The COVID-19 pandemic currently afflicting the world has drawn the public eye towards extraordinary doctors leaders and humanitarians who have shone their bright lights at the time of crisis. In the small island nation known as Maldives, a man named Hassan 'Manday' Mamdhooh has caught the eye of the public as their 'local saviour' - the young, popular and wealthy entrepreneur has shone his light on a national platform with his timely assistance during this difficult crisis.
If anyone were to question Manday on how he gained his riches, his answer would be the same: 'I did not get my wealth handed to me on a silver platter. I have walked a long and difficult path to get where I am, this is my Lord's reward for my hard work. I intend to help as many people as possible with this wealth that I have been blessed with".
This is where Manday's inspiring tale of resilience begins.
Mamdhooh is the second-born child of Giraavaru Moosa and Shareefa Abdulla. Even in his early and mid 20s, he was an ordinary man who lived a simple life - wealth and contentment were strangers to him. He was blessed with his wealth after years of hardship and suffering. Although now a distant memory, he was one of the schoolboys who went hungry while his mates fulfilled their hunger during recess.
"I was one of those poor students who could not afford to buy food during interval breaks. While my friends ate scrumptious cream buns and fish buns and licked juicy lollies, I had to watch on and satisfy my hunger by chewing my lips," narrated Manday.
Manday said he watched his friends eat delicious-smelling food many times and that his heart yearned to own beautiful things like his friends possessed. It remained an unrealised dream even when his ailing mother passed away after 18 years of illness, when he was at the youthful age of 21.
Manday recalls fond memories of two aunts who used to take care of him and his siblings while his mother sought medical treatment abroad. Even now, when he feels pangs of hunger, he remembers how his aunts used to bring naans made with dessicated coconut.
"My father is an ordinary man. He moved from Giraavaru to Hulhule' island after he moved to Male' and started a life with my mother. I cannot remember a time we had not been in the throes of poverty when growing up. But my parents taught my siblings and I how to be content with the life we had, and how to adapt to all situations," said Manday.
Manday's father used to be a fisherman. After he moved to Male', he joined the defence force and was a low ranked officer for many years. He later quit the army and worked at the President's Office as a security guard. He remained at the post until then President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom's 30 year reign ended in 2008.
While Manday's mother was from a far off land in the south, the family's income depended on the meager earnings of his father. With eight children to look after, his parents dreamt of providing a good education and a comfortable life for their kids.
In his early years, Manday was first enrolled at Ahmadhiyya Preschool. He then moved on to primary education at Jamaluddin School and was changed to Majeedhiyya School for his secondary education. While studying in the seventh grade, he failed his class for two consecutive years, and was expelled from the school as per the education policy back then. He then re-joined his childhood school, Ahmadhiyya to pursue education privately.
"The truth is, I was not able to reach great heights in terms of education. I believe it is because of the hard life I had to endure, and the daily challenges I faced stripped me of the passion to strive for academic excellence. I was discriminated against other students by my teachers - most probably because I came from an under deprived family. However, I managed to complete the tenth grade after much perseverance. Truth be told, I was more distracted with the vision of a bright future etched out in mind than focusing on books and what it said,'' said Manday.
Manday admitted that he tried to run away from the poverty surrounding him during the youthful years of his life.
"I used to see the happy lives of others while out and about, and when I returned home, I witnessed the dire conditions my siblings were living in. My mother had always been ill. After my father returns home from a draining day at work, he would sweep the house and clean up and make us 'roshi' for dinner. I always wanted to escape from the misfortune following our family. I wished to jump and laugh and play and be care-free. I yearned to wear beautiful clothes and shoes, I wanted to run around in glee with my friends with no cares in the world", said Manday.
The family's hopes for a better life were rekindled when Manday's half brother was hired as a crew on the Hummingbird Helicopter when it was introduced to the Maldives. The family dared to dream of a different life as Ibrahim Nazim brought pride and joy to the family with his new job.
However, fate played a different hand. The brother who was the hope of the family was the victim of a freak helicopter accident. He passed away on January 8, 1994, taking with him the hopes and dreams of his family.
"The abrupt and sudden demise of my brother brought great sorrow upon our family. His death was a shock to all of us. The news hit me hard, and me, a boy who was finally looking forward to a brighter future and chasing after dreams, was stopped in my tracks. While my brother had been a symbol of hope for the family, the hope was buried with my brother. Our dreams were shattered with his death. I used to visit the stadium at which the helicopter used to land and stare at the helipad for many hours.. It was as if I could see my brother disembarking from the helicopter," said an emotional Manday.
