“Early detection helps save lives. My mother’s situation inspired me to help women. She is a cancer survivor.”
By Feona Morrison
Few persons would argue that we were all placed on this Earth for a purpose. But it is only when we have discovered what we are here for, that we can adequately fulfill that which is required of us.
During this process, there were many steps which helped 55-year-old cancer advocate Bibi Saeedah Akhtar Hassan during her ‘search’. She is the founder of one of the country’s leading Non-Governmental Organizations, the Guyana Cancer Foundation, and has a passion for sales.
For her, making a difference in people’s lives does not mean she has to do something incredible. In her view, its about listening to their problems and giving advice without passing judgement, and helping them achieve a sense of fulfillment, a sense of purpose and happiness
Born at the former sugar plantation of Haslington, East Coast Demerara, Hassan is the second child for her parents, of which her father is now deceased. She has two other siblings from her parents’ union. Although she was born there, Hassan grew up and still resides at Bagotstown, East Bank Demerara.
Reflecting on her humble childhood, she said that she attended St. Theresa Primary School and then the Peter’s Hall Community High School. Moving on with her studies, she was a student at the Therese Secretarial School, which during her time, was located at Water Street, Georgetown, where she qualified herself in secretarial and administrative studies.
She also enrolled at Computer International which was located at Camp Street, Georgetown. Hassan confessed, “At 16, I wanted to earn my own money, so I saw an advertisement in the papers. CLICO wanted Sales Representatives, and I applied and got through and began selling insurance.”
“During that time I realized that I wanted something more. My father did not approve of what I was doing and wanted me to quit. He believed that selling insurance was more of a man’s job. I eventually quit and I worked at my father’s ex-wife’s boutique at America Street, Georgetown. I worked there for 12 years. The boutique eventually closed due to financial problems.”
PASSION FOR SALES
Hassan definitely possesses the qualities of a great sales person. In other words, she has the pride, passion and perseverance. She is zealous about the products, services as well as her numerous customers.
For almost three decades, she has been a Marketing and Sales Representative at Sunfoods Enterprises. She began working there in 1991, when the company acquired the franchise to sell Cadbury chocolate.
According to her, “There were great opportunities selling the Cadbury chocolates and I became famous and known as the ‘Chocolate Girl’. I am still working there.” Expanding her career, she began working with multinational company Avon, which began operations in Guyana in 2005.
She reflected, “In 2005, Avon came to Guyana and I told my boss at Sunfoods Enterprises that I wanted to join the company. We (the company) signed up to be Sales Representatives, and by 2009 I received an award for highest sales achiever in Nashville, Tennessee, United States.
Sunfoods Enterprises was also a distributer for Jergens products, and a few years after, the company received an award for highest sales for the Caribbean Region. Hassan collected the award on behalf of the company.
She is also a certified beauty advisor, and was rewarded by Avon for her outstanding work in sales with trips to The Bahamas and Las Vegas, U.S.A. She underwent training in sales and marketing in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.
Her mother was diagnosed with Stage Two breast cancer about a decade ago, and what they both experienced during her time of sickness has created a lasting legacy.
Her mother is now cancer-free. She is a cancer survivor. However, her diagnosis created a unique challenge for her daughter, who was at the time her caregiver, and the rest of their family.
But with her mother’s diagnosis, Hassan’s attitude towards the disease changed eventually. Hassan was inspired to help other families in a similar situation. For more than five years, Hassan has been a dedicated cancer advocate.
Her work began through popular cosmetic brand Avon. Unfortunately, after Avon ended operations in Guyana in 2015, Hassan was forced to find another avenue to continue her passion.
Soon after, she founded the Guyana Cancer Foundation, which was registered in 2016. The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) is solely funded by donations from numerous sponsors. The Foundation is committed to raising funds and providing initiatives to help in the battle against cancer. The vision is to be the beacon of stopping cancer before it starts through education and support.
With an array of fundraising events and volunteer services, the Foundation is committed to providing help and inspiring hope in those affected by cancer through early detection, education, awareness and free screening.
According to Hassan, the NGO focuses on the medically unserved, low income and uninsured population. She said that the organization also seeks to reintegrate cancer survivors back into society and to also enlarge the community’s support system to make strides against cancer for fighters and survivors.
Some of the services offered by the foundation are clinical breast examination, cervical cancer/HPV screening, prostate cancer screening, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol testing, and free counselling and group sessions for cancer survivors and fighters.
The Guyana Cancer Foundation is located at Lot 9 Third Avenue Subryanville, Sheriff Street, Georgetown, and since its existence, its volunteer doctors and nurses have seen persons with colon, breast, throat, prostate, cervical and brain cancer, just to name a few. Its staff comprises a nurse and three doctors, with operations from Monday through Fridays. Saturdays are reserved for medical outreaches, and thus far, the NGO has carried out 32, reaching as far as Berbice and interior locations.
According to Hassan, during the outreaches several persons were referred to the Guyana Cancer Institute and to the Oncology department at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation for screening and check-ups.
Nevertheless, in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness month which is celebrated throughout the month of October worldwide, the NGO and other major companies have planned a calendar of events.
Some of them include the PINKTOBER church service, activities to mark international No Bra day, and the PINKTOBER dinner/gala. However, the Guyana Cancer Foundation does not wait until October to raise awareness, to breast, and the other types of cancer.
In fact, in June, the NGO hosted a brunch in celebration of cancer survivors. On Friday, the NGO joined with the rest of the world to celebrate National Mammography Day which is observed annually on the third Friday in October as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month.
“Early detection helps save lives. My mother’s situation inspired me to help women. She is a cancer survivor,” Hassan said.
When she is not advocating, Hassan enjoys travelling and meeting new people. She confessed, “I like learning about new cultures. I am always inquisitive about life. I also like reading and listening to music.” On this note her favourite song is “Imagine’’ by John Lennon.
“This song tells you a lot about life and uniting with people. Just imagine what the world would have been like without any religion or unity. When I want to relax I would go on YouTube and listen to this song.’’
This cancer advocate is also a pet lover and once had a dog named Jason. But Jason died, and she now owns six pet cats. “Whenever I am feeling down I would go to him (the dog). He understood me. I never got back a dog because I do not have the time to care for them like before.’’
Hassan has reached retirement age, and when asked whether she will be hanging up her work tools anytime soon, this is what she had to say, ‘’I do not plan to retire. I like to work and make a difference in peoples’ lives. I would say I would work until I take my last breath.’’
Her favourite quote is, ‘’It’s not what we give, but how much love we put into giving it.’’ These are the words of Mother Theresa.
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