Making a difference
Even though he earned only Dh43 a month, Hussain Momin saved up enough money to build a hospital for the poor in his remote village after his mother suffered from lack of quality medical care. Nilima Pathak and Anand Raj OK report
Meet Hussain Momin, a mechanic who built a hospital for impoverished villagers in Gujarat, India.
Hussain Momin is tinkering with the engine of a tractor that’s in his workshop for repair. An hour later, the 48-yearold wipes his grease-blackened hands on a rag, then powers up the vehicle. “It’s ready,” he tells the owner.
The farmer smiles, happy he can now return to work in his field. “Can I pay you for this tomorrow?” he asks, and Hussain agrees.
“You truly are a great man,” the elderly farmer says, shaking his hand. “After all, you built a hospital for us.” Hussain smiles modestly. There are few people in the village of Telav, about 10km from Ahmedabad, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, who don’t know him.
The illiterate and poor mechanic invested all his savings into building a multi-speciality hospital last year for villagers who were unable to afford quality medical treatment. Since then it has helped to save the lives of over 2,000 patients.
“I’d always wanted to do something to help the people in my village who were struggling to get good health care,” he says. “I think even my mother, who was suffering from severe depression in the last few years of her life, would have had a better quality of life if there had been medical facilities in the vicinity.
“At the time, the closest multispeciality hospital was in Ahmedabad and in the case of an emergency it would take several hours to reach the hospital as we were too poor to have ambulances or motor vehicles to get to the hospital in time.”
It was the loss of Hussain’s mother Jivi, who died in 2002 when she was in her 50s, that jolted him into
action. “She meant a lot to me because I know how much she struggled to raise my two younger siblings and me,” he says.
Hussain was just eight when his farmer father Nabi Momin abandoned him and his two brothers – Rahman, then seven, and Vali, then five. “I think my father could not deal with the abject poverty that we lived in. He apparently felt extremely dejected by the fact that, despite his hard work, he could never provide enough for his family, so much so that one fine day he just walked away.
“There were many days we struggled for food. My mother, who was an illiterate woman herself and had never worked before, used to run errands for villagers who would offer her food in return, which she’d rush back home to share with us. But we often didn’t know when – or even if – we would ever get our next meal.”
Too poor to go to school, Hussain worked on the family farm and did odd jobs in the village to ensure his family could get by. When he turned 20, he left home to earn a living in the city. “Since I never attended school, I had no skills and had no clue what life had in store for me,” he says. “But I was willing to do any work to make a living and help my family.”
After doing several odd jobs in various villages, he reached Chiloda, a small town in Gandhinagar, the state capital. “There I met a man named Ambalal Patel, the owner of a garage, who changed my life. He taught me to repair vehicles and slowly I acquired the sobriquet of ‘master of machines’,” Hussain says.
Living frugally on a salary of Rs700 (Dh43) a month, he would send most of it back home to his family in the village.
“That helped the family and once my younger brothers started doing well in farming, I began to save a major portion of my salary.”
Five years into his job, he returned to his village and married his neighbour, Subhanaben. “I couldn’t afford to take her along to the city where I was working so she stayed in Telav with my family and I used to visit her as often as I could.”
In 2001, after 15 years in the job, during which he rose to be a senior mechanic earning and saving more, Hussain decided to head back home.
“I had saved around Rs700,000 (about Dh42,000) and decided to use part of it to set up a small garage in Telav,” he says. “Also, I wanted to be around my kids – daughter and son – during their growing up years.”
His business did well but Hussain wasn’t happy. “A year after I came back to the village, my mother passed away after years of suffering. It was a turning point and I decided I wanted to work for the good of society. But I didn’t know where to begin.”
After seeing his mother’s daily struggle with her health, Hussain decided that he would put all he had into a hospital. “There was no hospital in my village. Even for minor medical issues, patients were forced to trudge miles to the nearest hospital in the city. I used to see so many of my friends and even my own family members struggling to get good medical aid in the village.
“I didn’t want people to suffer due to the lack of medical care so I decided to invest all I had saved into building a hospital.”
Hussain had a plot of land he had inherited from his grandfather and although it was about 6km from his home, he decided to build a hospital on it. “Since the plot was barren and had not been utilised so far, I thought it would be ideal for my plans. I decided to use my savings for the hospital. Around Rs500,000 was spent in the construction of the building and Rs200,000 on basic medical equipment.”
After a year, the structure was ready. But Hussain’s problems were still not over. Now the biggest hurdle was finding doctors who would be willing to practise in the village.
“I approached several doctors in the city and asked them to come to my hospital but none were willing to work for free,” he says.
“Then, after about four months of waiting to find the right people to run the hospital, a group of men came to me and asked if they could use the premises. These men were not qualified doctors but had previously worked with doctors as pharmacists and assistants. Rather than keeping the hospital closed, I thought it would benefit people so allowed them to use the place.”
Unfortunately they were not the kind of people Hussain had in mind when he conceived the hospital.
“I’d wanted it to be a charitable hospital but unknown to me, the staff were charging patients exorbitantly. Since I used to be busy in the garage all day, I had no idea what was happening in my hospital so came to know about it only much later.”