After Nazim's death, Manday did not wish to pursue education further. However, he continued to attend school for the sake of his parents. His only solace at the time was sports. He joined the school basketball team and grew confident in his skills. His whole began to revolve around basketball. He soared high in the sport and was eventually scouted for the U-19 national basketball team. He got the opportunity to represent Maldives at an event in Japan, and began preparing for the journey.
Before he left on his journey, his mother took him aside and gave him an advice he would follow till his last breath:
"The way I see my five fingers in front of me right now, I see you being all alone with no one to help you and love you after I close my eyes till eternity. My dying wish to you is to work hard and stand up on your own feet and become a person who gives love to others abundantly."
After being ill for over 18 years, Manday's mother's condition worsened while he was in Japan for the event, and was hospitalised. She passed away the fourth day after he returned to Maldives from Japan.
While he recalled memories of her mother, he showed us a photograph of his mother. Handwritten on the back of the photograph was, "Mother passed away on April 5, 1999 after being ill for a long time".
"The death of my mother changed my life. I dropped out of school and hung up my uniform for good. I joined the STELCO basketball team and wore its jersey with pride. We won the tournament while I was on the team. I then changed to team Maziya. But the memories of my mother and brother continued to haunt me, and my mother's last wish kept replaying in my head. I then hung up my basketball jersey and closed that chapter of my life. But there was one thing I learnt from basketball: perseverance" said Manday.
Manday's good friend, a man named Firushaan, found him an opportunity to work with a well-known person named JB. His job was to install dish antennas in Male', resorts and islands. The pay was a measly MVR 750. It was good enough for Manday who was at that point aimless in life.
He worked at his first paying job for nearly four years for the same salary. He gave most of his salary to his father.
"I made friends and later became a 'street boy'. At that point in my life, I depended on tid bits of food or coffees offered by my friends. I used to pick up cigarette butts on the streets and used to light it for a smoke," said Manday.
His time on the streets was also an experience, described Manday. He could suddenly distinguish between those who turn away from the needy and those who welcome them with open arms. Straying further and further from his mother's dreams, he was slowly engulfed in the political turmoil that followed Evan Naseem's death in 2003 in Maafushi Jail during President Maumoon's regime, and began working towards democracy and reform. In the end, even he drowned in the waves of political sentiments and ended up in jail.
"I spent a lot of time behind bars and I turned against then president maumoon. Although I no longer supported the president, I still respected him as my father worked at the President's Office. When things evolved to that extent, I questioned myself and asked if this was the life I really wanted, if my place was behind the bars."
That became a turning point in Manday's life. Determined to make something out of his life and honour his mother's memory, Manday seized an opportunity to work with one of the partners of famed Apollo company, Dhigali Waheed, and secured a project to supply aggregate to Fihalhohi Resort. He actively took part in loading and unloading the heavy sacks of aggregate with 6 others, and managed to transport 17 tonnes of aggregate on his very own shoulders. The MVR 120,000 earned from the project was equally distributed among the seven men, and Manday continued to carry aggregate for construction sites. He would load aggregate bags from the TJetty to pickups and unload the sacks from the pickups on his shoulder to the sites. He was paid MVR 0.50 per sack carried.
Before that, he did a short stint at now-expanded fish canning factory Ensis in its early days of conception. He carried large skipjack tuna on his back. He made a friend at Ensis, a fellow staff at the factory - who is now one of Manday's most loyal friends, and staff - He is now the manager of Manday's charity organization.
"Although I was able to earn a substantial amount of money from my work in carrying aggregate, people still saw me as a street boy and perceived that I was a nobody. I invested the money I saved in a new business - to export tuna to neighbouring Sri Lanka. But then, money became tight when payment after payment was held up - until some cheques I issued bounced and I was again dragged back to jail, and tiring court cases," narrated Manday.
When Manday was caught up in the political turmoil of 2003, renowned businessman and political leader Gasim Ibrahim had also stepped into politics. Of all the people involved in the movement, Manday took a liking to Gasim - his generosity was something Manday greatly admired. He always wished to meet with the business tycoon one day.
During the political uprising of August 12,13, Manday established a friendship with Moosa Rameez, Moosabe, a close aide of Gasim. Manday soon after requested his new friend to arrange a meeting with Gasim.
"Moosa told me that it's a trivial request. One day, he called me and said to come quickly to meet Gasim. When I finally met him, I realised how truly a remarkable person he was, a man with an extraordinarily generous heart. He was a humble, generous and different character," described Manday.
