When the young athlete Mahmoud Youssef always heard that life can change in a blink of an eye, he never imagined he would experience it personally and the hard way. Glory was shining at the professional career life of the player and trainer before he faced his milestone challenge of becoming handicapped.
“It was a microbus accident that changed the whole scene,” Youssef remembered, “to cut the heart-breaking story short, I turned into a man on a wheel chair.”
Youssef’s story was the opening of the third ‘Awladna International Forum for Arts of the Gifted’. As the presenter, he shared his life challenges and attempts of fitting into the society with the attendees, who all either shared part of the same experience of disability, or were determined to make his life easier and better, along with the lives of millions of other people with disabilities.
Founded by Awladna organisation for children with disabilities, in cooperation with Orascom Investment, the forum takes place with the cooperation of the EU, and the UNICEF, under the umbrella of Egypt’s ministries of youth and sports, social solidarity, higher education, tourism, and manpower and immigration.
The forum aims to empower the differently-abled children, and provide them with a platform to showcase their talents, and discusses the methods of enhancing their lives and working toward merging them into society.
It also targets making a real, touching life change for the differently abled on the ground, through working on activating the legislations dedicated to people with different disabilities.
Youssef’s accident was a start of a new life in which he fought toward fitting into society, finding a new job, and facilities to deal with his disability, was as hard as rehabilitating his life away from what he always knew it as.
The forum, taking place from 15-22 February, opens a hub for art troupes from more than ten countries who present all types of arts including music, dance, painting, sculpture, poetry, and cultural performances, all performed with outstanding young talents.
This year’s edition of the forum is dedicated to discussing Egypt’s position among the international legislations, and its part in them, in enhancing the capabilities of enrolling differently-abled children into public schools, and providing them later on with decent equivalent jobs. It also tackles the role technology plays in Egypt in enhancing their lives, making it easier for them to fit into society and become a member of it, as well as discussing the importance of art in shaping children with disabilities’ characters, and how it helps them express themselves deeper, which creates a connection and a bond with others.
The Ambassador of the European Union delegation to Egypt, Ivan Surkos, told Daily News Egypt that children with disabilities face several challenges in Egypt, but the inability of being enrolled in Egypt’s public educational system remains the most difficult one.
“Equal access to education remains the most difficult challenge in Egypt. Physical disability does not mean children are not capable of continuing studies, and we believe this is most important thing the EU aims to enhance,” he said.
Believing that education is a valuable tool which widens children’s horizons, Surkos stated that the EU is already dedicated to enhancing the access of a large segment of disabled children’s lives through a programme that is currently applied in several governorates by the UNICEF.
The programme provides facilities for the physical disabled to facilitate their way to schools. The programme started being applied in Alexandria, and Gharbeya by placing small wheelchair access lanes, and equipping bathrooms.
The programme also works on raising teachers’ awareness of dealing with unique children in classrooms that might need different than the usual treatment.
In his speech, Surkos stated that the EU is also to fund Egypt with an additional €25m in 2019, to support the new educational system 2.0 which was applied since the start the academic year of 2018/19. According to Surkos, a part of the fund will be dedicated to special needs children who are in need in the most.
Unlike Surkos, Bruno Maes, the UNICEF representative in Egypt, believes that discrimination and the lack of social acceptance are the main social struggles children with disabilities constantly go through, and need immediate intervention.
“Differently-abled children still face stigmatisation in society, and it takes years to address this issue,” he told Daily News Egypt.
From his point of view, social campaigns are the solution to such a problem, as through it, we can implement the fact that disabled children are just like any other children.
“I believe that through social campaigns, we can raise the awareness of disability among children, in order to prevent the bullying experienced by disabled children,” he added.
Maes believes that NGOs should work in parallel with the government in order to help enact environments which enable children to access their rights.
“When we speak of laws in Egypt, which are all inclusive for the differently-abled children, the challenge is how to accelerate the operationalising of the laws and the legislations that already exist and is all updated and in line with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he pointed out.
The event witnessed the participation of technology developers, who seek to offer enhancing solutions to improve the lives of differently-abled individuals.
Founded by Ahmed Gomaa’, whose disabled brother suffered for years from communicating with society, the team is developing a mobile app to become a platform for people with hearing disabilities.
According to the studies collected by the team throughout their research, Egypt has seven to eight million deaf individuals, of which 2 million are without an income, but subsist on governmental aid that does not exceed EGP 300 per month.
The only jobs available for people with hearing disabilities, according to the team’s researchers, are mainly handicrafts and carpentry.
The company’s app, which is currently under processing, includes a digital translator to allow differently-abled persons to translate into and from sign language. It also includes courses and training programmes offered with it, as well as creating a platform for the community to establish their own business by facilitating their way of finding a suitable fund.
The forum runs daily art activities at the Cairo Opera House.