The doctor in Singapore informed Safia that she was diagnosed with stage-3 cancer and explained about the side effects and rigorous process of chemotherapy. Safia instantly nodded her head that she was ready for it, ready to go through hell to live for her 41 children back home in Bangladesh. 41 children- ehh? Her son was present at the moment and cushioned the doctor's curiosity by explaining about Safia's charity work and how she had taken the responsibility of those poor children suffering from leukaemia. Hearing this, the stunned young lady doctor grabbed Safia's hand and said, "I won't let you die!"
The doctor was successful. Cancer lost to Safia and her resolute mentality, indomitable will to live, not for thyself but for others. In fact, her triumph over cancer wasn't for treatment, neither could it be attributed to her luck, but her innocuous cherish to live for others. No wonder how she has still got the spunk to remain very active in her sixties. Each chapter of life, she believes, takes her a little closer to perfection. One such chapter of her life began at the gynaecology unit of Chattogram Medical College Hospital (CMCH) about a decade ago.
Some lucky patients got to lie on bed, others were lying on the floor; the walls were close to dump; a few ceiling fans were running with creaky noise giving little to no air; anybody entered the room felt suffocated due to the stifling odour-- this was the picture of the gynaecology ward of CMCH that Safia Ghazi Rahman found when she visited it. She was there to see her housemaid's daughter-in-law who had a baby a few days ago. The wretched woman had to take stitches again though the surgery was fine. It was because the first time stitches were rotten due to hot and humid conditions. This extremely disturbing and despairing information shocked Safia so much that she immediately decided to cancel her Umrah Hajj scheduled later that year and spend all the allotted money gifted by her elder son for Umrah purpose to renovate the gynaecology ward of CMCH.
That was the beginning of a long collaboration of charity, humanity, love and care, between Safia Ghazi Rahman and CMCH. Her immediate donation saw the surgery room facilitated with four split ACs and some cupboards. The unfortunate incident with her housemaid's daughter-in-law made such a deep scar in her mind that it would not go with the initial donation. So she made her mind that she wouldn't rest until the gynaecology ward was facilitated with modern equipment. This resolute determination brought a total number of 60 cupboards, some window ACs, exhaust fans, curtains, uniforms for the ayahs, 25 steel bedside cabinets and all other essential materials for maintaining hygiene. All these efforts included three air conditioned operations theatres (OTs) at the gynaecology ward transforming it into a modern one, like those in private hospitals. Certainly a smile of relief appeared on Safia's face. However, the smile disappeared shortly.
Another chapter with CMCH
When Safia was caught up with the gynaecology ward's renovation, a certain doctor from the leukaemia ward invited her to visit the ward. What she found there was even more heart-breaking than the previous instance. She saw 19 poor children-- diagnosed with blood cancer-- were waiting to embrace death, since their helpless parents couldn't afford expensive chemo drugs. Safia in no time said to herself that those children were her own and she had to save them. So she took the responsibility of chemotherapy for those children in leukaemia ward and began raising money from various donation sources using 'Sunshine Charities' as a platform. It's been almost a decade now and she with her charity foundation is still bearing the expenses for children admitted to CMCH with cancer.
"I thanked Allah for helping me in becoming complete as a human being," said Safia on her feeling about helping those children. She believed she could feel the pain those children were going through during chemotherapy and this empathy was making her more humane. Ironically enough, just a few days later, she was diagnosed with cancer. And when she herself had undergone cancer therapy, she truly felt the pain her children were enduring, hence realising that she didn't know the sufferings beforehand. No matter how much she suffered, she is happy to have gone through all these as it took her further closer to completeness.
Sunshine and Safia
Safia Ghazi Rahman was born in Chattogram and grew up there. It was during her graduation in English literature from Chittagong University (CU) that she decided to do something in the city of her birth. Upon completion of graduation, she founded 'Sunshine Grammar School and College' in 1986 in Chattogram, which, in course of time has become one of the best in the country. She is still performing her responsibility with prime excellence as the principal of the institution.
However, from the very beginning, Safia had the feeling to do something for the poor students who couldn't afford to study in her school. So she began a free schooling activity in 1990 with the name 'Sunshine Free School' accompanied by an enthusiastic Scottish woman Sally. To begin with, she took 11 street children and began teaching them. Students from Sunshine school also taught voluntarily at their will. This was also the beginning of 'Sunshine Charities' which was initially meant to work for the street children. Till date, the charity foundation has served more than 500 street children, most of whom are now established in their life.
More work of Sunshine Charities
Among many other things Safia did with Sunshine Charities, 'Free Friday Clinic' at Dobash Bhavan, Firingi Bazar will be an illustrious one. Starting from 1992, the charitable clinic gives free treatment to poor patients every Friday. Besides, Sunshine Charities runs some routine charity activities every year. Donating blankets to 500 hundred families during every winter is one of those routine activities. The organisation has also been distributing food ration among flood victims and Covid-19 affected peoples. Currently it is financing some helpless students from Chittagong University who lost their tuitions or source of income during lockdown.
On the other hand, Safia's charity work with CMCH continues to change the hospital in many ways. Recently, Sunshine Charities has donated a 'High Flow Oxygen Therapy' machine, a Life support Machine, ECG machine, Biochemistry Analyser and several other items to different wards of CMCH and collaborated in opening a brand new 'High Dependency Unit' (HDU). On top of gynaecology and leukaemia units, the neonatal ward too was renovated with many necessary equipment by Sunshine. Apart from all these, Sunshine bought an expensive blood storage to Sandhani Blood Bank, a life support machine and an infusion pump to Sandhani Clinic.
A warrior of life
After overcoming cancer, Safia once more in her life visited the door of death when an antibiotic resistant bacteria nested in her lungs. But the warrior within her once again fought the way out to victory. This energetic soul, now in her sixties, is still working diligently with so many institutions. Besides being the principal of her school, she is performing her duty as a trustee of Independent University Bangladesh (IUB) and Chittagong Independent University (CIU). More recently, she has joined the board of directors of YSI Bangladesh. Her inexhaustible work ethics and energy at this age makes her an icon to follow.
The writer is currently pursuing a master’s in Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at University of Dhaka. He can be reached at [email protected]