Soon after, Manday went to work for Gasim. While employed under Gasim, the court sentenced him to jail over a bounced cheque of MVR 48,700 that he had issued from his bankrupted company. Gasim came to know about the development while Manday was serving his sentence, and paid the owed amount himself and released Manday. At the time, Gasim was President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom's Finance Minister.
Manday was also jailed during the investigation of the case. After he was released, his most beloved little brother Abdulla Shifaq Moosa passed away after both his kidneys failed. That was in 2005.
During my brother's funeral, I wiped my tears and decided then and there that I will somehow make money with God's will, and that I will never turn away from a needy person. I promised myself I will do everything in my power to alleviate any difficulties anyone who asks me for help is going through. What resonated in my heart at that moment was the difficulties my own father went through trying to raise money for my brother's treatment. I remember how much he begged strangers for their help to save my brother's life," narrated Manday.
"At our time of need, every single person turned us away. Our relatives were ignorant of our plight. The President's OFfice offered some monetary assistance. Although I am not a fan of Maumoon, I have to acknowledge that we received help from the President's Office. But it was not enough to take my brother abroad for the treatment he desperately needed. He passed away while we were out on the streets begging to find a way to save his life. This is why I aimed to become wealthy. This is why I wanted to help every single person who was in need. I was jailed shortly after I made the noble intention in my heart. It was Gasim that paid off my debt and saved me. After freeing me, he took me aside and told me, just as a father would advise his son, Mamdhooh, it's time for you to stand up on your feet."
The Biggest Question
After being released from jail, Manday worked among Gasim's security personnel and took up some party responsibilities. After Manday met the love of his life and decided to get married and start his own life, it was once again Gasim who handled all the expenses of getting married. Even the dowry of MVR 786 was paid out of Gasim's own pocket. Later, after President Maumoon was defeated, and after his successor Mohamed Nasheed stepped down, and when his VP Mohamed Waheed became president in 2012, he left his job with Gasim and set up his own company, 'Kaya Maldives'. However, that business was also a flop. Around the end of 2012, the doors of opportunity opened up for Manday and he headed in a new direction towards his now successful business.
"The story now comes to the point where God intended for me to connect with a Korean billionaire. This was right before President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom was elected for office. I believe this is what people wonder most: how on earth was I able to establish a link with a Korean billionaire?"
That indeed is the biggest question of all. How did Manday, a lowly street bum turned activist establish himself as a businessman? How in the world did he get in touch with billionaires? What did he say to them to make them trust him enough to partner up with him on a huge investment?
Manday said he frequently visited neighbouring Sri Lanka in search of a suitable business prospect. He wished to network and establish connections with business links. On one of these trips, he met and struck up a friendship with a high ranking officer of the Sri Lankan Army. Because his friend knew just how interested he was in starting up his own business, he told Manday of a Korean party he was acquainted with, and arranged for him to meet them.
"He took me to meet these men and introduced us. At that time, this group was interested in investing in this region in the solar energy business. I told them it would be a better idea to invest in the Maldivian construction industry. I told them how important housing had become in the Maldives. When I spoke to them, they asked me to come back with a proposal. At that time, I was looking for an apartment to open my office. I was checking apartment after apartment, and none were within my budget. All had extremely high rents and extremely large advance payment amounts. Because of these prices, I had a eureka moment where I suddenly wanted to get into the real estate business. That became my proposal to the Koreans and I drew up a proposal on a luxury apartment block. I then took the proposal to Sri Lanka and pitched it to the Korean party," said Manday.
Manday said he felt disappointment when the party did not seem too interested in his pitch, especially after traveling to Sri Lanka just for that purpose. Manday did not give up, and continued to outline the market for luxury apartments in the Maldives, and ways in which the business can be expanded.
"At that time, I did not realise who was behind the group and how much he was worth. The group seemed uninterested and said they will get back to me in three days. When I then started sketching out the image I had in my head for the proposed building with my words, they suddenly became more attentive. They remained silent for a while, and then simply said, 'You are a smart guy'. And just like that, they came onboard," Manday said.
The Korean party then decided to partner up with Manday on what would later be dubbed the K Park project. It was only then that they shared details of their establishment, who was behind it, and details about said billionaire. The man was one of the top three billionaires of South Korea. Manday shortly traveled to South Korea to meet his new partner, who is now more a cherished friend than a partner.
'We began work from that point on. I took an old drawing of my dream building, which was simply laying around after having been initially rejected by the Economic Ministry, to the Korean group. I then approached the government with our project, and I was laughed at and ridiculed. They asked me how I could pull off such a project, they asked where the funds and man power were. They kept ridiculing, and the only response I could give them was, I am willing to work for this. I then left the office. I faced several challenges to begin the implementation of our project," said Manday.
