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The Citizen

Letter to HKS: A journey of dignity and service

The following e-mail was sent by Mukhtar Abdi Ogle, MC/MPA ’13, to his classmates at the Kennedy School. With the author’s permission, we have reprinted it here.


From: Abdi Ogle, Mukhtar

Sent: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 9:28 PM

To: Mid-Careers/MPAs

Subject: The process of me walking straight has just begun: THANK YOU ALL


Dear friends and classmates,

I can hardly contain my excitement, and at the risk of imposing on you with this letter, I write to let you know that – TODAY – the process of me walking straight for the first time in my life has just begun. It is such a wonderful feeling!

Some of you may know that I was born into a poor family in Habaswein village of rural northeastern Kenya and contracted polio during childhood. A village quack misdiagnosed my ailment and subsequently disfigured my still-developing nerves to render me physically scared with a severe, permanent disability. My parents were traumatized and the village justice system absolved the ‘doctor’ of any wrongdoing due to his ‘good intentions’ of trying to fix a strange disease attributed to the ‘bad eye’ of jealous neighbors! My mother, Halima, an illiterate but spiritual woman, nurtured me to move on with my life, and overcome the predicament of two atrophied legs, through resilience, faith, discipline and education.

Eventually, I made it to Harvard Kennedy School and had the pleasure of meeting all of you here. Concomitantly, my new-found luck came with its own set of challenges, being disabled and away from home. But once again, God sent me a guardian angel in the form of a Lebanese classmate, who became early on my personal driver, grocer, mover and, at times, housekeeper. I remember him looking me in the eye one day and in his gentle yet assertive way telling me unapologetically, “We need to do something about your leg Habibi; this is a country where miracles do happen, so get yourself ready.” Initially, I was resistant to change. He was relentless. This triggered a series of events that ultimately landed me at the state-of-the-art podiatric laboratory of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For the last few months, a team of exceptional and passionate professionals examined my limb disability and reconstructed my mobility through personalized medicine and the innovative technology of prosthetics and orthotics, giving me the dignity of choice and the possibility of a straight walk sometime in the near future.

In Kenya, as well as in many places around the world, people with disabilities are forced to take ‘lesser’ roles in life and battle systems that are discordant and bureaucratic. In contrast, my experience at the Harvard Kennedy School and with the Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) has showed me that the needs of disabled people can be accommodated and integrated – seamlessly and effectively – even within highly demanding, fast-pace environments.

My stint at Harvard enabled me to think straight and (eventually) walk straight. This, my friends, was the great inspiration behind co-founding, with my Lebanese classmate Zaher Nahle (MC/MPA ’13), IBRAK Partners – a social entrepreneurship start-up. It’s aim is to channel similar solutions for those still struggling with post-Polio trauma and its crippling challenges and perplexing social stigmas in Kenya, Africa, and around the world. In addition, IBRAK will offer other programs in education and capacity building.

This letter is in essence to thank you ALL, first and foremost, for your kindness, help and warmth throughout this year. You will be missed but never forgotten.

Let me say it again: My journey to walk straight for the first time in my life has just begun. It is such a wonderful feeling!

Looking forward to WALKING with you.


Mukhtar Abdi Ogle MC/MPA’13