World Disability Day: Egypt celebrates its differently-abled heroes with country's largest gathering of wheelers

Ingy Deif, Friday 9 Dec 2016

Positive energy and joy prevail as World Disability Day is marked in Egypt by an unprecedented gathering of wheelers, highlighting their achievements and gearing up for further challenges

World Disability Day 2016 Egypt( Photo by Ingy Deif)
World Disability Day 2016 Egypt (Photo: Ingy Deif)

"We always say that we don’t elaborate on words, but rather we walk the talk, and today this is exactly what we are doing," a beaming Mai Zein El-Din says as she took to the podium before taking a step back to bring forward her amazing staff.

Mai is a shining example of an extraordinary lady who refused to be defined by a tragedy.

Three years ago, after her son Hassan had an accident that saw him confined to a wheelchair, after which she was determined to see changes in how Egypt accomodates people in such situations.

She founded Al-Hassan Foundation for the Inclusion of Differently-abled People. 

Over the course of three years, the foundation opened multiple doors and provided endless possibilities for people confined to wheelchairs and others whom they refer to as "differently-abled."

Egypt's Wheelers with Cairo Runners

On 3 December, World Disability Day, the positive connotation of the term "differently-abled" was clearly demonstrated in Cairo, where the country's largest gathering of wheelchaired persons assembled in an event at Zamalek's Gezira Youth Centre.

The event was attended by officials from the ministries of social solidarity and youth and sports, who collaborated with Al-Hassan Foundation and the country's leading running community, Cairo Runners, to showcase an array of amazing people who overcame hurdles and challenged perceptions of people with disabilities in Egypt.

"I am so happy that this event is taking place, and I will be at the head of the runners today," a smiling Malak, one of the participants, told Ahram Online as she was getting ready to line up for the first-ever run dedicated to wheelers in Egypt.

Malak, Egypt
Malak, Egypt's swimming champion posing infront of her poster

"It gives us great pleasure to be here today as part of the celebration of World Disability Day, especially as Cairo Runners will focus this coming season on differently-abled sectors of the community to shed more light on their endeavors, so for us, today is just a beginning," Cairo Runners' Aya Safwat told Ahram Online.

Malak is one of the many wheelers sponsored and encouraged by Al-Hassan Foundation in the field of sports. The 13-year-old girl was confined to a wheelchair before becoming a globetrotting swimming champion.

"Today we present our Paralympic heroes with custom-made wheelchairs, and others with accessible means of transportation to facilitie their movement on the streets. It is a highlight of our cooperation with the Egyptian ministries of social solidarity and youth and sports," says Islam Abu Ali, brimming with energy.

Islam Abu Ali
Islam Abu Ali, an astounding role model

Islam is a staggering example of an accomplished member of the community of wheelers. At the age of 24, his spinal cord was damaged in a car accident, which forced him into a wheelchair.

Islam now the dynamo of the foundation. He works as a business development manager for the organisation, and used to hold a leading position at a major Egyptian industrial company before he decided to dedicate all his time to Al-Hassan.

He also is a swimming champion, leading a full life of activities and sports, and featuring as a motivational speaker at events across the country.

He stresses that the way Al-Hassan approaches its goals is informed by the fact that almost 80 percent of its staff are wheelers.

"We know where the gaps are, and we aspire to fill them."

Fatima displays her talented collection( photos for Ahram online by Ingy Deif)

"It is here that I learned how to make use of my skills, capitalise on my talents and make a profession out of both," Fatima told Ahram Online as she proudly presented her colourful collection of embroidery and crochet production.

Fatima is another example of how Al-Hassan not only serves as a charitable foundation, but also supports the inclusion of differently-abled persons in society, helping them pursue their goals in whichever field they choose.

A representative of the foundation explained that what started with 200 people on board has reached 2,000 members, boasting many projects and dreams, some of which already accomplished, while others are on the way.

 They not only focus on providing tailored solutions, facilities and rehabilitation for persons in wheelchairs, but also providing their families with assistance to overcome the challenges faced by their loved ones.

Among the foundation's projects is an outreach programme for kids, efforts to help the inclusion of wheelers in sports, spread awareness about the challenges they face, and create a massive database for all who are interested in taking part in "Encouraging the Success of Egypt’s Differently-abled Community." 

Life on Wheels, a booklet that chronicles the journey of a wheeler and presents an all inclusive database and guide, will be published and distributed for free by 1 January.

" I am so happy today as we see this massive gathering of wheelers from 27 governorates in Egypt, it has never been clearer that nothing is impossible for persons in wheelchairs, they are our pride and joy, our inspiration," concluded May Zein Eldin.


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