Manday said the 14-storey building coming to life in reclaimed suburb Hulhumale' is a pictorial representation of his business. Manday, who now does business in Singapore, Korea, China and Thailand, is one of the many international business partners of the Korean billionaire.
Manday is quick to admit that K-Park became a successful project not because of his own intellect but because of the trust placed in him by his Korean partners. He believes the success of his project is owed to his honesty and transparency with his partners.
Manday has now made his dream of becoming a wealthy person a reality. He has over 500 staff working for him in Korea, China, Singapore, Thailand and the Maldives. But Manday still continues to live a humble life, not much different from this past.
"I am still Giraavaru Moosa's son Manday. I do not want any other person to have the same bitter experiences that I had, I do not wish to see anyone say goodbye to the beloved family members because they were unable to afford healthcare. I believe this wealth that Allah has blessed me with was entrusted upon me by my Lord to deliver it to the needy. I can afford anything I want, my life's goal is to bring happiness to others," said Manday.
Manday admitted he is still human and that he too makes mistakes, just like any other person. Maybe he had committed many wrongs during his life. But today, he has achieved everything he dreamt of, and has been able to finally fulfill his mother's dying wish: to become a person standing firm on his feet.
"The vision in my head is finally a reality. I was able to fulfill my dying mother's last wish, I am now able to provide for my family. I have been able to reach the target I set for myself while grieving my little brother's death," said Manday.
What Manday's mother had said was indeed true: After his mother passed away, Manday spent a lonely and bitter life. He had no family, no one to love and care for him, no one to help him, and no friends by his side. But today, he is surrounded with love on all sides. He is surrounded by people who love him and mean well for him. Those helping him and those requiring his help. Those who wish to meet him, and those who wish to be in his presence.
"This is how the world works. What I want most is the love and well wishes of the needy and ordinary people. Nothing is more important to me than their sincereprayers for me. I wish to give my children the life I had yearned for so bad,"
Manday as described by his friends
Manday has a handful of faithful friends who did not turn their backs on him at the time of his need. Today, the very same people remain loyally at his side as his most aides.
One such person is Hussain Naeem, who used to pound the streets with Manday during their younger days. According to Hussain Naeem, the two friends have always remained together through thick and thin. Hussain Naeem describes Manday as a unique character.
"He is a very kind person. If he had one Rufiyaa, he would give 50 cents to a needy person. He had a difficult childhood and grew up in poverty. We both attempted several businesses in the past, all of which failed. He became a wealthy person much later, and he himself called me and hired me as his employee. Although he is my boss, the same friendship we shared since childhood remains between us. Our relationship is that simple," said Naeem.
Then there is Imran the taxi driver, who used to always check on Manday. The man had always offered him a cup of tea after completing his taxi rounds, and made sure he did not go hungry. It is no surprise that this was the first person Manday sought after attaining his wealth. He made Imran his secret-keeper, his closest confidante.
Imran describes Manday as a selfless person who puts others before himself. He loves to take care of the needs of others, said Imran.
Another close friend of Manday who wished to remain unnamed said Manday is not a deceitful person.
"He would not be involved in corruption. He is honest, and he is sincere. He takes pleasure in helping others. He is an efficient person, and today he is a wealthy person whose generosity is unmatched. The best way to describe him would be 'unexpected'. I helped him along the way on his journey towards finding himself, and in return, he now considers me as a sibling".
One of Manday's best friends, Mohamed 'Munchulhi' Muhsin said Manday has remained a constant since before he became a successful businessman, and even today. Manday is not arrogant about his newfound wealth, and always wishes to help anyone in need, said Munchulhi, echoing the same sentiments as Manday's other friends.
Today, Manday's charity efforts are directed towards helping the nation at the time of a national crisis, in its battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. But his generosity is not limited to COVID-19 relief efforts. He continues to spend on those requiring medical assistance and those wishing to pursue further studies. He continues to help the needy, the poor and the orphaned.
"Over the past 1.5 years, he has helped so many people. Not one day passes where he does not spend at least a 100,000 as assistance. These are donations that I am aware of. There will be several donations that I am unaware of because Manday is someone who also loves to give anonymously", said Naeem.
There is no doubt that Manday's journey towards wealth was one paved with challenges and difficulties, all of which he overcame with resilience. It is indeed true that this ordinary man is not so ordinary after all. He truly is an extraordinary man with an extra ordinary heart of gold.