Hagir S. Elsheikh conducts her life like a well-choreographed dance, gracefully managing myriad projects with an air of calm confidence and conviviality.
The electrical engineer-turned-registered nurse juggles life as a single mother with two daughters while running HSE Staffing Agency, which pairs healthcare providers with skilled employees. She also teaches at HACC as a clinical instructor and advocates for victims of violence through Tomorrow’s Smiles, her nonprofit organization.
During her “spare” time, she creates podcasts on topics like human trafficking, while studying for her master’s degree, working on her memoirs and shuttling her daughters to New York as they pursue acting careers.
For her work in the community, Elsheikh recently was recognized by the Central Penn Business Journal as a “Woman of Influence.”
“Based on her outstanding contributions to the community, it’s no surprise that Hagir won,” said Associate Publisher Shaun McCoach.
As a young girl, Elsheikh lived in the small Sudanese village of Tandalti, where her father was a physician’s assistant.
“Because of his passion for his work, he traveled from place to place,” said Elsheikh. “We would share our water with others, and the line at our faucet was long, but we, as kids, took advantage of it. The little girls and boys who would come with their families played with us, and we learned how to ride donkeys. I also remember being sad when they left.”
Life was simple back then for Elsheikh, whose family eventually left the village to reside in Khartoum, the sprawling Sudanese capital. Then the country fell to a military coup.
“Life started to get more difficult,” she said. “They began dictating what we wore, how we lived, when and where we were permitted to speak. Life as we knew it had changed.”
As Elsheikh grew older, she became an activist, paying a high price for organizing protests in high school and college, where she studied to be an electrical engineer. At one point, government officials beat her for about 10 hours, she said.
“I could smell my own blood, but couldn’t feel my body anymore,” she said. “Close to sunrise, they threw me in the back of a pickup truck and pitched me out in front of my house like a bag of trash.”
Elsheikh described her harrowing struggles as difficult, but just temporarily debilitating. “It only made me stronger,” she said.
Elsheikh later married, became pregnant and moved to Egypt, where she applied for refugee status, living in a tiny, closet-sized apartment, surviving on little money and often walking miles to get to a part-time job.
Opened My Eyes
Eventually, Elsheikh was given entry into the United States. She said that she breathed a sigh of relief, but first had to survive a sleepless, 12-hour flight to Philadelphia while seven months pregnant.
“The packed flight was full of refugees, and my feet kept getting more and more swollen,” she said. “I tried walking, but nothing helped.”
After a month in the states, Elsheikh visited friends in Harrisburg and subsequently fell in love with the area.
“Those friends were kind enough to take us in and help me find work at a nearby daycare,” she said, starting her job just four months after arriving in the states and six weeks after giving birth to a healthy baby daughter.
Determined to make a good life for herself and her family, Elsheikh brushed up on her language skills, passed her driving test, began studying nights at HACC and soon became a certified nurse’s assistant. By this time, she was the family’s sole provider as her former husband lost his job, which escalated to a cycle of domestic abuse.
“It opened my eyes to ways I could help others going through this tragedy,” she said.
Today, Elsheikh concentrates on living life to the fullest and wants to help others do the same. Her HSE Staffing clients and staff appreciate the fact that she has worked in healthcare.
“We worked together when I was a new nurse, and we clicked at the onset,” said Bobbi Lehman of Enola. “Then I started working for her agency. She knows what it’s like, and, when she sends me somewhere, I trust that she has checked out the place to see how they treat staff. Because she worked in the field, she knows what it’s like, and, therefore, has compassion for her employees.”
Ezekiel Lemiso also worked with Elsheikh and said she took him under her wing.
“We shared common challenges in life,” he said. “I’m from Kenya, she’s from the Sudan and we’re both single parents. She helped me adapt quickly on the job.”
Lemiso admires Elsheikh’s ability to fit so many projects into her days.
“Hagir has been through hell and back, but managed to become a successful nurse, a business owner and an advocate for civil rights, while working for victims of domestic violence,” Lemiso said.
Then, chuckling, he described her work ethic.
“Her day is 96 hours,” he said. “I sometimes tell her to relax and enjoy the fruits of her hard work. She is just amazing.”
Elsheikh returns the compliment, saying she gains inspiration from others every day, which fuels her motivation to work harder to help.
“The greatest reward for me is to see people around me succeed and help them reach their full potential,” she said. “It brings joy to my heart, and what keeps me going is my ability to inspire others through my stories.”