Children with physical disabilities, suffer extreme isolation and marginalization in the Egyptian society as they represent a totally neglected social segment, about which no statistics or information is provided. Additionally, there are neither services nor support systems provided to accommodate these children’s needs; for example there are no educational opportunities for children with multiple disabilities possessing normal IQs and there is also no support system for their parents, who carry the burden of their care.
Drawing on this background, Magda Sami introduced her idea of a multi-service educational center, providing financial, educational, physical and emotional support, and therefore creating a channel to socially integrate children with multiple disabilities. The main idea of this program is to create an educational center which combines primary education, a rehabilitation system, through shadow therapists for children with multiple disabilities. The center will undertake daily activities, allowing the children the suitable environment to develop their self-satisfaction and acceptance as well as paving them channels for social integration and participation in public life. In addition to instilling confidence among children, it will also lift the burden off parents as well as creating new job opportunities for graduates of physical therapy schools. The program will work in partnership with all concerned governmental bodies, aiming to apply and expand the model on a wider scale. The importance of this idea is that once it succeeds it will apply to the broader spectrum of all types of physical disabilities.
Magda is creating an integrated system of education and rehabilitation through a new profession of shadow-therapists serving children with multiple disabilities who are facing systematic discrimination in the Egyptian society. An educational system with qualified shadow-therapists and teachers will help lift the burden off parents (usually mothers), who must refrain from working and dedicate their every minute to the care of their children. The availability of an integrated educational system for children with multiple-disabilities will be empowering and strengthening for both the children and their families. Not having to depend on someone full-time will give the child greater confidence to lead a normal life and to get integrated into society. Providing this group (and the larger group of physically disabled) with equal right for education is empowering with all skills to be full citizens and to fully participate economically, socially and politically.
Magda wants to see a system in place that is able to provide support to parents and instill in children with multiple disabilities and later all children with physical disabilities the confidence and tools including education, rehabilitation, and shadow-therapists, to lead a more independent life, and to ultimately integrate into society. The training center for shadow-therapists will recruit trainees from the Faculty of Physical Therapy who face extremely high unemployment rates upon graduating, and will create a pool of shadow-therapists for the center, for parents who want to hire shadow-therapists at home, and in the future for public and private schools that open specialized classrooms for children with multiple disabilities.
Drawing on her model, Magda will raise public awareness and lobby with policy-makers in order to provide specialized classrooms for children with multiple disabilities in public and private primary and secondary schools all across the country. Through her developed and deep marketing background, she will be able to capture public attention and successfully implement her plan.
According to the most conservative figures released by the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics, there are over two million cases of disability in Egypt. In another seminar held earlier this year at the Red Crescent Society, statistics showed that there are as many as six million disabled people in Egypt. The majority of disabled individuals in Egypt are children between infancy and 14 years of age. The increasing number of kids with disabilities is attributed to birth difficulties, inter-marriages or accidents. There is no data provided or centers available catering to those who have more than one disability.
Children with multiple disabilities are often extremely bright, but cannot function on their own, requiring that one of their parents, usually the mother completely dedicate her life to taking care of them full-time. No place in Egypt is equipment-friendly, so these children must be carried if their parents attempt to take them out. The financial, physical and emotional burden beard by the mother and father, very often results in the family breaking up. If the parents do not get divorced, the best scenario is usually for them to be physically separated. In some cases, mothers are obliged to travel long distances if not leave the country with their children looking for better care and social acceptance. Alternatively, if they can afford to, they can send their children abroad, also resulting in the separation of the family members. With at least one of the parents having to dedicate their lives to taking care of the child, the children become extremely dependent and feel completely marginalized as well as humiliated.
Only a fraction of physically disabled children are actually enrolled in schools. Although there are a total of 227 specialized government schools for the disabled in Egypt, they provide for well under ten per cent of their educational needs — some studies actually place the figure as low as two or three per cent. Children with multiple disabilities with normal IQ levels, however, are not accounted for in the educational services. All specialized schools accept children having only one type of disability—usually catering to the mentally disabled, blind, or deaf and mute. The infrastructure in all public government schools, even those specialized schools, is not handicap-friendly, and teachers do not know how to deal with children with multiple-disabilities. Although they are bright and quite capable of learning, in Egypt, their lives are doomed, with no opportunities to go to school and to lead a relatively normal life. In more advanced countries around the world, schools admit these children and the government pays for a shadow to take care of them during school and even outside of school (in some places). In Egypt however, the profession of shadow-therapists does not exist, and children with multiple disabilities are locked up at home, and receive no education despite their high IQ levels. In fact, education is out of bounds for children who are physically challenged.
