Count Artur Tarnowski was a traveller, writer, journalist, and philanthropist. Despite tragedy and disability, he tirelessly travelled through different continents in his quest to help others.
Born in 1930, Artur Tarnowski served as a messenger boy for the Polish underground Home Army and narrowly escaped death after Poland fell under Soviet domination.
After the war he moved to Britain and studied economics at university, but his real passion was travelling and adventure. Shaped by his war experiences and longing to explore different cultures, perhaps he never felt fully comfortable in his new country. So he packed up and hitchhiked across North Africa and the Middle East, spent a summer living with a Bedouin tribe in Iraq, and travelled across India and most of the South Asian countries.
On a visit to Bali in 1958, he contracted polio and after spending many months in a local hospital, he was told he would never walk again. For someone who was so active, independant and free spirited, the prospect of life in a wheelchair must have been debilitating. Nonetheless, he was undaunted and spent the next years learning how to conquer this obstacle, while at the same time planning a new expedition. Despite his disability, and perhaps because of it, his determination to see the world again was even stronger.
By 1964 Tarnowski was ready, and embarked on a two-year, almost 100,000-mile expedition. He wanted not only to travel, but to make a difference in the lives of the handicapped in some of the poorest countries in the world. His dream was to help with their rehabilitation. He travelled through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and across the Himalayas into remote Nuristan, then crossed over India to Thailand, Laos and Japan.
Tarnowski travelled by car which often required him to camp and sleep in the wilderness of the Middle East or Asia. This would have been a huge challenge for any young man from the West, but for a man bound to a wheelchair it was truly heroic. Nor did it ever stop his drive and focus to forge on with his expedition and to overcome any obstacles in the way. This epic journey took him on an unbeaten track, which he carved out with an unwavering desire to keep going and make a positive impact on other people.
During the crossing of central India, he paid a visit to a rehabilitation center for leprosy patients in Anandwan. There he met the founder, Baba Amte, a revered Indian social activist and follower of Ghandi who inspired Tarnowski to formally dedicate his life to helping the handicapped. He then himself founded a charity, Take Heart India, which to this day provides education and vocational training to the physically handicapped. Helping others despite his own disability gave his life new meaning.
Take Heart India became Tarnowski’s spiritual and second home. He travelled back to Anandwan from Britian every year, for a total of 47 visits, until the year before his death in 2012. His philanthropy and dedication has helped thousands of the handicapped and lost souls forgotten by society to find meaning and fulfillment in life and become active citizens again. He set by example and encouraged others with Baba Amte’s credo that dignity was gained through work, not charity.
Tarnowski wanted to share his stories and was a keen writer and journalist for newspapers and magazines. He also filmed several documentaries for the BBC, and despite his disability he continued to live his life to the fullest. A few years before his death at the age of 80, he and his two sons undertook an heroic journey across Iran, which was this tireless warrior’s final farewell to the world.
His life was indeed like the unbeaten track, but he beat it by his incredible spirit.
Polish Professionals Forum in Europe