YT Person of the Year: AHMED HAMOUD AL-SAQQAF [Archives:1999/01/Interview]

January 4 1999

At the end of every year, the Yemen Times nominates one person to receive the YT Person of the Year Award. The two over-riding factors for nomination are:
1) Successful life (career, family, etc.)
2) Service to the community.
This year, we have received over a hundred nominations. I would like to express gratitude for all our readers who have interacted with us, especially from the diaspora. The sifting and screening process took more than two months, using different criteria, and trying to remain objective all the time. Let me jot here quickly the fact that staff members of the Yemen Times are not eligible for nomination, given the conflict of interest. We do thank those who have found us deserving.
As the choices were narrowed down, we felt that recognizing ordinary people should take precedent over more powerful individuals who command more resources. Politicians were also by-stepped in favor of people working on human rights, and those serving the vulnerable and down-trodden.
Finally, when the committee came up with the winner for 1998, I had a small problem. – he is a Saqqaf. Although unrelated to me (he comes from a different part of the country), I felt uneasy since we share the same last name. I asked for a review of the merit record. It was confirmed. The conclusion was that there is no reason to exclude a deserving person and penalize him/her just because he/she shares the last name with me.
I am happy to announce Mr. Ahmed Hamoud Al-Saqqaf as the Yemen Times Person of the Year for 1998.
Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf
Interviewed and compiled by Dr. Salah Haddash, Managing Editor of the Yemen Times.
Q: Could you tell us briefly about the history of the Prosthetics and Physiotherapy Center?
A: The center was established in 1978, but was officially opened four years later. At that time, it was a small, 2-room workshop in Al-Bouniyya, Sanaa. Its main task was to repair prosthetics imported from abroad.
Q: But today you have moved to larger premises?
A: Yes, this center is today equipped with modern physiotherapy equipment, and produces good-quality artificial limbs and other disability devices. We are happy with this larger location. The place really combines the ambiance of a hospital, recreation facility, and a workshop. It is an achievement to be admired.
Q: How many people work here?
A: There are 66 employees (53 male and 13 female), in addition to 19 non-Yemeni staff members.
Q: What are the main departments comprising the center?
A: There are two main departments, as follows:
First, the Technical Department which consists of the following sections:
1- Plaster and Measurement Section where handicapped people are received to have their needs diagnosed and assessed;
2- Upper and Lower Limbs Section produces high-quality artificial limbs for disabilities above, below and at the knee, above, below and at the elbow, artificial feet, crutches, and repairs prosthetics;
3- Leatherware Section produces various types of medical shoes, support belts for the spine, neck, abdomen, and limbs as well as painting crutches and wheelchairs;
4- Compensatory Devices Section produces wheelchairs and steel, aluminum and chromium crutches.
Second, there is the Physiotherapy Department which consists of the following sections:
1- Electro-therapy Section includes electric stimulation, vertebrae treatment, and magnetic therapy;
2- Light and Thermo-therapy Section deals with treatment by short, ultrasonic, infrared and ultraviolet waves, warm poultices and wax;
3- Aqua-therapy Section treats with water eddies, under-water massage, and sauna;
4- The Therapeutic Exercises and Massage Section has a fully equipped ward for treating men, women and children.
Physiotherapy at our center has been transformed by using very modern equipment and devices.
Q: How many patients have you treated so far?
A: The numbers vary from year to year, but I can tell you they are increasing. I can say, in general, we have helped about 1,000 persons gain mobility. We have done lots of repairs for foreign-made parts.
Q: What are the center’s main needs?
A: The center’s main requirement is staff training in both artificial-limb manufacture and physiotherapy. This will be greatly helpful in replacing foreign staff whose service is temporary any way.
Q: What has your role been in all of this?
A: It is not just me. It is a lot of people who work together. You cannot limit credit to just one person.
Q: That is correct, but if we can speak about your role within the group?
A: I have been in charge of this center for a decade and a half now. I see it as part of me, or rather I am part of it. I spend most of time here with the staff and patients.
Q: How do you interact with the patients?
A: I interact as any person who has a duty. You see, I myself am handicapped. I as injured in the line of duty in the military fighting against an insurgency movement. So, I know what it means to lose your mobility.
Q: We hear you don’t take bribes/gifts even though people in need would give anything to get the limbs and joints?
A: Basically, I am happy with my lifestyle. My needs are quite limited. Second, this is a duty that I have to do. Third, most of the people who need our services are poor people who are exposed to a sad accident. It would be inhuman to exploit them.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: In the short term, we wish to expand the existing facilities. We also hope to open other branches for the center in other governorates. This proposal was submitted to the Ministry some time ago. We are still waiting.
Being the only one of its kind in Yemen, this center is unable to cope with the increasing number of people seeking help. We receive more than 200 cases daily and the number is increasing.
I think with the national demining program presently underway, there will be a better chance to help our disabled people.
We are willing partners to the program, and I hope that we can work to expand the services needed by our people.
Q: What kind of services and parts are mostly needed?
A: Based on the 1997 records, I would say that demand for crutches represents a third of the total. Other major needs are for shoes, support appliances, and wheelchairs. Knee sockets are also frequently ordered.
Let me point to an important service that is required by people who lose body parts. This is the psychological and mental pressure endured. When a human being loses part of his body, he/she often concludes that life is no longer worth living. At this stage, they represent a danger to themselves, and a major burden to their families. They need professional consultation, which is not available in this country at this time.
I have seen individuals in this situation, and it makes your inside churn and burn. We must attend to such people.
Q: What is the center’s relationship with the Ministry of Health?
A: The center is part of the Ministry of Health, financially and administratively. It needs, however, a lot more attention and support than it gets now.
Q: Any last comment?
A: The best part in us as human beings is when we identify with the human needs of others. Doing that by reaching out to our fellow human beings elevates us and makes us better people.