It is true that children with physical disabilities could potentially get rehabilitation services such as hydro-therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy, but rehabilitation in Egypt is not integrated, and is also highly expensive. Doctors work individually and there is no system in place for children with multiple disabilities to receive care. There are no manual wheel-chairs in Egypt, and the wheelchairs that are available are huge, tough, and practically unusable, and cost L.E 7,000 (roughly $1200) which is unaffordable for most Egyptians.
In addition to empowering challenged children, Magda’s project will also have a greater impact on the societal level. As unemployment in Egypt is extremely high, especially among graduates of teaching and physical therapy schools, Magda’s center will play a pivotal role in lessening the severity of this problem through the shadow-therapist initiative.
Magda is in the process of establishing an NGO, for which she has already developed the board with diversified areas of expertise; including a doctor, marketing-expert, development expert, management expert, and an experienced fundraiser—all of whom will act as ambassadors committed to the idea. She already has a location for her center and is in the process of refurbishment. However, she sill needs support for paper-work and registration, which actually calls for Ashoka’s intervention.
Magda’s model involves several aspects; she is creating the profession of shadow therapists by training graduates of the Faculty of Physical Therapy who face very high rates of unemployment, in an intensive 3 months course on the basics of physical therapy, speech-therapy, occupational therapy, and hydro-therapy. Magda began by discussing with the Dean of the Faculty of Physical Therapy about her center for training shadow therapists, and have both agreed to interview candidates from a pool of applicants from the Faculty, and select 15 trainee-shadows. For 3 months, 15 prospective shadows will be trained on the basics of occupational therapy, phsyco-therapy, speech-therapy, and hydrotherapy, as well as learn how to care for a child with multiple physical disabilities and how to deal with their family, teachers, and peers. As part of the occupational therapy, professionals will teach the trainees the basic techniques of dealing with children with multiple-disabilities; how to teach them to eat, sit, take off their clothes, how to perform basic life-skills. She will give them theoretical training as well as on-the-job training administered by professionals at the Faculty. Magda is currently collaborating with the Faculty to create a training curriculum for shadow therapists.
She has already begun to promote collaboration between the Faculty of Physical Therapy and the Teachers Training College, to create a course at the Faculty of Physical Therapy to train teachers at the Teachers Training College, to deal with children with multiple disabilities at the primary level. In the long-term, she will work with the Ministry of Higher Education, the Dean of the Physical Therapy School, and the Dean of the Training College, to develop the course as a permanent section of the teachers’ curriculum. However, in the short-term she will hire teachers who graduated from this course and who are passionate about their jobs and fit certain predetermined criteria. She has already started identifying students with multiple-disabilities aged 5-7, in collaboration with the Dean of the Physical Therapy School and Integrated Care Society, and will choose 15. After 6 months, the center will be able to open, and first grade teachers will begin to teach the 15 students the regular public school curriculum. Each child will have a shadow to help them out during the school day. Depending on their individual needs, this shadow will be able to go home with them.
In parallel, the training center for shadow-therapists will continue training other shadow-therapists, which will ensure a continual flow of shadow-therapists for her educational center and for families to employ. Magda’s marketing strategy will target NGOs, schools, and international organizations. In the long run, however, once they adopt her model, shadow-therapists will help in spreading awareness both on the private as well as public levels.
Magda’s project establishes the interplay between physical, occupational therapy and primary education. The 15 children at her center will be educated in addition to receiving needed rehabilitation services. She has already discussed with professionals at the Faculty of Medicine to volunteer to come once or twice a week to diagnose the cases, and give individual advice to parents and Magda about the rehabilitation needs of each child (sadaqa garya). She will also promote awareness among the medical profession of the need to cooperate to fulfill the many rehabilitation needs of children with multiple physical disabilities.
