TEMPE, AZ — A Tempe businessman is nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
Raveen Arora, 72, is one of 230 people up for the prestigious award. Arora was nominated by dozens of organizations for the prize, including many in the Valley.
He's being recognized for his work against hunger and homelessness in India, Bangladesh, and Tempe.
Arora was born in a refugee camp in India. He grew up in the slums of Kolkata.
"When you’re poor, and when you don’t have anything, hunger and poverty became my best friends," he said.
He lived near Mother Teresa, who was a mentor and teacher to him growing up.
"There I learned compassion, humility, lots of lessons learned… how we must want to give, not have to give," said Arora.
From an early age--he was exposed to inequality. That triggered his passion for helping others. He discussed the topic when he met Martin Luther King Jr. in India when he was 11 years old.
"I realized it’s good to be blessed, but it’s better to be a blessing," he said.
In 2001, he and his family moved to Phoenix. A couple of years later, he decided to invest in a rundown building that sat on Apache Boulevard in Tempe. He said the area reminded him of his slums.
What did I learn from Mother Teresa? Compassion, I learned dignity, I learn to respect, I learn to be humble. I said I’m going to build a cultural center, like an Indian cultural center," said Arora.
India Plaza opened in 2003. His family opened The Dhaba restaurant, hoping to bring the Indian community together.
The plaza has grown to include a market, barbershop, gift shop, and market, mostly owned by immigrants.
Tempe councilmember Lauren Kuby said Arora has served as a model for other business owners, helping his employees pay for tuition or charging nominal rent to tenants.
“He’s a Tempe treasure," said Kuby. "If every business owner were like Raveen, we would not be lacking in resources and heart and compassion.”
The Oasis in the plaza serves as a refuge for the homeless, offering a place to cool off, get IDs and get a free haircut.
"The homeless community knows this is a center where people care, where they can get a meal, where they can get a cold drink and they can get assistance," said Kuby.
Arora said his goal was to help others reach the American dream.
"Accepting people as they were, accepting them as part of my shared humanity, this was my life.”
The Nobel Committee will announce winners in October.
Arora said he doesn't deserve to win, but he sees the nomination as motivation to keep helping others.
“For a refugee child who became a refuge of sorts, it’s a vindication. It shows that people care," he said.