Kanta Khipple was a 14-year-old in India when she was first inspired by the activism ofMohandas Gandhi to make the world better for women and girls. Today, no one can deny that she’s done just that. Now in her 80s, Khipple was honored by the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) with a 2014 Impact Award.
Khipple is one of the founders of Apna Ghar and a 60-year veteran of public health and social welfare work around the world, from her native India to the Caribbean and, thankfully, right here in Chicago. She founded Apna Ghar with four other women in 1989 to give Asian immigrant women – and all women in need – a safe haven from violence where they could rebuild their lives.
CFW honored five women, including Khipple, “for their dedication to increasing the resources and opportunities for women and girls in the Chicago area.” The awards ceremony was held on March 13 at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in the Loop.
During a video shown at the ceremony, Khipple said she was motivated as an adolescent to work in social justice because of Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. She also pointed out that CFW was the first organization to fund Apna Ghar, offering a sorely needed grant in the agency’s early days.
In the recording, Khipple said: “I am proud to say here now today before all of you that Chicago Foundation for Women was the first organization which gave us a very small grant…(it’s) interconnected, how we work together.”
Khipple’s long career is difficult to summarize, but her daughter, Ranjana Khan, a board member of Apna Ghar, provided some highlights: Khipple earned her first social work degree in India and worked on family planning and health in the 1950s before moving to Sweden for a university fellowship. In the 1960s, she moved to the U.S. to complete a Master of Public Health at the University of Michigan, and then, in 1970, she accepted a job in the Caribbean with the World Health Organization, the public health arm of the United Nations. She was tasked with educating citizens in several nations about maternal and child health. In 1986, she moved to Chicago, where for a brief time she was executive director of Asian Human Services. She also, of course, founded Apna Ghar, as well as a few now-inactive projects, including a senior center and an AIDS foundation. She and her husband live in Evanston and have three children.
Khan, her daughter, was present as her mother received the CFW award.
“It’s quite emotional,” she said, “because it all comes from her heart. She’s just so passionate about it.”
Or, as Khipple put it in the video: “I have never left serving women and girls in all my capacity.”
Because of that, she gives younger generations what Gandhi once gave her: inspiration to change the world.
More on Kanta Khipple:
Read an interview of Khipple conducted by her daughter, Ranjana Khan, and published last year by Apna Ghar.
Read Executive Director Neha Gill’s nomination of Khipple for the award.
– Meredith Heagney