a security agency and the other, a holdings company involved in lending, micro financing, and build & sell.
In 2009, I became the president of the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple in the Philippines. Khalsa Diwan is a Gurdwara, which translates to “door to the guru,” a place of worship for Sikhs. The Sikhism faith all started with Guru Nanak Dev, the Sikhs’ very first guru, some 500 years ago in India’s Punjab region. The religious practices were made official in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh, another respected guru in earlier Sikhism times. Now, there are lots of temples all over the world backed by the Sikhism faith, including the one that we have here in Manila, which is the first Sikhism temple established in the Philippines. I served as the temple’s president for eight years.
Leading our church was no easy feat, because we’re not only a house of prayer, but also a place where we help anyone in need. You can call it a one-stop-shop. Everyday, people are welcome to worship and share a free meal with us. Our missionary works are steadfast. A lot of my fellowmen face different sorts of criminal problems, from kidnapping to extortion, and we had to help them with these issues all the time. Inevitably, I made enemies in the process, resulting to my brother being killed and my reputation and safety jeopardized constantly.
So why stay for eight years considering all the difficulties? You cannot put a value to a human being’s smile when that person’s burden is eased. I find solace and joy in giving back, whether in big or small ways, because from having nothing once in my life, God has since then given me so much more than what I need.
I may be a private citizen or an expat in the Philippines, but crime busting has always been running through my veins. Ultimately, helping others never ceased to be my lifelong passion. Finding comfort and confidence in the non-profit organization Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption after my brother’s death and the incessant harassments I’ve endured, I eventually formally joined the group in 2015 and became their secretary general—a position I hold to this day.
In 2015, I founded the Filipino Indian Commerce and Welfare Society (FICWSI) aimed at bringing together Indian and Filipino businessmen and stakeholders under one umbrella organization to look after their needs, protection, and interests.
For 13 years, I’ve been an active member of Rotary Club Makati-Nielsen, where I’m president elect. I have also been serving as board of director of the Anti-Trafficking OFW Movement (ATOM), have been adopted as a member of PNPA Sandigan Class 1994, and have been accepted by the NBI Batch 32-5 Knights, making me the first foreigner to be accepted by the NBI.
Manjinder Kumar, “James” to many, has an irrevocable mission and that’s to always help where he can.
From assisting the criminally victimized, to providing aid to those inflicted by calamities, Kumar’s promise of giving back stands.
Kumar’s missionary works, at a glance…
At the phenomenal Typhoon Yolanda, that claimed the lives of many and brought catastrophic impact to many Filipinos, Kumar was among the active responders.
He got together with his fellow Sikhs and set off to Pontevedra, a village in the province of Capiz, to build a modest clinic and concrete homes for families who lost their houses.
Kumar saw so many impoverished kids in Gigantes Island, so in cooperation with former Iloilo Vice Governor Boboy Tupas, he made sure to feed these children lunch for 1 whole year.
Kumar spearheaded the construction of Guru Nanak Dev Ji multipurpose hall on top of a mountain in a remote village in Pampanga to provide the Aeta community a facility that they could use for their events and gatherings. He also fed the community and gave out school supplies for the children.
Aside from building classrooms and a library, Kumar also provided school supplies to Berinayan Elementary School located in Batangas.
Kumar donated relief goods—personal hygiene kit, rice, water—to those affected by the Taal Volcano eruption, which happened in Taal, Batangas, and reached as far as its neighboring provinces like Cavite and Laguna.
He also provided relief to the calamity’s responders like policemen.
Since the 2nd day of the community lockdown of NCR, which started on March 15, 2020, brought about by the global pandemic Covid 19 reaching the Philippine shores, Kumar’s aid provision has been nonstop. He’s donated thousands of masks to hospitals like Makati Medical Center, Manila Doctors Hospital, MMC hospital in Manila, San Juan Medical Center, Philippine General Hospital, and Mandaluyong Medical Center. PPEs, Vitamin C, potable water and food, have been donated to Frontliners such as those from the NBI and PNP, including security guards in several gated communities in the southern parts of Manila.
He’s also donated PPEs to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, 100 sacks of 50kg rice to Paranaque Councilor Wahoo Sotto, and 100 sacks of rice, noodles and canned goods to Brgy. BF Homes Kagawan Rey Casanova, respectively, for distribution among their constituents.
The Embassy of India, along with Kumar and members of the Indian community, got together to donate a total of 150,000 masks to the Philippine government.
Donated 1,000 pcs. resuable facemasks and 50 reusable PPE suits to health workers in different private hospitals being administered by the Sisters of St. Paul Chartres (SPC).
Donated 100 sacks of rice and assorted canned goods for Region 3, in coordination with PNP regional director PRO-3 BGen. Rhodel Sermonia.
300 families from the Hannibal Compound in Pasay City were provided for with rice.
Through the help of Mr. Francis Michael Tong, donated 10,000 canned goods, 35,000 pcs. of surgical face masks, 200 PPEs, and aerosol boxes to Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo’s office.
This has also formally kick-started Kumar’s daily feeding program to select communities throughout the quarantine period.
In response to the growing and prolonging demand for necessities, like food for the community and PPEs, masks, gloves, alcohol, and vitamins for frontliners, Kumar formally launched the outreach program #filindihelpline. This program is aimed at “filling in the need” to capacitate FICWSI, along with its donors, to continue its cause of providing relief to beneficiaries.
As a gesture to further protect the protectors, Kumar, together with his adoptive PNPA Sandigan Class 1994, turns over to Chief PNP Archie Francisco F. Gamboa the following for the police frontliners delegated at the checkpoints: 500 PPE coveralls, 5,000 disposable surgical masks, 500 face shields, 500 N95 masks, and 10 bottles of 3.78L rubbing alcohol.
In cooperation with its many donors and headed by Kumar, little big gestures via the relief giving efforts of FICWSI were made possible:
– The parish priest of Sts. Peter & Paul Parish in Poblacion Makati, Msgr. Gerry Santos (right), received 100 sacks of 25kg rice for their feeding program, Martha’s Kitchen.
– Manila Police District Director BGen. Rolando F. Miranda received 300 PPEs and 100 sacks of rice for the poalice and constituents, respectively.
BGen. Vicente Danao Jr., Regional Director of Police Regional Office 4A, receives from FICWSI 200 sacks of rice, 200 washable PPEs and N95 masks. Region 4A covers provinces such as Cavite, Batangas and Laguna that have been affected by the massive Taal Volcano eruption just in January 2020. Said provinces have barely gotten back on their feet yet and are in dire need of assistance at present.
Married: Yes. To a Filipina
Favorite thing to do as a family: Hole up in my room with my wife and kids to watch Netflix
Pets: Yes! I have three German shepherds and a lot of cats
Hobbies: Playing golf, working out
Favorite show: The Kapil Sharma Show. It’s an Indian comedy
Favorite food: Adobong manok (chicken adobo)
Favorite restaurant: Royal Indian Curry House – Eastwood branch. It’s the best branch so far because of its ambience, food, and service altogether
What dish do you cook best? Still adobo
Favorite drinks: Garlic-ginger tea in the morning; whiskey at night
Household chores you do: Cook, clean, fix documents. I’m always arranging documents in my spare time at home
Health habits: Working out, eating healthy food
Advice to your kids: Share your blessings. There is always something you can give, and someone will always be grateful for what you can extend