By the time Hussain realised what was happening at the hospital, it was too late and his dream project acquired a reputation as a place where patients were fleeced and not treated well.
“After seven months of operations, I managed to throw out the men and decided to close down the hospital. I was extremely upset that the place I had built with all my life’s savings and hard work was being
misused and the patients were being cheated.”
A broken man, he was devastated that his reputation was in tatters because of the greed of a few unscrupulous people. So upset was he that his work at the garage began to suffer. “I could not concentrate on my work because my mind was occupied with my hospital and how to get it back on track.”
Since Hussain had invested all his savings into his dream project “we were penniless once again and I didn’t know where to begin anew”.
Not surprisingly, realising he was in a desperate situation, land sharks began to offer to purchase the property. “Some of them offered me a fairly tempting sum – around a million rupees.” But he refused to sell the hospital building.
“It was a tough call to take as I had the responsibility to look after my wife and 22-year-old son, Hanif, who did not have a job. There were moments when just like my father, I too wanted to run away.”
One night, about four months after shutting down the hospital, Hussain’s friend Madhubhai Gohil came by. “He told me his friend Dr Kartick Shukla might be interested in seeing my hospital. Of course I was happy even though I didn’t know how serious he was,” says Hussain.
A month later, a neighbour came running to Hussain’s garage saying Dr Shukla was waiting for him outside his hospital. “As I walked inside the building with Dr Shukla, I sensed such positive vibes that even before he uttered a word, I knew I could trust him blindly.”
Dr Shukla was surprised that a reasonably well-equipped hospital in the village was not operational.
“I asked Hussain more about it and was moved when he said he simply wished to help the poor and the needy. I’ve spent several years in the profession and it had never crossed my mind to do some benevolent work for people other than just treating patients who come to me. But here was a man who could have lived a comfortable life by selling the property but had decided against it so he could realise a noble dream.
“I was inspired by this tractor repair man. I immediately knew that I could make this happen.”
Dr Kartick agreed to work in the hospital free of charge and using his contacts attracted a small team of like-minded doctors and was able to reopen the 25-bed hospital in November last year.
He contacted experts in different disciplines who offered to provide their services free of charge. The hospital has orthopaedic surgeons, gynaecologists, dental surgeons, ENT specialists, ophthalmologist, a general physician and a physiotherapist on its board.
“Now Hussain and I have a common dream of helping the less fortunate people in and around the village,” Dr Kartick says. “About 150 villages, spread as far as 120km from Telav, benefit from the hospital.”
One such patient is 20-year-old Toral Patel from Panchmahal in Santrampur district. The teenager had tuberculosis of the spine but because her family was poor and couldn’t afford regular check-ups and medication, her condition worsened.
Sitting in a wheelchair next to the reception counter, Toral smiles as her father Bhavesh explains, “I admitted my daughter to the hospital in a critical state.
“The doctors operated on her immediately and now she is absolutely fine and is going to be discharged soon. I am eternally
‘Hussain and I have a common dream of helping the less fortunate people in and around the village’
grateful to the doctors and Hussain, who is the man behind the hospital.”
Shantiben, 65, says her life has also changed because of Hussain’s hospital. Scraping together a living by doing sundry jobs, she suffered from severe arthritis but couldn’t afford treatment. “One of my neighbours told me about the hospital and how they treat people sometimes free of cost so I came here,” she says.
Doctors operated on her knees and now she’s looking forward to going home. “I had visited several hospitals in the city. But because I was unable to afford the huge hospital fees, I had given up. But here, the surgery was done almost free of charge.”
Explaining the fee structure, Dr Kartick says, “Those coming to the hospital can pay whatever their families can afford. We do not deny treatment if the patient is too poor to pay.”
On average, a patient pays Rs150 as consultation for routine orthopaedic surgery. In other private hospitals the consultation fee is more than Rs800. Also, unlike other hospitals, there is no OT (operating theatre) charges and no nursing or room charges. Except for the nursing staff, ward boys and some junior staff, all others including the doctors offer their services free of charge.
Initially, Hussain was opposed to charging fees and wanted it to be run as a charitable hospital. But Dr Kartick says, “I reasoned with him, telling him that in the long run, treatment would suffer and compromising on quality makes no sense. So it was decided that though the treatment in the hospital will be chargeable to cover its running costs, patients will be told the cost of treatment and asked to pay whatever they can.
“At present, we have 35-40 patients daily and every month we perform as many surgeries. The hospital is still to grow and we have elaborate expansion plans, with more operating theatres. I am glad we have a building and just need structural changes to help out with projections and carry certain modifications.”
He adds, “More than anything, I’m happy for Hussain. He is beginning to smile now! His son has taken charge of the hospital’s administration and has become a responsible person.”
Hussain smiles. “I’m truly happy now,” he says. “Seeing the smiles on people’s faces makes me feel that I’ve done something in my life.”
Adarsh Hospital, which is the result of Hussain’s hard work
Dr Kartick Shukla is working with Hussain to run the hospital
Hussain invested all his savings in the project