British Asia News Network - WD/SL
London, Sep 19: Velji Vekaria, who took over the helm of affairs at Shree Kutchi Leva Patel (SKLP) Community, that represents over 30,000 members in the United Kingdom from Gujarat's Kutch, spoke to British Asia News to share his success story as an entrepreneur as well as a community leader.
Most importantly, he narrated how the poor Kutchy community migrated to Africa that helped them to change the fortunes forever. He also spoke about the consequent journey of community members from Kenya to London.
He was born in a state where India's prime minister Narendra Modi hails and has vision and commitment for his community in London as well as back home.
Son of a professional farmer, Velji Vekaria, popularly known as Veljibhai came to London from Kenya.
"I was in Kenya for 30 years, I was a British passport holder, so was my wife. Kenya's 1981 Act, which stopped passing our nationality to the next generation came in and because both of us were British, originally, the Kenyan government had their own rule, which says that one of the parents needs to be a senior citizen, then only our children can get Kenya citizenship. That wasn't the case with us."
"To avoid my children becoming stateless we decided to migrate to the UK", he says
"I started my career in London as an employee of a company of contractors for 18 years as a contract manager."
In the case of Veljibahi, he never thought of starting his own business for himself but looking at his sons talent, interest and dynamism at a very young age, he helped in setting-up a business for him.
"My son wanted to become a pilot, later due to his interest in electrical and mechanical subjects, he became an engineer. Soon after his studies he wanted to start his own business, so I helped him in setting this up. His two school-mates joined him, by the grace of God, there are two companies running so well "
"My mantra and advice to him were, maintain our culture. You will look after your health. If you are healthy, you will be wealthy. I am happy even today he follows my mantra. He is a devotee, preserves our culture and helps others too"
Veljibahi is a firm believer in the Hindu religion and tradition, he is a devotee of Lord Swamy Narayana
Veljibhai is a community man, whether in Mombassa or London, he had always put his effort in promoting his own community, Kutch Leva Patel. He recalls how he was appointed as Councillor in Mombassa by the British High Commissioner without even expecting the position. That was not only a surprise but also a high point of his life. He served as Councillor there for eight years, prior to his arrival to the UK.
“Before I came to this country, even in Mombasa, I was a general secretary of a religious temple for 18 years. also involved in our summit, which is a community centre as one of the younger leaders as well. Even in school, I was a head prefect." Vejibhai says.
When asked if he is a born leader, his answer was simple: "I don't know. Leaders are either born, or they are created. Now, I don't know if I was born as a leader, or I don't know if I was made to be a leader. But I like helping people. I like mentoring people, because in our religion, it says that if you've got any knowledge, and if you can improve somebody's life, if your knowledge can be shared with somebody who can also improve their life, please do that. This is this word, Lord Swaminarayan has said in a way, somebody very simple, but very, very to the point"
Pictures from album
When asked why he did not consider joining politics, he says "In Mombasa, during summer people used to have water scarcity, and we had good water in our well, I used to help people with food and water during the extreme time of need. People used to come to me asking to be their Councillor or MP. They wanted me to contest election. They have seen a politician in me, perhaps. But I politely declined. Something happened here in London, many people of my community are saying that we are happy to support you, vote you please stand as a Councillor, But I feel politics is not my cup of tea, especially in this country. Because before you become that, obviously you need to know so many political grounds and geographical situation. So I said, thanks. Not for me. I still get pressure. But I said 'no'."
"We come from Kutch, Gujarat. Most of us were all farmers, about 60-70 years ago our parents have gone through a difficult life. They suffered financial problems but had good faith in religion. They used to go to temple first thing in the morning, pray, and then have breakfast, after they used to go to the farms with the whole family. Education was also another problem due to poverty. Within the community some elders advised the youngsters to migrate to Africa to look for their career. People started going by taking huge risk, without even considering the weather warning as they would tavel by ship. Some landed in Nairobi, others in Mombasa.
