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The generosity of Asian givers


Asian philanthropy - A brief history By Sharad Rao EBS
The Asian Foundation put up recently an event to showcase the contribution of the Asian community to welfare projects in Kenya. It demonstrated that although less than .02% of the population, Asians are the mainstay of public welfare institutions and programmes in Kenya.

As early as 1887 Allidina Visram contributed handsomely to schools and to hospitals in Kenya and Uganda – and even towards the building of the Anglican Cathedral and a mosque in Kampala.

Allidina Visram’s son, Abdul Rasul, followed in his father’s footsteps, and as a memorial to his father, he established in 1918 the Allidina Visram High School in Mombasa.

Karimjee Jivanjee who, although residing in Tanzania, contributed much to his community’s development in Kenya. So did A.M. Jeevanjee, and A.H. Khaderbhoy, who built a large hall – the Khaderbhoy Hall for the Municipal Council of Mombasa now being used as an outpatient dispensary.

The Social Service League was conceived in 1917 -18 with financial support from Allidina Visram, Suleman Verjee, Walji Hirji and Dinshaw Byramjee.  It opened Free Dispensaries to provide medical attention for the poorer Asians. The only medical facility available to Asians at the time was a thirty-six beds wing in the Native Civil Hospital – formerly the King’s African Rifles Hospital. The hospital had no maternity ward with the result all Asian babies were delivered in homes with or without untrained midwives.

A Goan V.F. Saldhana who had an unpleasant experience in the Native Civil Hospital donated Pounds 4,000 towards the hospital fund. Ismail Rahimtulla Walji Hirji had left 60,000 pounds in his Will for two rest houses and a donation to a hospital but because of a legal technicality, it could not be used towards the Social Service League Hospital but was used to build an addition of an Asian wing at the Native Civil Hospital.

These came at a crucial time when hospitals other than the Kings African Riles Hospital and later King George V hospital, did not admit Asian or African patients.

The Ismailis had opened a dispensary in Mombasa as early as 1927. The Chandaria family subsidised since 1950 a number of clinics in the rural areas. Rahimtulla Trust supported a dispensary in Mombasa. A number of small hospitals also came into being. In Nairobi the Guru Nanak Hospital from donations from the Sikh community, the Jalaram Hospital and several small hospitals in the Sugar centres from donations by the Mehta, Madhvani, Kotecha and Hindocha families.

In Mombasa upon the death in 1942 of J. B. Pandya his family donated Kshs 250,000 towards a hospital – named The Pandya Memorial Hospital. It started operation in February 1947. Dr Karve gave up a lucrative practice to give free service at the hospital.

The Platinum Jubilee Hospital set up by the Agakhan came up in 1958 and was the first non-racial hospital in Kenya. The hospital now known as Aga Khan University Hospital is the most modern and one of the best-equipped hospitals in Nairobi and also houses a University.

The MP Shah Hospital is second only to the Agakhan Hospital and except for a brief initial stage is open to all races. The hospital opened in 1958 and was named after Saldhana, the Goan benefactor, and a wing was named in honour of the principal donor M.P.Shah. It is now the M P Shah Hospital.

Several private Asian trusts support medical and welfare institutions. Prominent among them the Walji Hirji Rahemtulla Trust, M.P.Shah Charitable Trust, Rattansi Education Trust, Saleh Mohamed Trust, Chandaria Trust and Manu Chandaria Foundation, and Zarina and Naushad Merali Foundation.

Three of the six hospitals in Nairobi and two of the four in Mombasa are Asian supported institutions. AAR is one such. It is run by two of  Dr B. P. Patel’s sons. B.P. Patel was one of the first Asian surgeons in Kenya.

The Lions Eye Hospital in Loresho treats at very subsidised rates patients suffering from eye diseases. Some 25000 patients have had their sights restored thru cataract surgery. Dr Jyoti Trivedi and Dr Khan are credited with having performed a majority of them. Thru other privately sponsored projects, a similar number of patients have been treated by Asian doctors giving free services.

The hospital has benefitted from substantive donations from various Asian families.  Rasik Kantaria of Prime Bank has donated toward the setting up of an Operation theatre and a Banquette Hall. Kantaria has also donated towards establishing an operation theatre at Gertrudes Garden Children's Hospital. His other donations include the Kisumu Eye Hospital, cardiac programme at Matre Hospital, Mothers Teresa Home in Mathare Valley, Nyumbani’s Children's Home and the Jaipur Foot project.

Over 25000 amputees have had Jaipur foot fitted at no cost and polio and others unable to benefit from a leg replacement have been given wheelchairs.

