Refugee Hawa Hassan wants to give son in wheelchair chance to play

Local groups like Austin Executives Association are helping Season for Caring families

Hawa Hassan struggles as she carries her 9-year-old son Haji Mada to a flight of stairs.

Haji has what doctors believe is a rare form of muscular dystrophy, and, without an electric wheelchair, he must crawl on the floor or rely on his mother to move from one place to another inside their small East Austin apartment.

“He is going to be the way he is for the rest of his life,” Hassan said, adding that she prays to God five times a day, mostly for him to watch of her children.

The Hassan family is part of the Statesman Season for Caring program, which highlights the stories of 12 families but helps hundreds of others through local nonprofits. The Hassan family was nominated by Caritas of Austin.

Every year, the American-Statesman invites the community to give. Sometimes businesses will provide an item on a family’s wish list or make a monetary donation. Often individuals will donate items on the wish lists or contribute money. Occasionally, community groups decide to make Season for Caring part of their holidays — such as church groups, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, classrooms, veterans clubs or fraternal orders.

Last month, Austin Executives Association gave its first donation to a charity to Season for Caring by presenting a check for $1,000 at one of its almost weekly networking lunches. The group, which its members believe was established in 1976, has helped other members raise funds for charitable causes in the past, but never as a group.

When the group decided to donate some of its surplus to a local charity, association President John Fincher said, “We didn’t want to pick one from our own group.”

They liked the idea that Season for Caring funds will help people at 12 different local organizations, including Hassan and Caritas of Austin.

Only in the last year after moving to Austin has Hassan been given a more definitive answer from doctors about Haji’s condition. Haji and his two sisters were born in a Kenyan refugee camp, where Hassan had spent much of her life after she and her family fled war-torn Somalia. Hassan said that doctors at the camp were unable to figure out why Haji wasn’t meeting his benchmarks for standing, walking and talking. When other children were playing with sticks, he couldn’t, she said.

Hassan is pregnant with her fourth child, whose father is a refugee she met in Kenya who now lives in Houston. She said if the baby is a boy, he might have the same disorder as Haji.

Haji doesn’t speak much and smiles as he watches his 11-year-old sister Sadiya Hamadi and 6-year-old sister Fatuma Noor chase after each other.

Sadiya said she wishes Haji could run with her, too.

The family needs help, including a wheelchair-accessible van, a motorized wheelchair, physical therapy for Haji, furniture, a TV, bedding, art supplies, school supplies, children’s books, children’s clothing and baby furniture.

To find out more about the Hassan family or to donate something on their wish list, contact Caritas of Austin, 512-646-1277,

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