Things have changed after people of the community landed in Kenya. Some got jobs, others started business. Started helping each other, supported back home. Created a Society or 'Samaj' to help the people to stay, eat and find job etc. That's how the community started growing financially. The community in Mombasa will celebrate 75 years in 2021".
“In 1968 when all of our community members were working in Kenya, and after independence in 1963, something new came up in 1968, a permit system. Most of our elders were British passport holders, or they were British citizens because of the colonial time. This was before 1963. So when they bought these new legislation of having work permit, the people said no, we can't afford this because obviously, money was an issue.”
“So from there, the migration started either back home to India, or to London, those who were a bit wealthy said, '' Okay, let's go to London.”
“There's a time they started migrating here. When we came here it was the same situation. Whoever the founding member who came here, they were helping our community. As far as accommodation was concerned, they were making them live together and then start looking for jobs. And in 1971-72, got a premise here, in Hendon"
Mombasa's Kutchy community was instrumental in setting up the community here. It was a collective effort, says Veljibha.
"It is a collective effort by some leaders who are still there, and we are going to honor them on the September 22 during SKLP Mela, they are our role models, and today's youngsters have a lot to learn from them."
"SKLP's main aim is to promote the community to enhance the education, culture, and encourage the younger generation to participate. We have two arms. One is religious, and one is culture which is the 'Samaj'. So even on religious note we have a good couple of temples in London. The first temple which was built, was here in London.
There is the Kenton temple, then East London, Stanmore, Cardiff, Bolton all down. So all these temples, they're all part of our community. We support our community back home in Kutch also. Happy to say that, we have built a general hospital in Kutch, that helps everyone"
Veljibhai feels uniting all Hindus under an umbrella is need of the hour, as he is in touch with various community leaders around the UK to initiate the plan. Though there are several forums of various groups who believe in different Gods, there needs to be unity among Hindus. He does not see the effort in communal angle but for the better religious practice in this country, help and celebrate each other, he wants all denominations of Hindus to be united.
At the same time, he emphasizes on having cordial relations with all religions and faith practiced in UK.
SKLP is celebrating 50th anniversary in three years time. Veljibhai is excited that his term as president will be valid until the celebration. Under his leadership GBP 12 million community centre is all set to be built. The collection of funds is also going well. There are several donors come forward to support the cause. Additionally, there is also door-to-door visit to collect funds in order to realise the dream.
Veljibhai family pictures
Veljibhai's message to young British Asians:
Reading the commentary I notice the Temples mentioned are only of BHUJ sansthan. Am Iright in assuming BAPS and Kingsbury Mandir do not partake in SKLP Samaj to further our Hindu culture? Surely there has to be more strength in numbers whatever the differences?
SKPLC community is a blessing in disguise thank you for uniting us
Proud to be Kutchy - thank you Veljibhai for your support
Well done to SKPLC, well done for achieving a successful community outside od India, well done Velji Vekaria
what a great community cohesion away from home well done to the SKPLC community for keeping your culture and tradition alive out of your hometown. Inspiring community inspiring leadership. Well done Mr Vekaria
Veljibahi, under your leadership SKLP will surely prosper and all our Patel community dreams will realise. Thank you for your selfless service to the community
Brilliant job. Community centre at the cost of 12Million Pounds are not easy project. All the best SKLP
Nice to see, away from home Hindu traditions are continued and unity is shown. We are proud of you and your organization sir.
Jai Swami Narayana. Om Shanti
Have known Velji as a colleague in Mombasa where he was the secretary of the Education Board & I was appointed as the founding principal of the Swinarayan Academy. Velji is pragmatic & extremely hard working person. He is kind & compassionate & extremely likeable person. Congrats my brother Velji & May Lord Swaminarayan guide you to fulfil the mission. Jay Shree Swaminarayan.
Proud to be Lava...
Happy to see hindu movement in UK. All the best mr Vekaria.