Hayek Hassan’s all-consuming passion and this strong affinity for things, for others, for fellow humans is no doubt deep-rooted in his childhood. “I was an unruly child but always a happy one. I have wonderful parents and my weakness is my father, who I adore more than life itself”.
Hayek Hassan is a rich and successful businessman. He mainly works in the textile industry and catering. Indeed he owns the famous Cosi restaurant located in the Abidjan Mall, in the residential district of Cocody. He was destined for a ready-made career: “I spent two years as a professional football player and then entered the business world to help my father”.
But despite a full-time career in a highly capitalistic sector, over the last decade Hayek Hassan has found time to become involved in social actions. He says there was no defining moment that led to his impetuosity to ride to the rescue of the most destitute people. “I’ve experienced all phases of life, from extreme poverty to ostentatious wealth. One day you lose everything; it opens your eyes to many things and helps you adapt to every type of situation throughout the rest of your life”.
His social activism began slowly by solving small problems. “But today, thanks to Facebook, I’m able to see things never seen before, and I love a challenge”. Indeed, with the power of Facebook, which is what he uses the most, Hayek Hassan (alias HH) is exposed to many more cases. This fact seems to suit this spontaneous field man who doesn’t like to just twiddle his thumbs. This is what he does each time he identifies a case or is made aware of one on social networks: “My process is simple. When I come across a case on Facebook, I start by making sure it’s a genuine one. If it is, I tackle it without really thinking, whence my nickname “the vagabond of charity”. And in my articles and posts, I’ve never asked for donations. People just contact me and want to participate when they see the posted photo of a person in difficulty”.
After a year of social media presence, Hayek Hassan has already dealt with more than fifty cases, most of them critical cases. Although he generally prefers not to remember the name of the children he helps get better so he doesn’t become attached, he admits that he was particularly affected by the case of Mikou. “I’ve been helping with Mikou’s healthcare costs for the last 8 months. He has cancer – Burkitt’s lymphoma – but is doing well. At this very moment he is finishing what I hope will be his final course of treatment at the Cocody Danga clinic”.
The other cases Hayek Hassan deals with are mostly requests for financial aid to buy wheelchairs, pay education costs, etc. – all sorts of things. Over time he has gradually formed ties with numerous hospitals and clinics in Abidjan. They are contacts in those medical centres with whom he follows the person in question. “They take pleasure in doing it because, for them, it’s a way of contributing to the struggle to improve social wellbeing”, he adds. Indeed he appreciates the efforts most of the hospital staff put in on a daily basis despite low revenue and a lack of basic necessities and high-quality technical platforms in the city’s medical centres. “We have Côte d’Ivoire’s best professors and doctors. What we need is to refurbish the hospitals, install the equipment that needs to be paid for and pay the doctors what they deserve. This is what it will take for them to be able to carry out equivalent work to what we see in European hospitals. Many people criticise the indifference and lack of professionalism of some doctors and nurses in our hospitals but, having had difficult experiences and tried out their working conditions, I can’t blame them, far from it. In my opinion, they should be rewarded because they do miracles in poor conditions”.
With this spontaneous commitment and the numerous cases of hardship he has dealt with, Hayek Hassan – this teasing and optimistic bon vivant – has become a real phenomenon and an influencer on social media in Côte d’Ivoire, in particular on Facebook. This digital fame has taken over his real life and he is doing his best to manage it. “This fame is something new for me. It’s not always easy to manage it and, more than that, the pleasure becomes a reality in which each word or sentence must be shaped and measured. In general, I like to have fun and enjoy myself, but it has become something I have to control because I have become a public figure despite myself. It has its advantages, but also its drawbacks. However, I don’t have any regrets as long as it’s for a good cause”.
And to help him, he can always count on the steadfast support of his wife: “Thank God I have an extraordinary wife who understands me and encourages me to overcome every challenge. She sacrifices a lot because she knows that I love doing this and it’s my calling. I love what I do, even though I sometimes go a bit far and my moods can be difficult to cope with at home when a child who is ill is going through a tough time. But I live with an amazing woman who accepts this and helps me a lot”. Hayek Hassan can also rely on the support of his friends in this noble mission. “My close friends – I have four or five – are totally behind me. My friends and acquaintances give me a lot of encouragement and are very responsive when there is a case. They really help me a lot. Indeed I’d like to thank the Lebanese community and the Ivorians who anonymously help me”.
Amongst his list of projects, dreams, Hayek Hassan is considering building a maternity ward, a church and a mosque side by side to symbolise life, love and peace. In 30 years’ time, he would like to be a leading player in terms of social and solidarity actions, recognised for his actions by the most important organisations, because, he says, “this struggle is my life. No child should suffer, because it is our duty to help them smile. There is nothing like the smile of a child who is recovering from illness; it’s priceless. It’s paradise on earth. For a couple of seconds it’s as if you have the world in your hands. I love Côte d’Ivoire”.