RameshChotai knows what it’s like to be a refugee. His family fled the persecution of Asians in Uganda by Dictator Idi Amin in 1973. “So, my heart bleeds for refugees around the globe,” says Chotai, who now owns the very successful Bromed Pharmaceuticals. And India, the country of his forefathers, turned him away. But, he adds, if you have faith, things do change for the good: “Now, the Indian government has given me an Overseas Citizen of India card.” This refugee from Uganda now owns a chain of pharmacies in eastern and northern Ontario, imports pharmaceutical raw materials from many countries, manufactures orthopedic and medical supplies and has diversified into real estate. Ask Chotai, a pharmacist who trained in England and Switzerland, about just how big his Bromed Pharmaceuticals is, and he quips: “I am comfortable enough to share my fortunes with needy people around the world.” To be fair, he has done that. He took the lead in fundraising efforts in Canada to help victims of the Gujarat earthquake.
The efforts raised $3.6 million in three weeks, with Chotai pitching in a generous sum himself. He didn’t stop there. He and some of his supporters from Toronto traveled to Gujarat to help rebuild villages, houses, community centers, schools, to set up mobile medical facilities. And he set up a little bit of Canada as well in the hearts of the Gujaratis. The first school he helped rebuild was named the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Secondary School, after the former prime minister who gave asylum in Canada to a large number of refugees from Uganda. Similarly, Chotai set up the Lester B Pearson Primary School, a secondary school in the memory of Terry Fox. Some of the rebuilt villages were named after Toronto and Canada and some of the streets were named Yonge Street, Bloor Street, Dundas Sreet — after Chotai’s downtown Toronto haunts.
And last year, as co-chair of the advocacy group Canada-India Foundation, he raised funds for the Gujarat chief minister’s fund for the education of women. Chotai’s charity is not limited to India alone. He’s helping Dr Bhudendra Doobay, president of the Vishnu Hindu Temple, run a free medical clinic in Guyana. And when the earthquake struck parts of Pakistan, Chotai was busy raising money. He did the same for the Tamil orphans. Nearer home, as co-chair of the Trillium Hospital’s famed Diwali dinner in 2007, he raised $500,000 for the Toronto hospital’s Om Fracture Clinic, named after the Sanskrit sound. “Lots of people call me and I try to help,” he laughs. “To me it doesn’t matter whether one is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Sikh. We are all humans. Our community has come a long way and continues to excel in all spheres of business, academic and political life of the country. We should encourage our youth to take part in these endeavors.”
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