“Being blind has given me a positive vibe towards life because without beating challenges life wouldn’t be worth living.” With these empowering words Cairo residents Dana Mohsen and her mother Salwa Salama sit down to describe their story.
The moment you meet Dana, you feel that she is a special girl, not because of her disability, but because of her brightness and the passion for life expressed in every word she says. Dana looks at life from an extremely positive perspective despite the problem she was born with.
Dana believes that her condition has given her the strength to challenge life and to challenge herself and the society that surrounds her.
She has been gifted with this strength by her great model in life, her mother, who wanted to bring Dana up as an independent person who could overcome the challenges she faced. Her mother has been meticulously following Dana’s condition ever since she was born.
“I did not want to see my daughter suffer like some of the blind people I have met over my career. I studied clinical psychology, and I have seen many cases of disability, and these also helped me,” said Salwa Salama, Dana’s mother.
“I took the decision to bring out Dana’s great capabilities. When she was eight months old, I talked with specialists so that Dana could follow all the developmental steps any normal child undergoes. I did not want to see her late for any stage, and I wanted to encourage her to deal with life like any normal child,” she said.
“At the same time, I never wanted to be overprotective. I would explain each and every sound she heard and would encourage her to feel with her hands to develop her motor skills. Sight is one of the main human senses, and actually 90 per cent of learning during the first three years of life comes through sight. This means a blind child must make extraordinary efforts to make up for the lack of sight, and her parents must make extra efforts to talk to and explain things to the child.”
“I faced many challenges during the early years, starting by those from family members who were opposed to using the word ‘blind’. Society is not really aware of how to deal with a child with special needs, and even the streets are not designed for disabled people. Dana herself faced many challenges. I remember one day she came to me crying, saying ‘today I have realised I am blind’. This feeling did not come from within, but from the way society looks at a child with special needs,” Salama said.
Dana was able to read braille at the very early age of just four years old. Her computer and writing skills were also very advanced.
Her mother used to print her books in braille so that she would be following the same curriculum as her peers.
Since she entered school, she has never skipped one exam, nor any question in any exam. In science exams that have practical parts, she uses three-dimensional models to make things easier for her to understand.
Dana does not feel she has any special needs as a result. Her day starts at 6 am, when she goes to school to attend her classes and other activities, whether physical or creative.
She returns home around 4:30 pm to prepare her assignments and find time for her main hobby, which is playing the piano.
She is studying the piano with Trinity College in London in a programme delivered by the Music Institute in Egypt. She passed the grade one exams with distinction, and when she is not practising she is attending concerts at the Cairo Opera House.
Dana and her mother are looking forward to taking this hobby to another level, despite the challenges of the rules and regulations music institutions can impose on disabled persons that may inhibit them from realising their potential.
“There is a lack of facilities at almost all music institutions in Egypt for children with visual impairments. There are no music scores written in braille, and for me to get hold of them is extremely expensive. I would like to see more attention paid to the needs of children with special needs by the government. However, I would also like to praise the many NGOs in Egypt, such as Basera, that have been striving to help children with visual impairments,” said Dana’s mother.
Another passion that Dana has is for computers. She takes part in online forums, and this was another passion that started at a very early age.
Dana’s story expresses persistence, hard work and an enormous capability for adaptation. Her extraordinary capacity to adapt to her condition and her mother’s sterling efforts constitute an inspiring story of hope for many.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Disability as a source of strength