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In a trip to India at the end of May this year, philanthropist Bill Gates visited Ujariaon in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Ujariaon is but one of hundreds of slums in India where the deprivation is staggering. About 2,000 people live in this one square kilometer and are sustained through garbage picking. The visit left a lasting impression on Gates.

“It’s a challenge to reconcile the extremes,” said Gates on his blog. “On the one hand, there are a lot of talented people and some amazing things going on [in India]. But there’s also a huge amount of abject poverty.”

India may be progressing economically, but not all Indians are benefitting. Perceiving better opportunities in the cities, many who flock there end up in wretched conditions. Nevertheless, like anyone, Ujariaons want their children to be educated and believe that things will improve.

The state government has planned initiatives for these people, such as improved health care, development and universal vaccination, and addressing water, sanitation and hygiene. Gates says, “My visit to the slum, where good water is rare and open defecation is the rule, was a stark reminder that even in the cities, there is much work to be done.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already invested over a billion dollars in programs to fight disease and poverty in India. Gates says there are two reasons for that. The first is that “400 million people live in extreme poverty in India, more than in all 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined,” and helping people live a healthy, productive life is one of the Foundation’s missions.

The second reason is that India’s government has been an effective partner to the Foundation. Over the long term, India has often taken over the running and financing of joint projects. One of the greatest successes: In India there has been no new cases of polio for over a year.

Gates says he visits India at least once a year to see the work his Foundation is doing there. When visiting Ujariaon, he said, “That experience will stay with me for a long time. Despite very tough lives, people there have great strength and determination, and they’re optimistic about the future.”

You can watch a video of Bill Gates’ trip here.

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