AKMAL, The Power of Poise - Public Health Professional Launches Non-Profit Campaign for Multiple Rehabilitation Center for Handicapped Children in India

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Ethereal Compassion and Understanding Manifests Social Responsibility: Hassan Akmal, M.P.H., launches campaign to redefine the words "disabled" and "handicapped" in an underserved society of stigma, hope, and pain. Amidst blind orphaned children singing songs of hope in a number of languages, deaf children dancing to vibrations of music, mentally challenged teenagers not having enough food to eat and only tea for dinner, an inspiration to live and to pray until the morning is discovered.

Ethereal Compassion and Understanding Manifests Social Responsibility: Hassan Akmal, M.P.H., launches campaign to redefine the words "disabled" and "handicapped" in an underserved society of stigma, hope, and pain. Amidst blind orphaned children singing songs of hope in a number of languages, deaf children dancing to vibrations of music, mentally challenged teenagers not having enough food to eat and only tea for dinner, an inspiration to live and to pray until the morning is discovered.

The outcome of Hassan's journey to his native country, Pakistan, and onto India from America embarked him on a quest that presented no less of a contrast than the initial reasons for his trip. The first half of Hassan's trip in Pakistan was for Davis Cup tennis training, nurturing his talent and expertise in the sport. Then, he crossed the border to India to release his non-profit organisation "Invitation" as an offering to unite two countries with a long history of conflict and differences.

Akmal refers to his choice to work in India as an American Pakistani as being, "about humanity and social responsibility".

During his practicum for Columbia University, Hassan spent time in Afghanistan researching the psycho-social impact of the war on children. An incident occurred that propelled his reasons to reach India sooner rather than later. Hassan was mugged. A man attacked while there to help. Yet this reinforced Hassan's urge to unite people in conflict through humanity and charity. Rather than the discouragement a weaker man may experience, Hassan worked hard in order to raise funds for his trip to the Andaman and Nicobar islands with the purpose of helping children orphaned and handicapped by the tsunami.

"We need to purge the cultural garbage", Akmal said simply, describing the solution as "Unity through Charity, Understanding, and Moral Leadership". Akmal's face lit up with smiles when he was asked about opportunity to help the Andaman and Nicobar Multiple Rehabilitation Center for Handicapped Children, describing it as a "Standing Point" in his life. He said, "it's something that just appeared in front of me, on my path in life, and I was given a choice to ignore it or act upon it. I just couldn't ignore those beautiful faces, nobody could".

After successfully completing his masters in public health from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and founding Invitation Relief, a Non-Profit for Forced Migration and Health, Akmal embarked on his trip to India in July 2006. His work included devising post-tsunami assessments and helping to establish a new technology platform, which is readily available today: tele-medicine.

Akmal, who partnered up with SANGHA, another non-profit focused on building communities, traveled to India with a U.S. based team of medical and health professionals in order to further develop an adaptive curriculum and identify existing disparities. The efforts focused on neglected populations and underserved areas, such as Andaman and Nicobar Multiple Rehabilitation Center for Handicapped Children which is home to over a hundred deaf, blind, and disabled children. The team received the generous support of Baptist Health Systems and the use of their telemedicine platform. The islands have the ability for videoconferencing and the team took an IT specialist to obtain an IP address to enable the use of web casts for teaching purposes. The effort was successful and the new telemedicine platform is now able to provide the participants with certificates/diplomas through collaboration with the University of Miami, Dr. Florida International University, and Columbia University.

The assessments revealed a lack of basic essential needs including food, blankets, shelter, medical supplies, wheelchairs, walking-canes for the blind and support for disabled, transportation and costs to and from shelters, as well as tutoring, education, and educational materials. The government has not yet funded the children with these special needs. The difficulty that the majority of NGOs and local organisations find themselves immersed in is that basic emergency relief delivery must be allocated for the mass populations affected by the tsunami, consequently neglecting these children and simply reporting as not having the time nor extra funds to help them adequately grow.

Invitation Relief aims to help underserved communities through improved access to education and enterprise by using cost effective technology and strengthening local resources. Intrigued by the concept of an interest-free economy, Akmal, calls what he's doing "micro-macro enterprise". The mission is to optimize educational and medical infrastructure by increasing capacity of local personnel and organisations. By building a stronger foundation for the education of the center and providing sustainable strategies for micro enterprise, Invitation Relief is planning to enhance local medical care through the continuing medical education of physicians and education for improved public health of local communities.

Invitation Relief and Sangha share the belief that native programs, infrastructure and organisations have unique strengths and insight identifying areas of need and opportunity. Thus, they are networking within communities to set up ongoing processes that will continue to grow a community's natural resources and confidence.

"In doing so, you design the bridge before you build it, so it's appropriate and sustainable." These words from a unique young entrepreneur who has launched a non-profit organisation to specifically target forced migration and health must be heard with the enthusiasm and confidence with which they are spoken with. When asked what this organisation is all about, he said, "an invitation to live in peace".

Akmal, who's relief efforts have been recognized internationally, taught the handicapped children in sign language about many subjects, writing in English on paper and by using gestures during a three week post-tsunami intervention training for local health professionals and aspiring students. "Just because they cannot speak, doesn't mean they cannot understand", Akmal said. "It was very challenging for me which I embraced, especially because of their interest, fascination, and questions. They asked me about everything, including my love life. I had to learn sign language and really try to understand their faces. They were confused. They would write questions on their hands and put them forward. When no room was left for answers on one's hand, the next boy would put his hand forward. They look after each other like twins do, and it was flattering, humbling, and overwhelming for me to experience first-hand."

When the audience of nurses asked Akmal during one of his lectures in India, how can they communicate with deaf people without knowing sign language, Akmal invited all eight deaf children to the stage and pulled up a chair, and just sat down. He said, "try". In seconds, the boys were gesturing to the audience and writing on their hands and paper, and 2 minutes later, the audience knew each of their names, where they were from, and how old they were. "They can communicate faster than us", Akmal added.

When Akmal was on an India Airlines flight on the way to India, a flight attendant asked him where he was from. When he said Lahore, Pakistan, her expression suddenly changed, with a new look of confusion and fear. "I don't get along and associate with Pakistani people", she said, walking away. Later walking by she stopped and further asked, "but you are a tennis star in Pakistan and going to do relief work in India? I don't understand". By the end of the flight, she returned with a bag of candy and said, "Hassan, this is because I've realized you can't generalize about Pakistani people and you are obviously different. This bag of candy is for the handicapped children. Thank you."

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HASSAN AKMAL
Invitation Relief: Non-Profit for Forced Migration & Hea
(917) 703-6433
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