On 8 December, Handicap International announced the results of an economic inclusion project that aims to give persons with disabilities in the Warraq and Imbaba areas greater access to social services and employment and livelihood opportunities according to their needs and potential. Nahed Khalouf, director of HI Egypt, which has been working in Egypt since 2013 in order to help the disabled address economic and other challenges, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the project focused on those two areas in Giza in particular because they are among the governorates that have the highest number of disabled persons per population.
The project targeted people with disabilities aged 18 to 40 who have no means of income. No prior educational qualifications were required for acceptance. The point was that every person would come out with a working plan to attain their employment and livelihood goals, depending on their needs and circumstances. “Some people needed job opportunities while others needed an opportunity to set up a small-sized enterprise,” Khalouf said.
In order to identify individual needs, the organisation set up a centre called “Mishwar”, or journey, in which staff help people draw up a plan tailored to their qualifications. Sometimes the plan involved training opportunities or honing skills for a particular field. The organisation also struck up agreements with a number of private sector firms that were keen to help by offering job opportunities to people with disabilities. The programme worked with these companies on technical matters, such as how to accommodate a workplace for employees with disabilities by installing ramps for wheelchairs or railings, for example. It also provided training for human resource departments on how to interview persons with disabilities and integrate them into their staff.
The inclusion project, which targeted 1,300 beneficiaries when it was launched in 2013, is one of three devoted to this sector of society. Another focuses on awareness raising and promotes the early discovery of disabilities in children from birth to the age of eight so that early intervention limits the disability and its effects.
“As long as there’s a need, we’re here,” the director said. “We want our work to have a long term impact. We now have operations in over 60 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. Registration procedures vary from one country to the next. But we’ve had no difficulties in this and the permit is renewed regularly. The agencies we’ve been dealing with are really interested in the rehabilitation work. However, a lot more awareness-raising and training is needed in some quarters to help with the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the private sector.”
“Economic empowerment of persons with disabilities”, a study published by the American University in Cairo in 2015, underscores the importance of including this sector of society on the map of economic development in a manner that helps channel their energies into improving their economic circumstances.
According to figures provided by the Ministry of Solidarity, the ministry helped place 3,235 disabled people in private sector businesses and industries.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, many firms have stepped forward to provide training and employment opportunities to more than 7,000 disabled persons. In addition, the project helped more than 3,000 disabled persons obtain facilitated loans from the Nasser Social Bank.
HI has introduced a new project called “Qader”, or able, which helps households with a disabled family member initiate income generating projects. Launched in Assiut in 2019, it has set a target of helping 150 to 200 families to improve their economic circumstances. The project will continue until 2022.
HI uses consultative offices to help research the job market and find the best employment or business opportunities for handicapped people in their own region. “Our organisation also solicits the views of local associations in each area where we have a project. There’s a committee for each project which includes representatives of local agencies and the Solidarity Ministry and which works to help identify opportunities for the target groups.”
Khalouf added that her organisation is now looking forward to another new project which aims to minimise the economic impact of Covid-19 on persons with disabilities.
Whatever project HI works on, it communicates and works with agencies from the National Council for Disabled Persons to local civil society organisations that work with disabled people. These agencies help identify potential beneficiaries. At the same time, HI has contacted private sector firms. When the inclusion project was just getting off the ground, the project team organised meetings with several CEOs that had expressed interest in offering job opportunities to persons with disabilities. Then the project helped with the matchmaking between the skills and qualifications of the beneficiaries and the employment opportunities.
According to Khalouf, the Egyptian government has been very supportive of handicapped persons. She described Law 10/2018 on the rights of individuals with disabilities as a “great breakthrough” in part because of the incentives it gives prospective employers.
The government has also established centres under the Ministry of Solidarity to handle affairs related to persons with disabilities. “You don’t find such centres in other countries,” Khalouf said.
The project that focuses on the early discovery of disabilities or stunting in children was launched in Cairo in July 2019 for a three-year period. The governorates were targeted on the basis of available statistics, according to Khalouf. A similar project was carried out in Assiut from 2013 to 2015.
“Early discovery of disabilities or stunting means you have a better chance of remedying or minimising the problem. But it was important to raise community awareness about this. People need to know about disabilities and families need to know more about how to deal with a child who has a disability so that they can help him or her better.”
Employment and economic straits are still the foremost challenge for persons with disabilities and their families. This is what motivated the HI project designed to help households with disabled persons contend with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. “The project is about to begin soon. It just needs the approval of the Ministry of Solidarity. It will have several phases, the first lasting eight to 10 months and covering Cairo, Giza and Assiut and their vicinities. This will be our first post-pandemic project.”
Funding is already available for the first phase, she added. Once approved, the project will last for three years. HI also envisions working with the Ministry of Social Solidarity to encourage programmes that help the poor in general since this is the social environment in which HI focuses its programmes on to promote the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.