It was during a two-week humanitarian trip to India that Dr Cat Morris found her calling. Little did she know that she would still be there 15 years later.
Cat had done stints in the NHS and in clinics in Uganda and rural Australia when she was offered the chance to use her skills as a paediatrician on the sub-continent.
A decade and a half on and she runs an NGO with 135 staff that has helped thousands of the world’s poorest children, and which donated 4 million meals to the vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Morris got a taste of her future life while doing conservation work in Uganda during her gap year.
She studied medicine for five years at Bristol and took a Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene at the University of Liverpool, where she met Dr Mary Cusack, who she works with in India to this day.
Dr Morris returned to the UK, where she worked in the NHS and volunteered at homeless projects with her now firm friend Dr Cusack. During this time they were offered a trip that would change their lives and ultimately the lives of thousands of children – a trip they almost turned down.
“Initially we didn’t want to go to India. I wanted to go back to Africa as we were worried about how patriarchal the society is here,” Dr Morris said.
“But we spent two weeks volunteering as paediatricians and back in Derby we couldn’t get the country out of our heads.
“A moment that really struck home was visiting a leper colony. Many of the adults had fingers and noses missing, but we also saw children showing signs of leprosy. We couldn’t understand why kids were suffering from a totally treatable disease – it turned out the drugs weren’t making it to them, they were being sold on the black market.”
The pair returned to India soon after and spent five years working for NGOs in some of India’s most deprived areas.
In 2012, they set-up their own NGO, Love the One, which offers healthcare, education and childcare in the impoverished state of Odisha.
Such is their kindness that the pair even look after seven orphans – some of whom need round-the-clock care - in their own home.
“After five years in India we had seen the good, the bad and the ugly. We also knew the stats, such as that half of Indian children are abused, and that a third of the world’s poorest children are in India,” Dr Morris said.
“We wanted our NGO to focus not just on health, but on education and childcare too – to provide the full package so children can thrive.”
Love the One became even more important during the pandemic. Dr Morris said the “horrific” second wave of the coronavirus took a huge toll on the community and led to the tragic death of one of the children cared for by Love the One.
The team worked hard to help students stay healthy and keep studying: distributing education packages, mobile phones for online learning and more than 4 million meals.
Dr Morris and Dr Cusack received OBEs for services to Healthcare and Child Welfare in India on January 1.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development office said: “Through their work, Dr Cusack and Dr Morris have saved and transformed lives, delivered hope through selfless voluntary service and brought great credit to the UK.”