A few days ago I went to college and attended two dull lectures as usual. Our Professor, who is also the Director of the institute, took a few extra minutes of our lunch break, as a result of which the class became restless. As soon as he was done and walked out the door, everyone jumped to their feet and stashed registers and pens in their bags to leave.
"Ek minute, rukooo!" (One minute, stop!) a hoarse voice lamentably implored from where our Director had been standing only minutes before. As we turned around to look at the blackboard, we saw a short, stout and dark middle-aged man in ragged clothes standing with his arms flailing, looking nervous. "Please, ek minute, please rukoo! Bahut zaroori baat karni hai!" (Please, one minute, please stop! Have something very important to say!) he continued, his voice trembling.
Now, we're a class of over 40 students. Some of us hesitantly went back to our seats to hear what this man had to say. However, some of my classmates took one look at the man and judged that what he was saying wasn't important enough to be considered (being in the same institute for 2 years, they could easily recognize who the powerful in our department were and hence deserved the respect of being heard.) Since this man was clearly not from our academic department and his clothes and manner of speaking suggested he wasn't important, they walked out the door as if he hadn't existed. The man watched their cold backs walking out the door and beseeched, "Please! Ek minute! Please!" but to no avail.
Once the footsteps of those that had walked out had faded, the man turned his eyes to those that were still seated. About twenty students remained. His eyes were red and damp. Not just damp, but watery and swollen, as if he'd been crying for many days. He looked at us, teary-eyed, folded his hands in supplication, and earnestly entreated,
(Please, children, help me...My son is very sick...We paid 50,000 rupees for his operation in a hospital but they did it wrong, they did the wrong treatment of the wrong ear and he became paralysed. Even the device they gave to keep in his ear is not working. Then we went to get his operation done in another hospital but there the expense is 1,50,000 rupees. We cannot arrange for so much money for this operation. We have spoken to the Rotary Club, they have agreed to give 1,00,000 for this operation and students from other neighbouring colleges have agreed to give 25,000. Only your college is left. I have taken permission from your Director and he said that I could come speak to you after your class and ask you. Please help me. This is for my son's life, please donate anything you can, please!")
Something about the way he spoke made me realise that this was no fraud. He was genuinely distressed, extremely poor and clearly a very responsible father. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to be in his position; to not be able to afford your child's medical bills and to be faced with the prospect of your child going untreated as a result of your poverty. He deserved our sympathy and support.
Here comes the shocker in the story: The class's highest-scoring, frontbencher student asked to see any "documents" and the man showed him 2 laminated copies of letters from the Rotary Club saying that they were partially contributing to his son's operation bills. After reading these, Mr. Frontbencher decided not to contribute. As the poor man made his way around to collect money, one student contributed 500 rupees, another contributed 200 rupees, and 3 others (including myself) contributed 100 rupees each. That makes a total of 1000 rupees. The rest either politely declined as he approached them or ran out the door before he could approach him, thus showing him more cruel, cold backs.
He profusely thanked those of us that had contributed and walked out, head lowered and shoulders drooping into the empty hallway. It is difficult for a person who is not used to begging to have to beg. What I fail to understand is why didn't I contribute 500 rupees? And why didn't all 40 of us contribute at least 50 rupees each? Alas, us middle-class human beings, ensconced by all kinds of insurance schemes, don't understand how difficult unexpected medical bills can be when you're poor.
In fact, I too only understood the man's situation when the unnamed guilt that seeped into my heart refused to go away. Upon being forced into reflection, I accepted this guilty feeling stemmed from realizing how selfish and stupid I'd been and how vacuous we as postgraduate students were to refuse to help. Shame on our education, shame on our adulthood and shame on everything dynamic we 'youth' are supposed to stand for...
From the above incident, I hope I have drawn attention to the fact that sudden healthcare costs (e.g. major operations) are prohibitively expensive for the poorer sections of society.
It is Time to Change this situation and I wish to provide a helping hand to this cause (and to people like the poor man in the above incident) by constructing the following:
- A non-profit website should be set up where poor people ("Requesters") can explain their medical issues -with descriptions, pictures, etc - that require urgent funding. Visitors to the website who wish to donate ("Donors") can then make direct donations to foot their medical bills. (Hopefully even sponsors can make donations.)
- Any person who has a genuine medical problem (and his/her relatives who are making the request) should first be verified before their request is uploaded onto the website - and the contact details of the doctors and hospitals in question should also be disclosed so that frauds and scams are avoided.
- Donations can be of any value i.e. even rupees 50... and should be available to be made in all forms - i.e. Cash (the person's relatives could come collect it), Credit/Debit card, Cheque, etc.
- There should also be an option of lending money to the poor person (under condition that he pays it back within, say 1-3 years), without interest or with a very low rate of interest. This option should only be made available if the Requester is comfortable with paying back that amount. This option should also only be introduced if the money cannot be raised by donation means. This option is to encourage people who normally wouldn't donate more than 100 or 500 to consider loaning 5000 (with the surety that they'll be returned 5000 within a year, and will hence only make a loss of 500 on it in terms of foregone interest).
- Post-treatment details should also be uploaded onto the site, so that the donors have an incentive to take interest in a stranger's medical case (as they can understand what they're helping to pay for).
This post is an entry in a contest, Time to Change! ("If you could change something around you, what would it be?"), organized by Stayfree. For further details check out: www.facebook.com/sftimetochange