Triumph Over Obstacles
Hagir Elsheikh knows what it means to fight for what you believe in. The owner of the very successful HSE Staffing Agency LLC, Elsheikh has worked hard for every success that has come her way — often at great personal risk to herself.
“I grew up in Sudan … a country that suffers from civil war and genocide in many parts of it,” she said.
Elsheikh experienced a corrupt dictatorial government while growing into young adulthood, something she chose to fight against.
“I was a women’s rights and human rights activist,” she said. “I was a spokesperson for the democratic forefront party and for my involvement … I was tortured and detained more times than I can count.”
Regardless of those obstacles, she graduated from Sudan University of Science and Technology as an electrical engineer, all the while living in grave danger until she had no choice but to leave.
“I had to flee the country … I was a refugee in Egypt prior to being able to settle here in the United States,” Elsheikh said.
When she arrived in the United States, Elsheikh was seven months pregnant and had to start from zero in a completely new environment.
“I had to learn a new language and a different culture than what I am accustomed to,” she recalled.
She got a job at a daycare, which allowed her to be with her daughter and earn an income during the day and attend school at night.
“I became a CNA and then became a licensed practical nurse,” she said.
She furthered her education and obtained an associate’s degree in nursing and graduated as a registered nurse.
“After that, I received my bachelor’s degree, started on the road for the master’s degree, and started my company,” Elsheikh said.
While working toward her goals, unfortunately, Elsheikh was also living in a domestic violence situation where her life was in danger, and she decided she needed to escape from the violence in her own home.
A positive outcome of that marriage was her two daughters. Although it was difficult to raise them as a single mother while working and attending school, she feels that she has been able to use her hardship as a tool to pave the road for others.
“I created a nonprofit called Tomorrow’s Smile Incorporated that focuses on violence prevention and education,” Elsheikh said. “I believe we can achieve any goal by enlightening our minds.”
So how did Elsheikh make the leap from electrical engineering to the medical field after she moved to the United States? Elsheikh said she “wasn’t crazy about electrical engineering,” and remembered her father’s words when she was a child.
“He always thought I would be good in the medical field,” she said. “I always loved helping others and interacting with people. Switching from engineering to nursing was the best decision I have ever made, and I am proud to say that.”
When she worked as an agency nurse herself, Elsheikh faced challenges that revolved around her employer’s inability to understand her specific needs as a single mom caring for her daughters while also attending school.
“It made me realize that I can run my own show and make a difference … by starting an agency that understands its employees and is sensitive to their unique situations,” said Elsheikh.
Because she has faced many challenging issues herself over the years, Elsheikh feels that she is able to better help her employees find solutions that work for them.
“Helping with those problems wasn’t hard for me since I can relate,” she said.
Although she said it was a “frightening thought and a bold move considering I was the main caregiver for my girls and the only income in the house,” starting her own company was worth the risk and is something she is very glad she did.
Today, HSE Staffing Agency LLC is a leading medical staffing agency in central Pennsylvania, Elsheikh said.
“We are big enough to cover all our clients’ needs, but at the same time we make sure our employees get our undivided attention when needed,” she said.
Yet she does have a warning for those considering starting their own business.
“Running a company and owning your own business is a serious job, and if you are not ready for the stress and the demands, you will feel burned out faster than you think,” she said. “I wish someone had told me how hard it is for a woman to survive and be taken seriously. I learned I had to work twice as hard to prove myself.”
Of course, she can’t do it alone, and is quick to praise her team.
“My team is the foundation of the company’s success … without a team you can rely on, you have to do everything by yourself,” she said. “They are dedicated, go above and beyond … If it wasn’t for my team, none of this would be possible.”
One of Elsheikh’s proudest accomplishments is the creation of the Tomorrow’s Smile Incorporated organization.
“Domestic violence is one of the crimes that hides in plain sight,” she said.
TSI is a nonprofit organization that attempts to eliminate personal and institutional violence against individuals through direct educational programs and services to the community in the form of public information, education, and social change activities.
“The primary goal is to ensure that women, men, and children have the needed education and support … TSI believes that education and raising awareness is the key to eliminating violence,” Elsheikh said.
Elsheikh has worked as a talk show host and co-host, as well as presented as a motivational speaker. She also volunteers her time with the Capital Coalition on Homelessness, the YWCA, the Pennsylvania Alliance against Trafficking of Humans, and the Pennsylvania Coalition against Domestic Violence.
“I also served as a board member for the Harrisburg Area Community College board of trustees and am a member of the diversity committee,” she said. “I am also a board of trustee member with the Church World Services.”
Elsheikh recently published a memoir called Through Tragedy and Triumph: A Life Well Traveled, which chronicles her story. The profits from the book will go to domestic violence survivors, toward educating and raising awareness, and will fund a scholarship for single mothers.
Through all of her struggles, Elsheikh said she has learned she is a fighter and will fight hard for something she believes in.
“Circumstances will exist and obstacles will appear in your way, but it is up to you to use them to your advantage or allow them to destroy you,” she said. “You are the one who is writing your book, and only you can decide how it ends.”