Manu Chandaria through his family Chandaria Foundation has supported among others the Chandaria School of Business at the United States International University, Chandaria Business Innovation and Incubation Centre at the Kenyatta University, Chandaria Accident and Emergency Day Center at Nairobi Hospital, Chandaria Medical Centre at Gertrude  Garden Children's Hospital, Chandaria Centre for Perfuming Arts at the University of Nairobi, Mabati Medical Center and also a Technical Institute at  Mariakani, and several other projects including Scholarships for 100 students annually over the last 30 years, and 30 students for medium and small projects.  These projects on average range from Kshs.50 million to Ksh .100 million.

Naushad Merali's family has set up with his wife the Zarina and Naushad Merali Foundation which was a major contributor to the Daily Care Centre at Kenyatta Hospital. The Foundation also supports 100 students at Starehe School, and the Cataract eye programme of Rotary Club of Nairobi and several other causes which include hospitals, health centres, old age homes, and educational funds for the needy. The Foundation sponsored the building of a spinal unit at Kenya’s leading spinal injury hospital. It also supports various feeding programmes and is actively involved in the sinking of water boreholes in drought-stricken areas. Recently it has supported the First Lady’s Beyond Zero Campaign towards the purchase of one fully equipped mobile clinic, and a secondary school in Sotik. The list is endless.

Maganbhai Chandaria the owner of Guardian Bank has donated substantially towards setting up a cancer unit at M.P. Shah Hospital. So has Jimmy Sayani’s family which made a substantial donation towards a cancer centre in Agakhan hospital.

Abdul Karim Popat of Simba Motors donated generously to a number of philanthropic causes which include a medical clinic at the Lions Eye Loresho Hospital known as the Abdul Karim Popat Medical Clinic- a state-of-the-art clinic which offers medical service to low-income earners and a cataract operation theatre named after his late son Zulfikar.

The Jain Youth have been active in putting up wells in rural areas, and a number of institutions through the Hindu Council and own their own initiatives are providing free food close to 10,000 needy people on a daily basis. The Sikh Gurudwaras, the Krishna Conscious movement and Jalaram temple have been at the forefront in this area. Some 50000 persons benefit from food projects daily.

Ashok Shah thru his APA Apollo Foundation has invested Kshs 20 million for the constructions of seven dams across Makueni, Machakos, and Kajiado counties.

Muljibhai Pandolia has contributed to various causes including also particular in putting up wells in drought-stricken areas in Mumbai. There are various

Suresh Raja through I & M Bank for setting up the pharmacy at Gertrude Gardens Children's Hospital.

To obviate lack of educational facilities for their children and especially girls the various Asian communities set up through individual donations schools for them.  Sanatan Dharma, Arya Samaj, the Cutchi Gujarati Hindu Union, Guru Nanak School in Nairobi South C, the Visa Oshwal Schools.

The grandfather of the present Aga khan laid great stress on the education of girls. He once said that if he had two children a boy and a girl and could afford to educate only one of them, so he chose to educate the daughter. If you educate a girl, he said, you will educate a family. And set up the Aga Khan Girls School.


Devshi Mepa Shah financed an Asian school in Thika. Meghji Rupshi Shah similarly financed an Asian school in Nyeri. Premchand Raichand Shah assisted Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in establishing a Technical Training College, Dr Rebeiro financed the Dr Rebeiro Goan School, Lalchand Moolchand and Brothers donated handsomely towards the Sanatan Dharam School. Between 1951 and 1972 the Shahs financed eight schools in Nairobi.

Although set up to serve their own communities the schools opened up to students of all races well before Kenya became independent.

Apart from the dozens of schools particularly for girls the University of Nairobi too owes its existence to initial funding raised by Indians to set up a Gandhi Memorial College of Arts Science and Commerce. However, later the Society decided to incorporate their College with the Royal Technical College, which now thanks to the generous funds donated by the Gandhi Memorial Academy and the Indian Community is the University of Nairobi ‘Incorporating the Gandhi Memorial Academy’. A bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi clad in a simple dhoti and striding with his customary staff in hand-sculpted by a famous Bombay sculptor – V. P. Karmarkar is placed in the Gandhi wing on the second floor of the building.

Among those who contributed towards the building of the principal building and the Men's and Women's Residence Halls were Nanji Kalidas Mehta, the Madhvanis, Kanjee Naranjee, Naran Patel, M.P.Shah and Hindocha.

In addition to individual personal donations – M.P. Shah, for instance, offered 5 scholarships annually for mechanical and electrical engineering, and Hemraj Nathoo Shah a four-year scholarship in agriculture. Lakhamshi R. Shah sponsored 20 African students among them Mareka Gechaga who when a clerk for a European doctor had cared for Shah’s wife. He also supported Gechaga for his law studies in the UK. Gechaga qualified as a Barrister and after a short time in private practice became Chairman of the British American Tobacco Company.

India as early as the 1950s at the instance of India’s Commissioner-General Apa saheb Pant worked with wealthy Asians in offering scholarships to African and Arab students to study in India.

No other community in Kenya has or is contributing anything close to what this less than .02% of the population has been over the years.


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