Sunday, July 1, 2007

Meet Hassan Khan

HE started from humble beginnings. A man who has done much for the poor. A man who is recognised as the face of the Fiji Council of Social Services.
That is Hassan Khan, the executive director of FCOSS who has done his best to overcome every difficulty his organisation came across.
So who is this 65-year-old man with the grey beard that is a dead give-away of his Islamic faith.
Mr Khan's name is always prominently in the news every time poverty, education, health or social change is talked about.
He is, as friends say, a humble person who always does his utmost to help the poor and needy.
Mr Khan was born in Suva, one of 13 brothers and sisters who had a "very tough childhood".
His father used to work as a driver for the Tamavua Hospital and he spent most of his primary to early secondary school life at Tamavua.
That was from 1953 until 1960, exciting years for the young Hassan.
Because they were a big family, Mr Khan said he had to work for a living.
"I had to work for my school fees in primary school from Class Six onwards, as there were many in school and my parents wanted to see that all their children went as far as we could go," he said.
He started off with being a garden boy for an expatriate couple working at the hospital.
He was only in Class Six at Samabula Government School (now, Samabula Primary School) and recalls being paid 50 shillings a day ($1), which was above what others got back in those days.
Reminiscing, Mr Khan said proudly that he was paid more by the Irish doctor a Dr Gerard Murphy who played a huge part in molding him to become what he is today.
A man of discipline and integrity, deeply devout he prays five times a day.
Mr Khan said Dr Murphy had been his role model and mentor.
"He (Dr Murphy) always told me to operate through the front door and you knock on the door. And if the front door doesn't open, never go through the back door even if you have to kick open the front door," he said.
"Those are the values of integrity and forth righteousness that comes from that man.
"Partly because of my spiritual upbringing, I acquired those values at a very early stage in my life. And I live by those principles of respect and dignity."
He collected empty bottles from around the area and sold guavas in order to earn a living.
Mr Khan said after his father died when he was in fifth form at Marist Brothers' High School, it became an even bigger burden on his family because only one of his elder brothers was working.
He got an opportunity for further education and did a Certificate in Radiology at the Fiji School of Medicine in 1963.
Naturally, Dr Murphy helped him get the scholarship.
Mr Khan said he wished to become a doctor but couldn't do so because of financial constraints.
"At that time, we survived on one meal a day and so I know what poverty is. I know what hunger is, that eating meat was a luxury.
"Whenever I have good food in front of me now I think of those days and thank God for that life because it was for that type of simple eating that I'm still healthy today. I don't have diabetes or hypertension," he said.
Mr Khan said those were things that helped him in life.
After his tertiary education at FSM, he was posted to Labasa as a radiographer.
"I had never stepped out of my house and going to Labasa was a very painful thing for my family and myself.
"It was a very traumatic transfer to Labasa but in those days, civil servants had to take the plunge.
"My mother had to do without me," he said.
Mr Khan said one of the best things he did was "save, save and save", as the money he used to study was not a handout.
He said Dr Murphy loaned him the money as the doctor did not believe in handouts.
"He (Dr Murphy) believed we should be responsible and he told me to pay anytime I wanted," he said.
Mr Khan said he eventually repaid the loan after spending three years in Labasa. He paid the 110 pounds, which was big money at the time as he was paid three pounds per month.
He continued working as a garden boy for Dr Murphy and used to travel from his home in Samabula to Tamavua.
Mr Khan said he often walked back home as he didn't have bus fare.
He says roads were seldom tarsealed in those days.
Mr Khan said he worked in his uncle's photo studio Arts Studio (that was located on Marks Street, in Suva) mostly part-time and during the holidays.
He then went and worked in a mobile X-ray unit boat that went from island to island.
At that time, the tuberculosis campaign was on. He then spent a second stint in Labasa.
Mr Khan said there was a joke among the staff that every single person who went to Labasa, came back 'doubled'.
"So I said to them that I would prove them wrong.
"In 1963, I went and in 1965, when I came back, I was still single.
"Then again, I was there in Labasa. So when I returned in 1968 after my second trip, I came back double," he joked.
His wife, Anne Yee Wai, hails from Labasa, and is of Chinese and Fijian ancestry.
She used to work as a bank teller in Labasa.
So many years later, she has become the chief executive officer of Mr Khan's home, as he likes to call her.
Mr Khan said he had been happily married for the last 38 years and has three beautiful girls.
The eldest daughter is Sofyia, then Nooraimah and Naeemah.
All of them are now married, with the second eldest living in Australia.
Mr Khan said what cheered him most nowadays was the fact that his youngest daughter gave birth to a baby girl three months ago and he was now a grandfather.
"Naeemah is following her father's footsteps as she is working at the Fiji Women's Rights Movement," he said.
By 1974, Mr Khan had enough of being transferred all over the country, having endured 11 transfers in 13 years of his service with the Ministry of Health.
His interest in voluntary work began when he became a member of Apex Club, in Labasa.
When he came to Suva, he helped start the Fiji Muslim Youth Organisation and did youth leadership work.
Through that organisation, he became a member of the Fiji National Youth Council and was employed there as an executive secretary, which was when his vocation as a community worker became full-time in 1975. Through his involvement in the council, Mr Khan said he attended many training seminars and workshops.
That was where he got his experience in youth leadership training and community leadership training.
"So my so-called tertiary education started in the practical sense. Writing reports and so on," he said.
In 1980, Mr Khan joined the Fiji Muslim League as an executive officer. He applied for the job as a "joke".
"Because at that time, they offered $3500 per year as salary and I said to them that I would start if you give me $5500.
"I thought it would be very difficult for them to give me that. "After three months, they came back to me and said so would you start.
"So it was my word. And at that time, I was already earning $7500 at the Youth Council. But I started at the Muslim League with lesser pay," he said.
Mr Khan said he never chased money or ever had a desire to move to earn better salary elsewhere.
That, he said, was why he had remained with FCOSS for all these years.
"FCOSS is an organisation that never had any money. And when it did, it was from donor agencies and it was for all the projects that had to be done. There was never a big investment in staff salary," he said.
Mr Khan said bringing up children at that time was very difficult as technological changes swept the world. Fiji was only then becoming accustomed to videoes and the introduction of television.