When Harakhchand Savla decided to mortgage his fairly profitable hotel to serve underprivileged cancer patients in Mumbai, many mocked him saying, “You are a baniya (trader)! Why are you abandoning a profitable business to start a business of losses?”
But Harakhchand never gave up.
At the age of 11, Harakhchand would trudge five kilometres through the summer heat and cold wintery mornings to school by foot. Saving the bus allowance his father gave him, he helped pay the fees of his poor friend, to save him from dropping-out for three years.
Today Harakhchand is 59, but his spirit of selfless giving continues. .
It was 33 years ago that one incident pushed Harakhchand to start working for underprivileged cancer patients.
If you have ever seen the serpentine line outside Tata Cancer Memorial Hospital in Parel, you would know how people diagnosed with cancer from different parts of India spend days and months on the pavement to seek cancer treatment at subsidised prices.
“Every person standing in that line has a painful story of his own. Some don’t have enough food for survival, some have no accommodation and sleep on the pavement, some have no money for medicines and some are just clueless about how to get tests done in the right building,” says Harakhchand.
Since Harakhchand was quite popular in his locality due to the community work he started as part of ‘Lower Parel Mitra Mandal,’ people would approach him quite often.
On a usual day, a young girl walked up to him and asked for help after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. The girl was financially unstable and clueless about the course of treatment. Harakhchand took the mother-daughter duo to Tata Memorial hospital. Unaware of the memorial building that offered subsidised treatment, they landed up entering the private OPD.
“I told her she would end up spending a month’s salary in a day there. So we took her to Sion Hospital where her mother’ was treated for over two months. Her cancerous breast was surgically removed and she recovered. But when I understood that the error I had made, I was overcome with guilt. I joined my hands and cried for her forgiveness. But she smiled at me and said, ‘It doesn’t matter where the treatment happened, you saved my mother’s life. You are God to us, Savlaji.’”
These words changed his life. He realised how one act of service could change people’s lives, and how little it took to become ‘God’ in someone’s eyes.
“It was the turning point of my life. As a repentance to my mistake, I decided to dedicate my life to the cause of cancer patients,” says Harakhchand.
Harakhchand worked individually for over 12 years with his own money. He would feed cancer patients and their relatives on the pavements of the hospital from his own kitchen completely free of cost. But as the number of people kept rising, he realised the size of his pocket remained the same.
“I survived on my own for 12 long years. But at one point I did think about giving it up. I clearly had no financial capacity to cater to the growing numbers. But on second thoughts, I decided to register the Jeevan Jyot Cancer Relief and Care Trust, whereby I could get funds from like-minded people who genuinely felt for the cause and wanted to help cancer patients,” he says.
He rented out his own hotel that was getting him good business and raised some money. From these funds he started the Jeevan Jyot Cancer Relief charitable activity right opposite Tata Cancer Hospital, on the pavement next to Kondaji Building.
Today, he not only feeding over 700 underprivileged cancer patients and their relatives food but also helping them get free medicines and accommodation in a city like Mumbai.
Of over 80 activities run by the trust, 30 are cancer-related.
Apart from the 700 persons he feeds, over 100 families who have their own vessels or kitchens to cook are donated free foodgrains every month.
For those cancer patients surviving on liquids due to throat cancer and food pipes, turmeric milk or milk powder are provided.
They also run a toy bank for cancer kids, who Harakhchand fondly refers to as his bachhus. These kids, who are struggling every single day through the pain, have ample toys at their disposal to play and are free to take them home.
“When they get tired of one toy, they give it back in exchange for another one that catches their whim,” he says laughing.
These kids are also taken for picnics, movies, magic shows, etc. With good donations, the kids even visited Essel World and enjoyed day boat-parties in the past.
“Many of these kids come from far-flung areas where they have never had the opportunity to look at the ocean and bask in its beauty. The happiness you see on their faces is immeasurable,” he says.
Harakhchand also runs a drugbank where former patients who have been cured donate cancer medicines. These are given to underprivileged patients free of cost. The medicines are sort out with the help of Jeevan Jyot’s two pharmacists and two doctors.
Since the costs of few medicines are very high, the doctors at the trust also suggest alternate medication.
“We give over five lakh medicines free of cost every month,” says Harakhchand.
During the course of his work in the last 33 years, Harakhchand has come across several circumstances were relatives abandon their own cancer-affected kith and kin in the city and run away.
The trust helps these patients, many of whom are on their last stage get a dignified death with last rites. It also provides cremation rites to unclaimed bodies.
“I started alone, but today when I look back, I realise how much the trust has grown. We have over 150 volunteers working on-ground of which 25-30 are always active. Our 17 full-time staff take care of the patients dedicatedly. We have our own kitchen that feeds these patients and their relatives and even a running ambulance service for transportation and emergencies,” says Harakhchand proudly.
He recently started another centre in Thane, where physiotherapy, dental procedures etc. are done at nominal costs for the poor. A generic medical store has also been set up where drugs are dispensed at nominal charges.
Savla has bought a 50-acre space outside Kalyan, where he wishes to start a hospice centre for last stage cancer patients.
“When a hospital gives up hope on a cancer patient’s case, we want to give them shelter during their last days,” he says.
Other activities in the same plot include an old age home & gaushalas (cow shelters) to help aged and cancer patients get nutritious milk, butter, and ghee.
Harakhchand Savla through the years has impacted and changed the lives of lakhs of cancer patients. Every day, the worn out muster roll in the tiny space of the Jeevan Jyot office in Kondaji Building continues to add 35-40 new beneficiaries.
The trust continues to conduct all its activities on a budget of over two crore. But even this isn’t enough to reach out to the rising number of cancer patients who need help.
“We are all constrained as humans. It aches my heart when we are unable to help a certain person whose medical bills run into lakhs. Because then we won’t be able to help many other patients. So, we hope many people come forward to help. We need to raise 5 crores to reach out to more people. But we will continue our work with all we have. That will never stop,” he says.
Hundreds of residents in Parel also leave clothes, old newspapers or anything they don’t need at the trust’s doors.
“I was able to raise 1.25 crore in seven years only through raddhi/newspaper drives. Apart from wooden furniture, we take everything else,” he says.
A major source of support to Harakhchand has been his wife, who always encouraged him to follow his passion and help the needy. Each time he has gone on stage to receive any of his 109 awards, he takes her by the hand and tells the organisers to bestow it upon her.
“We all have a responsibility to help people less privileged than us. So, no matter how big or small, do your bit,” he concludes.
If Harakhchand Savla’s story inspired you, get in touch with him here. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
3/9, Kondaji Chawl, Jerbai Wadia Road, Parel, Mumbai-400 012, Maharashtra, India
You can doante via cheque in the name of :
Jeevan jyot cancer relief and care trust
3/9kondaji chawl Jerbai wadia Road, Parel M.-12
Or transfer your donation to the below details:
Bank of Maharastra
A/C No : 20059826756
Branch : Parel Bhoiwada
IFSC : MAHB0000563