When analysing the situation of children with disabilities in Egypt, Plan International noticed several barriers to the realisation of a better life for those children and their families. The most notable barrier was proven to be a generally indifferent or negative attitude of community members and institutions, often manifested in shame, disrespect, and pity.
This attitude was proven to be a result of a severe lack of awareness on the rights of children and persons with disabilities.
Knowing that, Plan International, with support from the European Commission, started implementing a project focusing on improving the attitude of community members (both individuals and institutions) towards children with disabilities and disability issues in general, by raising awareness and creating opportunities for direct interaction between those with disabilities and the rest of the community. This is the story of 15 year-old Asmaa, one of the beneficiaries of the project.
Asmaa is a 15 year-old girl living in a big house with her parents and two brothers, as well as her uncles, aunts and cousins. Her father works in the police and her mother is a housewife. “She takes good care of me and my two brothers”, Asmaa says. When she is at home, Asmaa likes drawing and painting. Most of all, she loves designing accessories.
Every day, Asmaa enjoys walking to school with her friends. When she comes home, she does her homework before helping her mother with house chores such as cleaning and cooking.
“I enjoy designing and making accessories. I believe that this is much easier than helping my mother around the house, which sometimes makes me feel helpless due to my disability”, Asmaa admits.
Asmaa loves going to school, “I meet my friends and make new friends”, she says enthusiastically. She also spends a lot of time at the child development authority centre in her community that provides children with a lot of different activities.
However, life isn’t always that easy for her. The biggest problem Asmaa finds in her community is the lack of services and infrastructures suitable for disabled people like her. “The roads are not paved well, they are dark and make me feel insecure when I walk alone”, she says. “Because of that, I must go everywhere with one of my brothers or my parents. I am sure if the roads were well-paved, I could go alone anywhere and would feel more confident and secure in the city”, she adds.
The fact that Asmaa’s community is pretty hard to reach due to difficult roads, and that it is far away from all schools and health centres is a considerable challenge. Indeed, lack of transportation is one of the things that make Asmaa’s daily life more difficult than it should be. “The health care centre is far away from my village and there is no transportation, I have to walk for a long distance to reach it”, she says.
I am keen to finish my education but to go through these challenges every day makes it really hard for me
Asmaa is a very enthusiastic girl, eager to learn and get an education. However, facing those challenges, she sometimes wonders if she will ever be able to graduate. “I am keen to gain my certificate and finish my education but to go through these challenges every day makes it really hard for me”, she says. Yet, she does not let the situation discourage her, and shows incredible strength, admitting that succeeding in facing those challenges make her feel independent and confident.
Since she started being involved in Plan International’s project “Building an inclusive living environment for Children and Young People with Disabilities”, Asmaa participates in a lot of different activities such as awareness sessions about rights of persons with disabilities, as well as vocational training initiatives in her community. The greatest thing for her is that she was also given the opportunity to attend a training on how to make accessories.
Working to change attitudes
She started participating in this project when the local team and volunteers of Plan International in Egypt approached her and her parents. “When they introduced the different activities of the training, I got very interested, especially because my community is not opened to including disabled persons in their activities, and I often feel excluded”, she says.
I am convinced that taking part in this project will not only enhance my skills (...) but it will also allow me to change the negative perspective of my community about people with disabilities, especially girls
“I am convinced that taking part in this project will not only enhance my skills and help me gain more knowledge as a girl and as a person with disability, but it will also allow me to change the negative perspective of my community about people with disabilities, especially girls”, she adds.
When talking about the future, Asmaa shows great ambition, and is full of hope. “I wish to become employed or start my own business after I graduate from school. I am also looking forward to getting married and starting my own family. I know that this is hard in my community due to my disability, but I will not lose hope on that”, she says with a smile on her face.
One of the greatest achievements of this project is to give children with disabilities the confidence and self-esteem they need to accomplish whatever they might dream of. “I learned through this project not to feel ashamed of my disability. I learned how to always be self-confident, express my hopes and opinions freely and participate in different discussions with my community members confidently”, Asmaa concludes, in the determined and confident way she described.
For more information about Plan International's work in Egypt go to plan-international.org/egypt.
For more information about the work of the European Commission's International Cooperation and Development Directorate General, please click here.