Bangladesh rickshaw puller starts clinic for the poor

Joynal Abedin with school children Joynal Abedin started a clinic with his savings as a rickshaw puller, and then launched a coaching centre for children

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Joynal Abedin still remembers the rainy and windy night when he saw his father die because there was no medical treatment.

His village in the northern Mymensingh district of Bangladesh did not have any medical facility at that time, and the nearest hospital was about 20km (12 miles) away.

The death of his father, about 30 years ago, changed the life of Mr Abedin, who was working as a farm labourer then.

He could not console himself and vowed to establish a basic medical centre in his village of Tanashadia, about 100km (60 miles) north of the capital Dhaka, so that lives of poor villagers could be saved.

Though he had the ambition, he had no money, so he set out for the capital Dhaka with his wife.

Joyal Abedin Mr Abedin vowed to start a clinic to help villagers after his father's death

"When I landed in Dhaka it was a new experience for us. We were amazed by the size and energy of the city. Initially, we were not sure how we could survive there," Mr Abedin, 61, remembers.

Like many other migrants, he started pulling a rickshaw. But it was not easy in the city's busy traffic. Gradually, he learnt how to negotiate swerving cars and trucks. For two decades, Mr Abedin pulled rickshaws, carrying passengers and goods from one point of the city to another.

His wife, Lal Banu, managed to find a job as an assistant in a local clinic. But Mr Abedin always kept a secret from his wife.

He opened a bank account to save money and start a health clinic in his village. His wife did not know about it.

"Sometimes my wife used to argue with me for not bringing enough money to run the family. But I always saved some money. Even during difficult times, I never touched my savings," Mr Abedin recalls.

After he had saved more than $4,000 (£2,550) Mr Abedin decided to return to his village.

Disbelief

Start Quote

Previously, when I was a rickshaw puller, people use to ignore me and I faced lots of abuses”

End Quote Joynal Abedin

It was a surprise move as villagers who come to Dhaka seeking livelihoods normally prefer to stay in the capital - given its better hospital and school facilities - and better basic services.

Mr Abedin bought a small plot of land with his savings. He built a tin roof house for himself and then built another shed for the clinic.

With the remaining money he bought a few tables and beds for the clinic.

When he shared his idea of starting a clinic with his fellow villagers, they did not take him seriously.

"People were making fun. They did not believe that a rickshaw puller could start a clinic. Even doctors were not willing to come to this centre," reminisces Mr Abedin.

Mr Abedin named his clinic as Mumtaz Hospital. He initially requested a paramedic to give first aid treatment.

Village women waiting outside the clinic The clinic treats several people every day

As the news went out, more villagers came to the clinic to get basic treatment. Those with serious conditions were referred to a hospital in the town of Mymensingh.

Every day, the medical centre treats around 100 patients. A local paramedic treats patients in the clinic and a doctor pays a weekly visit.

With the help of some individuals and companies Mr Abedin has also set up a basic pharmacy, which distributes medicines for free to the patients.

The health centre treats minor ailments like fever, diarrhoea and simple injuries and helps those who suffer from asthma.

It also has a small maternity ward, but those with complications are immediately referred to a hospital. The staff members also talk to rural women on maternal health and child care.

Hospital dream

Villagers from neighbouring areas speak highly of Mr Abedin's work. They commend the former rickshaw puller's determination and courage.

"This hospital helps poor people like us in this area. The government hospital is far away and I cannot afford private clinics. So, I come here whenever I require treatment and it's free," said Abdul Malik, a farmer living in a nearby village.

When the local media reported on his work and his clinic, some individuals donated money to him, which he used to build a couple of more tin roof sheds and started a coaching centre for primary school students.

The coaching centre caters to the children of day labourers and farmers. More than 150 students are studying Bengali, Arabic and basic maths and English.

Village women waiting outside the clinic The clinic is popular with locals, and has received praise from local media

"Though it is not a proper hospital, Mr Abedin's clinic offers vital support to the villagers. He has become a role model in our country," Lokman Hossain Miah, a senior government official in Mymensingh district, told the BBC.

"We have given free books to the students there and are also trying to arrange donations from individuals for the clinic."

It is unusual in a country like Bangladesh for a rickshaw puller to invest his entire savings to start a clinic for others.

Rickshaw pullers are among the bottom rung of society and earn less than a dollar a day.

Mr Abedin stopped being a rickshaw puller late last year because of ill health. He spends his time looking after his clinic.

"Previously, when I was a rickshaw puller, people use to ignore me and I faced lots of abuse. Now people are showing respect, they are inviting me to their houses to have tea with them. This would have never happened if I had been a normal rickshaw puller," said Mr Abedin.

"My dream is to convert this clinic into a full-fledged hospital with the help of the government and other donors."

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