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Retired Minnesota engineer Abul Sharah, right, has spent more than a decade building International Village Clinic in a poor, rural area of India with assistance from long-time business friends, such as Dana House.

Dana House,

St. Anthony: CPA audits medical miracle in India

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY
  • Star Tribune
  • June 10, 2012 - 7:44 PM

Dana House, a semiretired Bloomington CPA, has done his share of charitable work over the years.

Still, you wouldn't call the taciturn accountant a "save-the-world" kind of guy.

Regardless, House and some business pals in local Rotary circles and on the board of International Village Clinic (IVC) can't get over what they've witnessed old acquaintance Abul Sharah accomplish over the past decade in a dirt-poor expanse of rural India known as Uttar Pradesh.

How do you measure the return on investment for 50,000-plus people annually who get acute medical care and another 100,000 who get preventive care from medical professionals and trained volunteers who are supported by the $120,000 operating budget that's is mostly provided by House, other board members and clinic supporters? The services range from surgery to family planning to vitamin supplements that prevent cataracts and blindness.

"A kid is a kid, whether from down the street or in India," House told me the other day.

House, who met Sharah in business 30 years ago, has been volunteer accountant and fundraiser since Rotary funded International Village Clinic's first building in 2001.

It wasn't until he visited in March that he realized he'd become part of a well-engineered miracle in a part of India where the provincial government has never delivered on its commitment to provide basic health care to residents. House even cut the ribbon on a new lavatory the clinic built near a public school.

"Most of IVC's patients are women and children," House said. "We're all business people on Abul's board, and we're Rotarians, who always have a focus on international work. I also think good eyesight, clean water and good health is a pretty good investment ... and I feel like I have an impact on this.''

Rotary chapters around the Twin Cities have paid for the buildings. Only 1 percent of the operating budget goes for administration. Sharah, 75, takes no salary.

"What Abul has accomplished over 10 years is unique, starting with virtually nothing,'' House said. "I would say it's not possible, except I sign the tax returns and I've been there."

House is my latest "Exhibit A" in the study of the most successful, happiest capitalists. They share generously of their time and treasure.

And in Sharah, they support a cheerful comrade who sold his house and lives in a modest Bloomington apartment during the few months he is not at the clinic in India. He also seems younger now than when I first met him a decade ago.

Sharah's inspiration was a chance meeting in 1996 with Mother Teresa on a business trip to Calcutta. He told her that he was a poor Uttar Pradesh village kid who had been chosen for advanced education by teachers.

That led to a doctorate and 30-year engineering and business management career in the United States for Honeywell and MTS Systems.

Sharah is a spiritually ecumenical guy who doesn't preach.

"I run IVC like a business," said Sharah. "Every patient pays something, even if it's only 5 cents."

The focus is on healthy kids and practical surgeries. Adults with advanced diseases who cannot be treated at IVC and who could no more afford a hospital in a city than travel to the moon are given pain relief and compassion.

At one point, Sharah thought he could win over the provincial government in a dusty, rural Indian state where he one day had hoped to be a delivery agent for government vaccines and other medicine that usually doesn't make it to the poor.

"I still visit the government guys and the chief medical officer every six months or so," Sharah said. "The visit is to ensure they don't obstruct us. The corruption and the bureaucracy is so huge that I can't do anything. I don't threaten them and they don't care about us.

"Americans see 10 or 15 percent of Indians living better lives than us in the cities,'' he said. "But 80 percent still live in poverty."

On June 19 at the Minnesota Valley Country Club in Bloomington, Sharah, House and other longtime supporters will celebrate IVC's 10th anniversary.

The staff at the IVC compound in Uttar Pradesh begin their weekly meeting with a supportive pledge of commitment to purpose, shared responsibility and an oath against corruption.

Sounds like a pretty good business plan for the rest of us.

For more information: www.villageclinic.org.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com

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