son of the soil: Abdulsalam Al Rafi, chairman of Abdulsalam Al Rafi & Sons with a 1948 picture of the old souq where he began his career as a trader with his father Image Credit: XPRESS/PANKAJ SHARMA

Dubai: For a man who has just given away Dh38 million for a public hospital in Dubai, Abdulsalam Al Rafi is most self-effacing.

Seated in a modest room on the first floor of his head office in the old souq in Deira, he agrees to an interview on the condition that he will not talk about it. But ever since the Dubai Health Authority announced on Wednesday that it signed an agreement with the chairman of Abdulsalam Al Rafi & Sons to fund an outpatient services building at Rashid Hospital, there’s no escaping from the spotlight for him.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” insists the gentle 65-year-old who has been silently donating to several causes over the years.

Immense joy

“It’s just something he does to give back to our country which has given us so much. He believes in Islam and derives immense joy from giving,” says one of his four sons, Mohammad Abdulsalam Al Rafi.

But there’s a reason why Abdulsalam chose Rashid Hospital for his largest donation yet. “Health is a priority and Rashid Hospital is the hub of healthcare in the UAE. People, both Emiratis and expatriates, come here not just from Dubai but all over the country. Its expansion makes sense as it will benefit the community.”

So when plans for an outpatient services building were being discussed, he volunteered to pay for its entire cost. A state-of-the-art complex, it will have 84 clinics and will be a one-stop-shop for all outpatient services (see box).

When complete by mid-2014, it is expected to considerably reduce waiting time at the busy hospital where it sometimes takes several weeks to get an appointment.

Abdulsalam has contributed to many clinics in the UAE and beyond. Among them is the Al Salam Diabetic Centre at Al Baraha Hospital.

Like health, education is another priority area in his charity work. He has built three schools in South India and has generously donated to Dubai Cares over the years.

“With education, you can achieve anything,” he says, adding he is a student of the Al Ahmadiya School in the Al Ras area.

Son of a deeply rooted Emirati family, Abdulsalam began his illustrious career as a trader when he was 13. “My grandfather and father were based in the old souq dealing with foodstuffs and general trading. We got into exports and imports and diversified into the property business in the 1970s.”

There has been no looking back since. The family, which owns several prestigious properties, is identified with such signature projects as the Chelsea Tower, Marina Heights, Du Tower and the Sheraton Burj Al Salam Tower, besides innumerable other buildings in old and new Dubai.

“In those days, there was nothing in this area,” says Abdulsalam, pulling out a published picture of the souq from the late forties. “The Creek was the best thing that happened to Dubai. Look where we are now — you can’t compare any country in the world with Dubai and what it has achieved under the vision of our Rulers — the late Shaikh Saeed Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum and now His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. They’ve shown the way and are an inspiration to others.”

According to Abdulsalam, Zakat should be a way of life rather than a one-off gesture practised once a year. Whether its paying people’s hospital dues or utility bills, his acts of kindness are many. “It’s mainly needy expats who come to us,” he says.

Anyone who knows him will vouch for his simplicity, generosity and his humane side. His subordinates at work are also authorised to make donations and they refer cases to him only when larger amounts are involved.

At a time when other big Emirati businessmen have moved out, he is one of the few who still works from the old souq. He comes to the office early and stays on till late in the evening with a lunch and siesta break in between.

While he flits from one appointment to another during weekdays, weekends are strictly for family, including his two sons, two daughters and 14 grandchildren. “I look forward to Thursdays and a Friday family lunch at our farm in Al Khawaneej,” he says.

His sense of humility is unmistakable and his message straightforward: “Fear God, be good and be honest. All doors will open to you — in business, family relationships and every sphere of life. If you happen to fail, don’t be discouraged. Just be sincere, pick up the pieces and move on. There is always a way out.”

 Outpatient building: One-stop Shop

The outpatient services building at Rashid Hospital will have 84 clinics and will be a one-stop-shop for all outpatient services.

A two-storey building, it will have all laboratory and radiology services, 42 rooms including minor treatment rooms, wound clinic, pharmacy, nursing room for mothers, mosque for men and women and a cafeteria on the first floor. The second floor will have 42 rooms for all disciplines, including surgical specialities and ECG rooms.

Eisa Al Maidour, Director-General of the Dubai Health Authority, said the complex will help reduce waiting time for appointments and alleviate pressure on services provided by Rashid Hospital. He said the Dh38 million donation will be used to build the outpatient services facility as well as provide equipment for all diagnostic, laboratory and therapeutic services. Hospitalisation services will also be provided to in-patients.

Dr Shawqi Khoori, CEO, Rashid Hospital, said the project is scheduled for completion by mid-2014.