Heroes: Meet ordinary people who make a difference
By Jacqueline Mahugu
| October 24th 2021
Hasina Nasir Aly
If you go to Kilifi and ask for ‘daktari wa ambulance’, you will probably be taken right to Hasina Nasir Aly’s doorstep. At the height of the 2007 post-election violence, she was in charge of over 4,000 people at the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps as a volunteer with the Nakuru branch of the Kenya Red Cross, having then just completed high school in 2004. One of the three babies she helped deliver at the camp is Hasina Mwende, named after her.
Her first patient after her maternity leave was a Covid-19 patient, despite the wariness from other people about it. “No, I am back,” she told naysayers. “This is what I took an oath to do. So I will take my precautions and God will be there for me.”
Hasina is one of the most well-known paramedics in her area, not just because it is her job, but because of her dedication to helping people. Her baby is now nine months old, in addition to having two other children who are now 10 and seven, and despite her motherly and family duties, she is still as dedicated as ever.
She is the kind of person who, even if you are a stranger to her, having taken you to hospital, she will call to ask if you got admitted, got discharged, how you are doing, and so forth. Because of that, she has been roused out of sleep on many a night by desperate boda boda riders ferrying sick or injured people, or mothers about to deliver. It is hectic work but she would do it even if she was not getting paid. Infact, she did exactly that for many years.
“I have been working as a paramedic since 2017 but I have been a volunteer with Kenya Red Cross for the last 15 years,” she says. She was in the Red Cross club back when she was in high school, then started doing first aid training gradually. She then studied fire management, did peer education and then the Emergency Technician course.
“Immediately after my peer education, I became a volunteer peer mentor, where we used to go to schools and do mentorships, first aid and competitions. That is how I grew from there, doing the services, going to orphans, going to hospitals and mobilising humanity walks all through that,” she says.
Hasina has worked in the drought-stricken areas of North Eastern, then Kwale, and KEMRI (Kenya Medical Research Institute) to eradicate abdominal worms on the Tumikia project (Tuangamize Minyoo Kenya Imarisha Afya).
On Mashujaa Day, she was inundated with calls from individuals and organisations telling her that she was their shujaa, and she was in tears all morning as a result. A small recognition for a life-long passion.
“It can be exhausting but I love doing it. It is a passion and truly a calling. If you are doing it for cash, you cannot make it,” she says.
Parents of neuro-divergent children
Visible disabilities are often relatively easier for people to understand than disabilities that have to do with the brain such as autism, Down’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, and many others that are not physically visible. For this reason, most people judge them before they get it.
That is what Catherine Kariuki, a secretary by profession, and a mother of two, has had to contend with. One of her children, Gitemi Murigu, lives with autism, which has meant that she has to deal with unique challenges that most people do not encounter.
He struggles with some daily living activities such as communication; has repetitive behaviour, generally struggles with social interactions and cannot do some everyday activities on his own, so he needs more than neurotypical children in those areas.
“There are schools where children on the autism spectrum are not accepted. My child was not accepted in many schools when we wanted to enroll him,” she says. They took him to a special school where he is doing well, but the challenges did not end there.
“We also have challenges at social events and being accepted by society as large. Children on the autism spectrum sometimes do what is known as stimming (repetitive or unusual movements or noises that help them cope). People keep staring at him as he stims,” she says. “They can also have a meltdown anywhere and you cannot choose when or where he will have a meltdown. So, the public will always judge and think that the child is just being naughty and that you have failed at instilling discipline in him.”
While this causes some parents to hide their children with such special needs, Catherine never shies away from going with her son in any public or social place. She, in fact, makes it a point to give information about her son’s disability when given a chance.
“I like talking about autism so that I can create awareness about it since awareness starts with me,” she says. “If you have a special child, please do not hide them. Bring them out. That will make them feel the beauty of the world.”
Some parents of such children, despite not hiding them, can use their children to seek sympathy for their situation, something that is foreign to Catherine.
“Never seek sympathy because of your child’s condition and do not expect everyone to treat them the way you want. Remember, you are their first teacher,” she says. “Parents of children with disabilities are always planning, praying and pushing for their children’s progress, though the progress might not be seen immediately but over time, it will.”
If she could say anything to the public, it would be to ask them to always try to understand intellectual or neurodivergent disabilities, which cannot be seen. “If you see special children, do not stare at them. They are normal people but differently talented. Treat them the way you would like your child to be treated.”
Ian Hisho, has been cycling for fun since he was a child. In 2016, Ian, who is a graphic designer born and raised in Nairobi, began doing adventure and endurance cycling, and that was the first time he rode to Mombasa alone. He did it in four days, four hours then. But he felt that he could do more.
“After I rode the first time all the way to Mombasa in 2016, I started wondering whether I could give back to society using cycling,” he says. “In 2019 I joined a group of people who were giving back, so we rode together. That was a fundraiser, so that took way more days because we cycled from Busia, all the way to Mombasa, over 10 days.”
The group raised about Sh5 million for the education of students at the Starehe Boys’ Centre. The money goes into an endowment fund — The Griffin Memorial Endowment Trust — to ensure continuity and longevity. It is invested and so beneficiaries live off the interest.
Having realised how cycling could be of benefit to others, he did it again in 2020 and 2021, as solo projects.
“Last year I did it alone. I tried doing 500 kilometres in 24 hours. I called it ‘500in24’. I got to 448kms and raised about 1.9 million,” he says. “This year, I factored in the return trip and cycled back from Mombasa to my house in Nairobi in 24 hours. In total, to and fro, it was 868km in 48 hours.”
It is fun but back-breaking work, and he is currently thinking of what else he can do to give back to other causes he believes in. What keeps him going?
“The feeling of helping someone I do not know and impacting their lives in a profound way,” he says. “You are educating someone who could be a teacher, who will affect other people. It is like a domino effect. You will impact a doctor somewhere, an engineer. Even if someone does not go to university but they got an education, it makes a difference in their life.
“Knowing I am able to impact someone who I do not even know and that I will probably never meet is profound to me. That is what keeps me going.”
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