Our 30th anniversary: looking back at our first project in 1991

The Berlin Wall had just come down, and the Soviet Union was undergoing tremendous change. During the winter of 1990–1991, the Russian people were experiencing great hardship. The German people – desiring to express their gratitude for what President Gorbachev had done for them – sought to provide humanitarian aid for Russia. Sri Chinmoy asked his German students to supply urgently needed food for the people of Russia.

A convoy of food aid arrives in Moscow after driving thousands of kilometers
Research Institute of Pediatric Hematology

One of our first projects was with the Research Institute of Pediatric Hematology. The goal of this establishment was to introduce modern technologies of diagnosis and treatment of various blood diseases and tumors and the destruction of the immune system in children. The present-day treatment of patients with blood diseases and tumors are impossible without transplantation of the bone marrow. Without this complicated and very expensive procedure, there is no hope of recovery in children in Russia who need this operation. The first modern bone marrow transplantation unit was built in Moscow after receiving money from the Gorbachev Foundation. The cost of the construction was $2 million US. The project would never have happened without the Gorbachev Foundation, which covered half of the expenses.

As President of the Gorbachev Foundation, President Mikhail Gorbachev had chosen the treatment of childhood leukemia to be the Foundation’s principal area of humanitarian and charitable activities. In his years as the Soviet leader, he donated substantial amounts of money received as prizes, awards and author’s fees to finance improvements in this field. Mrs. Gorbachev also made donations. Important projects in this area are now being financed through the Gorbachev Foundation.

President and Raisa Grobachev

The personnel were trained abroad in Europe and the United States. Sri Chinmoy assisted in arranging for two Russian doctors to come to Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York City to study with Dr. O’Reilly, the Director of Sloan-Kettering’s bone marrow transplant unit.

In the developed Western countries, the recovery rate of children with acute leukemia in 1991 was between 60% and 80%. In Russia it was 4%-5% prior to the use of chemotherapy. Sri Chinmoy assisted the Research Institute of Pediatric Hematology in improving the recovery rate of children with acute leukemia by sending large quantities of chemotherapeutics to treat the children. His first shipment was Vumon, a drug to treat leukemia that was valued at US$400,000.

Dr Vladimirskaya with the children

Dr. Elena Vladimirskaya, the Scientific Director of the Research Institute of Pediatric Hematology came to New York to see Sri Chinmoy to seek donations of pharmaceuticals for the treatment of children suffering from blood disorders. The day after she arrived in New York there was an unparalleled snow storm that brought the entire city to a standstill. Despite the weather conditions, Dr. Elena walked over an hour through the blizzard to meet us, demonstrating how great her love is for their children. To Sri Chinmoy she wrote,

“Let us express our great respect, admiration and deep gratitude to you for all you have done for us. The life of our Institute has changed totally from the moment you began to help us. Your pupils from all around the world directed the stream of help to our children.

Already we have received very expensive and very essential equipment, drugs and supplies. But most important is your love and care, which we are feeling constantly. You teach us to live in a very special and daring way.

Dr. Elena Vladimirskaya
letter to Sri Chinmoy

A large number of beautiful hand-knit hats for children who had lost their hair during treatment were sent from London by Bhavani Torpy, a student of Sri Chinmoy. She also arranged for large shipments of pharmaceuticals to be sent to the Gorbachev Foundation for the treatment of childhood leukemia.

Dr Arthada Platzgummer

When Dr. Arthada, an Austrian student of Sri Chinmoy, was visiting the Russian children’s leukemia hospital, the doctor giving him a tour stopped in the corridor to speak to a man passing by. He was the father of a child that was treated in the hospital. Immediately the man started to speak most emotionally in Russian with tears in his eyes. Dr. Arthada thought the child had died. Finally the Russian doctor translated to him that this father was expressing his heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Arthada upon learning that he had brought the pharmaceuticals that saved his child’s life.

Media articles

Some media articles from the time about the work of the Gorbachev Foundation, and also our humble contributions.