She is currently designing a financial system where there will be several levels of fees depending on how much the client can afford to pay, where rich clients will subsidize poor clients. Magda was able to develop a concrete and diversified fundraising strategy where she employs different techniques. For example, she is tapping into the Islamic tradition of philanthropy, and will use the money donated by individuals to finance the education and rehabilitation of a child. She has already agreed with two Arab Satellite channels to advertise and fundraise for her project. Previously, she managed to raise funds in this manner to finance 20 kidney transplants for children. She will also fundraise during the holy month of Ramadan by having events and will campaign in schools to raise funds. Magda will create a system under which the flow of funding will be a continuous support for the NGO. She will raise funds from international and local donors, as well as corporate sponsors. This money will be used to finance the training of shadow-therapists, the teachers, the rehabilitation services, and necessary equipment needed by children with multiple physical disabilities including a tailor-made chair. She is currently looking into involving the business sector to manufacture the equipment for a profit.
In order to replicate her model, and to minimize the cost of replication, she will advocate with the government as well as public and private schools about the importance of establishing such a system at the primary level by opening a number of classrooms for multiple disabled children. In the long-term, in order to spread her model as widely as possible and in order to minimize costs, she will train teachers at existing public primary and secondary schools on how to deal with children with multiple-disabilities. She will also advocate with secondary schools both private and public to accept these kids after completing their primary education at her center. Ashoka Fellow Dina Abdel Wahab can help her with this as she has already convinced 10 schools to accept children with mental disabilities, and so it is a matter of time before they are convinced about the importance of including children with multiple disabilities.
Ashoka will also help her using media to create an advocacy campaign to raise awareness among families of multiple disabled children as well as society-at-large that children with multiple disabilities have the right to, and are capable of completing their education. In the long-term, Magda will begin an advocacy campaign with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and the National Council for Children and Motherhood (NCCM), to lobby for the creation of an education and rehabilitation system to support kids with multiple physical disabilities. Magda’s background shows that he is a serial social entrepreneur, sticks with her ides and gets them through.
Magda’s idea is different from that of Dina Abdel Wahab and Hanaa Helmy, but yet they all complement each other. Dina is integrating children with special needs, mental disabilities, in her pre-schools, and is creating a model to use to lobby with policy-makers about the right of these children to enter the public education system. Hanaa is creating an enabling environment for children with physical disabilities, namely CP, teaching them how to move, and perform basic skills, and training trainers to work with these children, while also manufacturing low-cost equipment for them. On the other hand, Magda’s focus is children with multiple-disabilities, and is creating an integrated educational system for them in order to give them a chance to live a dignified life, to get an education and life-skills, and to lift the burden off their parents, while creating employment opportunities for thousands of physical therapists and graduates of teacher training schools to become shadow-therapists and teachers. Each one of them is working on a different sub-group within the field of disabilities, but together they will form a group to lobby policy-makers on creating a system that caters to the needs and rights of all disabled children
Magda’s son was born normal but with jaundice, about which the doctor did not inform her. Therefore, her baby was not treated, and as a result developed a type of CP that has been totally eradicated from the rest of the world. She discovered his condition 6 months after he was born. He is extremely bright but needs support in all daily activities. Magda looked for schools for him in Egypt, but found that the few that accepted children with disabilities, only admitted those with mental disabilities and refused to take those that are very bright but have multiple physical disabilities. Magda’s son has an IQ of 120.
In order to give her child the chance to live and survive in dignity and pride, Magda had to send him abroad to live with her brother in the U.S, where his needs were fully accommodated in the public school system that incorporates rehabilitation. 80 to 100% of her son’s equipment is covered by insurance, and the school appoints a shadow to take care of him during the school day—all of which Magda would have never been able to provide for her son in Egypt. Magda preferred to lose her son, than to watch him be miserable in Egypt, where other children like hers have no chance to live a meaningful life. Magda has not seen her son for the past 6 years as a result of an argument with her brother who insists that he should have full custody over the child.
Magda’s heart would ache every time she used to see her son so dependent on his caretaker, whether it is her brother, her mother or herself. He feels his life is in the hands of someone else, so is forced to be at their mercy. She thought that if her son had a shadow-therapist, they would not make him feel this way.
