Aleema Nasir: On a mission to help others

– earns second national award

Aleema Nasir

Aleema Nasir has a bleeding heart for others whether it be children, victims of domestic violence or the elderly and for years she has ploughed through the maze of suffering, giving assistance where she can and collaborating with others to bring relief.

“In every way I get pleasure out of helping people and making things easier for people,” the modern-day helper said of her motivation to help where it is needed. Her phone number is accessible and the calls are numerous, but she deals with it, even though at times it is hectic. She was quick to state that she cannot do it alone, she has teams that help her to effectively address the various issues she takes on.

To do what she does, Nasir, a trained nutritionist, wears many hats and apart from being the Chairperson of the Rights of the Child Commission, she is also the head of the women’s arm of the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG) (the National Committee of Sister’s Affairs) since 1992 when she returned to Guyana to live. The arm was started in collaboration with Shalimar Ali-Hack before she took office as Director of Public Prosecutions.

Aleema Nasir during one of the women empowerment programmes.

“My portfolio was women and children and we have been to all the areas on the coastland and that’s where my concern for children started because I saw some of the hardships they go through, the challenges they face and not have nowhere to turn to for help and that caused me to want to do something,” the mother of three told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.

It is not only children and women but “anybody who needs help,” she shared, adding that one of the reasons she returned to Guyana was to take care of her father, which she did for six and a half years and this opened her eyes to the suffering of the elderly as well.

S M A Nasir was a partner at Cameron and Shepherd and according to his daughter he was “a very brilliant person” but he developed a blood clot in his brain and became immobile. “He couldn’t put his thoughts into words…,” she noted.

Taking care of him may have led to her being on the National Commission of the Elderly and the National Commission for the Family.

Her experience with her father also led to the launching of the ‘Love and Respect for the Elderly Project’ through the CIOG’s women’s arm. And as she is on the Commission for the Elderly they collaborate.

“It is really sad when you see some of what or elderly go through and some of the abuse….” Nasir shared and she also spoke of the commission’s provision of breakfast for the elderly at the post offices on the first day of the month when they go to uplift their pensions.

Nasir shared the experience of an old man at a post office who burst into tears when he was given the right sum of his pension. Initially, he told the cashier that she gave him the wrong amount and when he was told it was the right sum, he wept, explaining that his son usually uplifted the money and gave him $5,000 from which he would still give the son $1,000.

“… That is only one example of elderly abuse and I have seen too much going on and that is why we try to do some programme especially for people who have given to the community… We bring them together and have a little get together for them and have a doctor and give them a little advice,” Nasir said. This is done at CIOG.

 And through the National Commission for the Family a training of trainers’ initiative was done to train persons who will in turn train others on better parenting skills which are needed in Guyana.

“We have been doing parenting skills training throughout this country… It is a nine-week programme, one day a week, and then they get a certificate. I think that is important because in each one of these programmes when we get our graduation, tears are involved and they would say if they had known they would have been able to treat their children better.”

And as she tries to help as much as she can, Nasir disclosed that she also runs a counselling centre at CIOG. When she returned to Guyana because of her profession she wanted to assist persons with chronic diseases advising them on better diets but in the “midst of them telling me about their health problems they started telling me all of their problems. So, I went back to UG and I did the family counselling course and started doing counselling and talking to persons who have problems; too many people have problems,” she continued. This is done on Wednesday afternoons.

In addition, a series of cancer camps is held in various communities and a doctor and nurse travel with Nasir and her team and tests are done for both cervical and breast cancers.

“We see about 60 to 80 persons in one day, it is one-day camps, and no less than 20 persons have issues in every single camp. So, it is frightening…,” Nasir said adding that the camps started just over five years ago.

The high incidence of deaths in Guyana from cervical cancer is one of the things that prompted Nasir to start the camps.

Rights of the Child

Nasir has been the head of the Rights of the Child Commission since 2008 and she said since then she has been involved in children’s issues.

The commission monitors the situation of children countrywide and reports to the National Assembly, making recommendations on how to fix existing issues. Respective ministries are also engaged over time and according to Nasir the commission has also been working in schools in all ten regions in addition to community workshops. Engagements are also held with teachers, police officers and health workers in an effort to help them to understand the rights of the child and how they should be treated when they come in contact with the law or they are sick and go to the hospitals.

“We have been doing a lot of work over the years and we come across a lot of things that have been happening to our children and before people never spoke about it…,” Nasir said as she informed that this is still an issue in some hinterland communities where there is high incidence of sexual abuse and incest.

Importantly, the commission has been engaging the Legal Aid Clinic to help children who come in conflict with the law and are held for years without any legal representation in the court. She gave the example of Ian who was held for years from 13 to 18 and later moved to the Timehri Prison and it was then the commission got involved and he got a lawyer and got off of the murder charge he faced as he was defending himself at the time.

National awards

Her work, and she re-emphasises that she does not do it alone as even on the commissions there are various persons who push and work as hard as she does, has seen her earn two national awards.

She won the Medal of Service in 2011 and last Saturday she was awarded the Arrow of Achievement. She said she was surprised when she received a call informing her of the recent award as she was requested to submit names of persons and unknown to her someone submitted her name as well.

“But being the person I am, I don’t place a lot of emphasis on recognition and things like that. Once I have the satisfaction of doing what I am doing…, but it is good to know that people recognise the work that I do and if in any small way I help anybody that is good enough,” she said when asked how she felt about her recent award.

Because of her religion she did not shake President David Granger’s hand, nor did she bow, but she said, “He knew that and I am very proud that he respects that. … When I went up to collect my award, he said to me he is very grateful for the work that I do and that felt good to know that he recognizes,” she said.

Nasir mentioned that her dad was courted by both of the major parties but he never joined and he always advised his children not to get involved in politics; she stated that she “is a very open person.”

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