Rotary & Aster group to build homes in flood-devastated Kerala

In yet another important partnership, Rotary and the Aster DM Group, a healthcare major, have come together to build homes for the flood-affected victims of Kerala. In December, an MoU was signed between the Aster Group Chairman Dr Azad Moopen and District Governors A Venkatachalapathy (3201), Dr E K Ummer (3202) and E K Luke (3211), represented by PDG Dr George, in Kozhikode, with each partner committing $1 million to build these homes.

RID C Basker (centre) with (from R) DG A Venkatachalapathy, PDGs Giju Alexander George, E K Sagadhevan, DG E K Ummer and Dr Rajesh Subhash (standing right).
RID C Basker (centre) with (from R) DG A Venkatachalapathy, PDGs Giju Alexander George, E K Sagadhevan, DG E K Ummer and Dr Rajesh Subhash (standing right).

While between 300 to 500 homes are planned, in the initial stage, a pilot project for 75 homes — 25 in each of the three Rotary districts — will be implemented by June 2019.

RI Director C Basker, who was present during the MoU signing, commended all the three district governors for “carrying out amazing relief work that got the attention of the entire Rotary world. Now that the relief phase is over, Rotary is looking for corporate partnerships and we couldn’t have hoped to find a better philanthropist than Dr Moopen, as he is known for the charitable work done not only by his company, but also his private trust.”

He said as Dr Moopen was very keen to get the project off the ground immediately, in this particular phase, The Rotary Foundation has not been involved as the required clearances would take time.

What happened in Kerala was a calamity without parallel. Since we are from Kerala and I began my career in Kerala, we wanted to do something substantial.
– Dr Azad Moopen, Chairman of Aster Group

Addressing the small gathering of representatives from his group as well as Rotary, Dr Moopen said what had happened in Kerala was a “calamity without parallel”. His group is engaged in charitable activities, particularly in the health sector in many countries across the world, including in Africa and Syria. “Since we are from Kerala and I began my career in Kerala, we wanted to do something substantial. The first thing our team did, with the advantage of our presence in several places in Kerala, was giving medical attention to the flood- affected people in places our doctors could reach.”

A positive outcome of immediate action was that thanks to preventive measures and the information given out, outbreak of diseases commonly seen after such floods, was avoided. He said an estimated 20,000 homes in Kerala were totally destroyed in the floods and there is partial damage in lakhs of homes.

Aster Group Chairman Dr Azad Moopen and RID C Basker after signing the MoU.
Aster Group Chairman Dr Azad Moopen and RID C Basker after signing the MoU.

Realising that on such occasions speed is of essence, “we announced we will do 250 houses using our own funds, and they will be spread across Kerala. Apart from this, we have handed over a cheque of ₹2.5 crore for the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.”

When he came to hear from his close friends Dr Rajesh Subhash, former Assistant Governor of 3202 and Rtn Abdul Hameed, both Rotarians from RC Calicut Midtown, and later DG Ummer, that Rotary was also rebuilding homes for the flood victims “I thought this was a good opportunity to expand our work.”

He said the Aster group had done similar work outside India too. Following the “Nepal earthquake, we had sponsored 500 houses in the country. We spend ₹50 crore every year in charity (through the MIMNS Trust) and normally don’t publicise our charitable activities. But of late, and after taking a cue from philanthropists such as Bill Gates, we’ve realised that if we promote such work, others may follow.”

To get and train doctors from Africa is a fantastic idea, which will be a truly international collaborative effort for Rotary as well, as one of our focus areas is Africa.
RI Director C Basker

Executive Director of the Aster Group, Wilson said that apart from the charity done by the Group’s Trust, Dr Moopen has set apart 20 per cent of his personal wealth in a private trust to help the less privileged.

Dr Moopen added that keeping in mind the huge requirements of helping the less fortunate in India, “I look forward to the opportunity of working with Rotary International and doing much bigger things, particularly in healthcare area because we are better equipped for that task. We have 11 hospitals in India, and are opening the 12th one in Chennai and are looking for partnerships with organisations like Rotary so we can do things at cost…we are certainly not looking at profit!”

DGs Ummer and Pathy said they were identifying land on which homes can be built. It was decided that rather than concentrate on clusters, the effort should be to give the people homes in their own areas, or else there was danger of these not being used.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

A new Rotary-Aster partnership in the offing

Chairman of the Aster Group, Dr Azad Moopen said that he was very happy to enter into a partnership with Rotary International to build homes in the flood-devastated Kerala. “But we are looking at a partnership with Rotary beyond this one project. We have a significant presence in the healthcare sector in several countries and see about 20 million patients in a year. We are now spreading our presence in Africa, in partnership with a university hospital in Nigeria.”

One project he was keen to do with Rotary was training health professionals from Africa, “where there is a significant lack of such trained professionals. We work in African countries but whatever we or anybody else may do, the last mile cannot be covered unless you have qualified trained people on the ground there.”

If such professionals could be brought to Kerala, with Rotary sponsoring their air travel and accommodation, the Aster group, which has the training ability — it has a medical college in Wayanad, two paramedical colleges, a pharmacy college etc — could provide the training. At present, a few odd professionals come and are trained but this needs to be made an ongoing programme. “And in a year, we can train 300 people; so instead of getting our doctors to do healthcare procedures in Africa, or giving them fish, we can teach them how to catch fish!”

In addition, the two partners could also explore extending telemedicine coverage from here to African countries. “Many of these patients don’t get proper diagnosis; if we can connect with local doctors and find out the problem, telemedicine would help them immensely. We are now doing a telemedicine project with Tata Communications, which has a large presence in Africa. And Rotary International has roots all over the world.”

Responding to this suggestion, RI Director C Basker welcomed it as a “fantastic idea, which will be a truly international collaborative effort for Rotary as well, as one of our focus areas is Africa.” He said a Rotarian, Dr Rajasabhapathy, who owns the Ganga Hospital in Coimbatore, already has such an initiative going. “He invites doctors from Bangladesh and Africa and trains them in micro plastic surgery.”

He suggested that apart from doctors from Africa, such an initiative also add doctors from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Philippines to expand the scope of the training programme.

Basker promised to take this suggestion from Dr Moopen to the RI Board and The Rotary Foundation and examine the scope of TRF funding the travel and stay of doctors in Kerala, who can then be trained by the Aster Group’s medical institutions.

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