In 8th grade in the USA, her son did not pass his exams which were administered to him in sign-language because they considered him speaking impaired. Magda took the first plane to the US to complain to the Ministry of Education, until they overturned their decision and agreed to give him another re-take exam 3 months later. She took her son back to Egypt, and revised with him all the material he had to know, and then went back with him to the U.S, until she was absolutely sure he had passed the exam. She stayed with him until he passed the entrance exam of another high-school, before returning to Egypt again. Magda and her husband got divorced after 15 years of marriage, largely because of the financial, physical, and emotional burden and stress created by their son.
Magda is a serial social entrepreneur. Eight years ago, she worked to integrate children with Down Syndrome into society, by involving students in 10 of the most distinguished schools in Egypt to learn how to live in peace and harmony with children with Down Syndrome (DS), and to bridge the gap and fear on both sides. In cooperation with the Right to Live Association, she organized for children with DS to visit these ten schools, rather than the traditional way of having the school kids visit the DS kids. By the end of the 9 months period, Magda organized a festival for all the kids, as part of her advocacy campaign, and sold tickets to the privileged kids, while displaying and selling the artistic products created by the DS kids. It was a great success and received a huge amount of media attention and coverage. A year later, Mrs. Mobarak adopted the integration of children with special needs as part of her agenda (which, however, was not operationalized or become factual until Ashoka Fellow Dina Abdel Wahab began her work). However, she was resourceful, when the Sheraton did not give her the ballroom for free and asked for 75 thousands pounds for the event she raised them.
Magda created a “Hospitality Training Center” for people with special needs, as a module and advocacy tool to prove that people with special needs are capable of working. Her aim is to use her module to fight to operationalize the law that requires hotels to employ people with special needs, and have them fulfill the 5% quote stipulated by law. She has trained 10 people with special needs in hospitality as well as English, and has certified them. They will all be employed by the Sheraton Hotel in Egypt, and Magda is working on an advocacy campaign to encourage other hotels in Egypt to accept the people she trains. She is also marketing this new idea would work through the Sheraton network is finalizing institutionalizing within the Sheraton.
It was while creating this program that she realized that the social incubator component of the hospitality training was far more important for the trainees than the actual hospitality training since it gave the trainees practical life-skills of how to deal with people and communication skills such as the basics in English. Having learnt from this experience, while crafting her integrated educational system which she has always believed there is a need for, from when she first tried to find a school for her son Amr, she wanted it to be a kind of social incubator for children with multiple disabilities to be given the tools, life-skills, and education to be able to communicate and integrate with other children at a later stage in their lives. She is currently working on marketing and promoting her idea, and sees this job as a potential job for herself and her son when he comes back to Egypt one day. By being able to provide her son a decent life in Egypt she will bring him back to Egypt and bring her family together again.
Magda also created a three-month environmental summer camp for kids in schools, raising awareness about the environment and pollution in Egypt. She gave teachers a curriculum and gave them four environmental projects for the kids. The kids displayed their projects at the Cairo Opera House, and this got a lot of publicity.
Magda also started a campaign targeting leukemia patients, promoting awareness about the fact that leukemia is not a life-threatening disease, in order to raise attendance rates. In the holy month of Ramadan last year, she coordinated between 40 schools and 40 charities that work with orphans, for each school to host an iftar dinner for orphans. Using her entrepreneurial skills, she got hundreds of corporate sponsors to sponsor the expenses of these dinners.
From all thee experiences, it is clear that Magda was getting ready for her final vision. Her apprenticeship to this stage in social entrepreneurship around children with different disabilities was paving the way to this idea. As in the example with the hospitality center and the other initiative she sticks to her idea and never gives up. If her model for the most difficult cases of disabilities succeeds, this will make it easier for all other types of physical disabilities which re less serious or complicated. She was shrewd enough to have two type of boards; those of experts in all related fields at this stage and the donor fund raising public board of trustees.
Magda is currently the director of the Public Relations Department at the Sheraton Hotel. She has been in the hospitality industry for nearly ten years, and before this she was a tourist-guide for ten year. She lives with her son, Amr, who is 23 years old.