By Jay Samson
Indian national Manjinder “James” Kumar knows all too well the value of the cherished Filipino concept of community spirit, bayanihan.
Just days after the enhanced community quarantine was implemented following the COVID-19 pandemic, Kumar embarked on a personal mission, doing his share in bayanihan efforts alongside various entities extending help any way he can. Almost everyday, he was out distributing PPEs (personal protective equipment) and relief goods to various hospitals, police checkpoints, and small communities.
Kumar was seven when his family settled in the Philippines, and where he grew up in a Filipino-Indian culture. Kumar grew up poor, and knew the realities of poverty. But through hard work and perseverance, he eventually achieved success. His heart, however, remains close to the plight of the poor.
Career and passion
“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 here in the Philippines,” Kumar said.
“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,” he said.
“Through my parents’ hard work, my own hard work, coupled with faith in myself and most especially in God, I thrived here in the land I now also call my home.”
“I got the opportunity to invest in the restaurant business, and opened up my own business process outsourcing company. In the pipeline too are other business ventures—one, a security agency, the other a holdings company involved in lending, micro financing, and build and sell,” he added.
Kumar is now happily married to a Filipina; they have five children.
A life of advocacy
In 2009, Kumar found himself leading the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple as its president. Khalsa Diwan is a religious congregation, comprising mainly Indians in the Sikhism faith and is the first Sikhism temple founded in the Philippines, in the early 1900s.
“Leading our church was no easy feat because we’re not only a house of prayer, but also a place where we give help to anyone in need. You can call it a one-stop-shop,” Kumar said.
“Everyday, people are welcome to worship and share a meal with us. Our missionary works are steadfast. A lot of my fellowmen face different sorts of criminal problems, from kidnapping to extortion, and these we had to help them with all the time,” he said.
Unfortunately, his work made him enemies, resulting in his brother being killed and consequently putting Kumar’s reputation and safety in jeopardy. Still, he remained Khalsa Diwan’s president for eight years.
“This has always been my way of giving back because from having nothing, God gave me a lot,” he said.
Eventually, he decided in 2015 to join the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), finding comfort and confidence in the nonprofit following his brother’s death and the harassments he endured. He eventually became their secretary general—a position he holds to this day.
Also in 2015, Kumar founded and chaired the Filipino Indian Commerce and Welfare Society Inc (FICWSI), which aims to bring together Indian and Filipino businessmen and stakeholders to look after their common needs, protection, and interests.
Kumar has also been an active member of Rotary Club Makati-Nielsen for 13 years now. In 2018, he was elected its president, a position he holds to date.
“I may be a private citizen or an expat in the Philippines but … ultimately, helping others never ceased to be my life motivation,” he said.
Kumar also thinks he best expresses his life’s work best in his adopted homeland’s language: “Sabi ng ilang kakilala ko, ako ang Indian na hindi nang-iindyan sa bayanihan (Some of my friends say, I’m an Indian who never stands up others when it comes to bayanihan).”