Amina Hirani is intent on seeing the completion of the University Centre, Nairobi. (Photo: 2019)
If you asked Amina Hirani, Manager, Design & Projects, at the Aga Khan University (AKU), Nairobi to share one of her mantras, being open to adjustments and being resilient come on top.
“That’s what 2020 reminded me of, making some adjustments here and there to keep things going,” Amina says, as we settle down for our interview.
Right across us stands the majestic red brick twin towers – the University Centre – which will provide some 36,000 square metres of space and will be seat of the university in Kenya.
If the building could speak, it would have a great story to tell.
Amina had been working with the end users of the University Centre since early 2019 to ensure that the facilities provide a dynamic environment for AKU’s faculty, staff and students to thrive. Everything was going according to plan until the pandemic hit.
“The global imposition of lockdown measures, restrictions in international travel, constrained production of goods and provision of services disrupted all construction projects. The University Centre which was under construction was not an exception.”
Amina juggled the enormous task of keeping the project on track with her personal life.
“The delays had an impact on my personal life as I had planned to spend time with my family in England from January 2021 once the building was in the completion stage.”
Amina had just arrived in London when the lockdowns started being enforced. She had to make quick adjustments and postpone her holiday to return to Nairobi and manage the challenges of the project.
“My family has always been very supportive. They understood that my heart was with them in London but my mind was in Nairobi. We kept close communication and they would ask me how the project was coming along; they were my cheerleaders”
Amina, who has worked at AKU for seven years in Kenya and Tanzania, and has over 30 years of experience in architecture and construction, looks back at how they had to adjust to the disruptions in the early stages of the pandemic.
“The contractors had to be accorded an extension which would result in delayed completion of the building by four to five months, changes also had to be made to the originally specified building materials and finishes.”
Amina and team are now working on a plan to migrate personnel from the four separate campuses to the new building: a task that involves moving personnel, teaching facilities, and technical spaces.
The experience taught her that willingness to adapt to changes is important to get things going.
Her parting shot: “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
Our Covid-19 Heroes stories series celebrates some of the remarkable women who helped AKU cope with the challenges posed by the pandemic.