By Raqib Hameed Naik, TwoCircles.net
Fort Meyers, Florida: For most professionals, 60 is the age when they are expected to take a backseat, relax, and retire. But then, most professionals are unlikely to have the zeal of Dr Farida Ghoghawala. She might have officially retired in 2000, but since then, the 72-year-old obstetrician-gynaecologist, who is now a US citizen, has travelled extensively in India, Philippines and Jordan to treat women who can’t afford quality health care. What is even more commendable that she offers her service for free, paying for her own travel and food, only to serve humanity.
Dr Farida Ghoghawala.
After retiring from her practice in 2000, Dr. Farida started volunteering forhealth programs. In 2012, she came to India to help in a health initiative organised by Indian Muslims Relief and Charities and has been visiting every year since then. Since 2015, she has been spending six months in India doing medical activities, treating and providing quality medical care to poor and low income women, free of cost.
Her dedication to women who cannot afford treatment comes partly from dire financial constraints during her childhood. Dr Farida was born in a low income class family in Ahmadabad, Gujarat in 1944 to Mohammad Usman, who worked in a book-binding center and Zeenat-un-Nisa,a home maker. She did her primary education in a neighborhood Government-run Urdu elementary School. However, her parents asked her to drop out, as they weren’t much educated and wanted her to instead focus on domestic chores.
Fortunately, her maternal uncle came to her rescue. He took her with him and got her admitted into an English school in 5th grade. Having studied in Urdu medium school, English was quite difficult to comprehend for the little girl, but she was full of enthusiasm when it comes to studies and joined Kindergarten classes to learn the subject.
After years of struggle and getting admission into B. J. Medical College Ahmedabad, she finally graduated in October 1967. But fate had better in store for her. “Mamu (maternal uncle) insisted that i should take the US entrance exam called Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG). However, there was a small catch. India had closed centers for ECFMG exam to prevent physician outflow to foreign countries. So, Mamu sent me to Ceylon for the exam by borrowing application fee of 15 dollars from the Physician son of his business colleague, who was doing residency in Cleveland Ohio,” recalls Dr. Farida.
Finally, she was selected in four-year residency program in Saint Johns Hospital of Cleveland Ohio in 1970.With 15 dollars in hand Dr.Farida landed in United states.
“That time was such a struggle for me. I use to sleep in hospital call room,” she recalls.
After finishing her residency, she started private practice in Fort Myers Florida and settled their along with one daughter and a son, who is now working as an ophthalmologist in Texas.
Dr. Farida has also served during Iraq-US war in the United States Army. But she continued to have one wish.
“Despite all such work something was amiss in my life. I always wanted to go back to India, because my childhood memories and our poverty and that of other people living in the neighborhood used to haunt me and I wanted to do something for them, especially the women who used to suffer silently,” says Dr. Farida.
Dr. Farida came for treating poor patients in India in year 2012, with IMRC, which conducts an annual India Health Initiative for treating poor patients in India for free.
“Finally in 2012, I first came to India as a volunteer doctor for IMRC, organizing free medical camps across various parts of India. They are really doing a great job in India,” she added.
The India Health Initiative (IHI) was started by IMRC in 2010. Every year, doctors from the US volunteer for this health initiative by rendering their services free of cost. Since its inception, the organization has successfully conducted seven India Health Initiatives comprising of medical camps across different rural areas, poor localities and slums in India.
Dr. Farida, through her efforts, has treated thousands of female patients in Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Assam and Haryana in the last four years.
“Really, the experience has been so fulfilling that after my first visit in 2012, I started coming to
India every year and now Alhamdulillah, every year, I spend six months in India,” she says.
While sharing her experience, she further said, “Women here get exploited by local medical fraternity due to lack of awareness, especially in fertility treatment. I am educating them on when to say no and how to get proper treatment. Apart from that, many ailments arise in women due to nutritional deficiency. Women are the caretaker of the whole family if we educate them about health issues then we are saving families from chronic diseases.”
Earlier this year Dr. Farida travelled with a team of 10 US based doctors volunteering for IMRC and treated patients in slums of Hyderabad and villages in Kozhikode district of Kerala.
She has also volunteered and worked for four months since November, 2015 in a low cost medical care clinic in Bangalore, Karnataka.
On August 18, Dr. Farida will embark on a new mission, but to a new country and new people, whom she considers most deserving. She is going to Amman in Jordan with IMANA Syrian Refugee care mission, where she will treat refugee women.
Later this year she is again coming to India to be the part of IMRC’s health initiatives and also treat poor women in Jammu and Kashmir. This might seem daunting tasks for many, but for Dr. Farida, this is what she does best, and she is unlikely to stop anytime soon.