"We are changing lives," said Dr. Abul Sharah, the founder of the International Village Clinic Manav Khidmet Foundation (IVC/MKF) in Uttar Pradesh, India.
"We are changing lives," said Dr. Abul Sharah, the founder of the International Village Clinic Manav Khidmet Foundation (IVC/MKF) in Uttar Pradesh, India.
 
Dr. Sharah visited our club, along with representatives from both Hudson Rotary clubs: Chuck Ladd and Shelli Erck. He provided an overview of the clinic and health care initiatives he is conducting in Pradesh and surrounding villages.
With both curative and preventative program in one of the poorest areas of northern India, the IVC has quickly grown from its humble beginnings to serve thousands of people.
 
Dr. Sharah is a longtime member of the Bloomington, MN Rotary Club, and a good friend of the Hudson club for 15 years or more.
"He is what I would call THE Rotarian - he is giving back to his community in a major way," said Chuck in his introduction.
 

Difficult beginnings

Utar Pradesh is the largest state, population wise, in India, with 230 million people calling it home. That’s ten times the population of the state of Minnesota. It was there that Dr. Sharah grew up. After losing his father at the young age of six, prospects for education dwindled. Besides the traumatic loss of a parent, the father is the chief wage earner in India.
 
“I did go to school, with the help of a relative, and was the first kid in my village to graduate high school,” he said. After going on to college and majoring in engineering, he then received a scholarship to go to Japan, where he took his masters at the University of Tokyo. From there, he received a fellowship and did his PSD Program in Canada. He completed that and taught for some years until 1972, when he came to Bloomington, where he has lived for 47 years.
 
After working for Honeywell, Techtonics and MTS systems, he moved through the positions from technologist to management, administration and finally international marketing. He has conducted business all over the world for these companies.
 
“It was a great life,” he said. But as he reflected, he realized that he had not achieved his success on his own; luck, timing and opportunity had played a role. He decided that he wanted to make a difference and “at the point I said I must give back at some point in life. I didn’t know where or what I would do but promised myself that I would give back.
 

A change of direction

Dr. Sharah spoke fondly of the time he was able to meet with Mother Theresa while she worked in Calcutta. "She was not a tall person, but believe me, she was bigger than life. I will never forget my half hour with her. That moment changed my life.”
In 1989, he took an earlier retirement and founded the clinic.
“I wanted to go back and do work in India in villages where I was born, but I didn’t know India. I left when I was a kid,” he said. “When I went back for business, I was going to Bombay, deli , Bangalore, would have three days to visit four to five countries and we stayed in five star hotels.”
He spent three months in the small villages, asking where help was needed. The most pressing need was for health care.
In 2002, the first clinic opened. The services were divided into the following categories:
Curative
  • outpatient service
  • inpatient service
  • 24/7 emergency care
  • ambulance service
  • baby delivery
 
Preventative
  • nutrition
  • vaccination,
  • health education,
  • family planning
 
The clinic started as a moving hospital, and consisted of:
  • A mobile clinic and ambulance, where a doctor, pharmacist and nurse administer medical aid.
  • A smaller vehicle to act as an ambulance, as many villages have no ambulance service and it can be 30-50 miles to a large enough city to receive more complex care.
“People would line up and all day we would serve them,” Dr. Sharah said of the mobile clinic.
 
The permanent clinic started as a 40x18 building that was half residence and half hospital. Patients would sleep on the floor at night and in the morning would have to leave so that the clinic hours could commence.  If a woman gave birth, she would lie on a 5x2 ft. table with her infant while recovering.
 
“We were saving lives, we didn't care about how much space we had,” he said.
 
In 2005-2006, construction was done and for a separate residential building so the doctors had a reasonable space to stay.
Now they could handle emergencies 24/7, treat broken bones and offer a full delivery room. Plus, they started doing cataract surgery.
 
“They do it for $35, which includes transportation, an overnight stay and pair of sunglasses. That's how far the dollar goes there,” said Dr. Sharah.
 

Prevention is the key to change

The preventative programs have made the largest impact, however. From contraception to prenatal care and nutritional supplements for women and children, it has been a slow but steady change as people are able to procure care for their children.
The clinic monitors the growth of babies after birth and also provides vaccinations. Health education is provided by field workers for women 16-55 – childbearing years in India. Doctors provide an hour of health education each month in 60 villages.
The clinic is currently serving over 200,000 people, with a staff of 60 including four doctors. With a budget of $150,000.
 

From clinic to school – the project continues

With the help of Rotary, Dr. Sharah also took on the project of providing toilets in schools, to prevent young women from dropping out during puberty, as they would miss school because they would stay home and not relieve themselves in the fields, as was the custom.
About two years ago, the project of a new school was begun. In India, speaking English is very important to getting into college or obtaining a good job. If you live in a city, it’s easier to find a good school where you can learn English and be able to speak conversationally. Not so much in the smaller villages. Schools are haphazard and usually not the best learning environment.
 
So the World Class English School opened its doors in July of 2017, serving 400-500 kids in a safe environment.
 
“If you can persist and persevere -- you can change culture,” said Dr. Sharah. “Families in Indian villages have slowly moved from the norm being five to ten kids to three to five kids. When women come to me and say, ‘how will I educate and care for more than three to five kids?’ my heart swells. It took almost 20 years, but we are doing it.”
 
Dr. Sharah spends six months here and six months in India each year, developing these projects. He has, as he once promised himself, given back. Over and over again. “I am devoting the rest of my life to this cause,” he said.
Thank you, Dr. Sharah, for vising us and for sharing your progress on these important projects!
 
 
Photo at right: Left to right: Chris Cusick Blasius, RF Rotary president, Chuck Ladd, Hudson Rotary, Dr. Sharah and Shelli Erck, Hudson Noon Club.
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