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Maadi Messenger Middle East Published Articles

Mothering Society to Hear the Deaf

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Speaking to house mothers at one of the more unique boarding schools in Egypt, Saleem Wassef challenged them to maintain hope with difficult children.

“Repeat yourself over and over again, because it is a long journey to raise a child,” said the administrative director. “Keep teaching them, even though they don’t listen.”

As every father, mother, and teacher knows, this is wise advice. What prompts the added italics is the setting. Technically speaking, the house mothers were not listening either.

Suzanne, Maryam, and Marina are deaf, graduates of the school in question. They live full time with 45 students at the Deaf Unit, a ministry of the Anglican Church of Egypt located in Old Cairo. One-third are from Upper Egypt, the rest from poor areas of Greater Cairo. Ten others commute from nearby.

Founded in 1982, the Deaf Unit provides essential education to a segment of the population that is often seen as a source of shame. “To have a disability or a disabled child is sometimes seen as punishment from God for the sins of the family,” states the school’s website. “But one of our key objectives is to change these cultural attitudes by working with families and communities to educate them and build relationships.”

According to a 2007 study by the World Health Organization, 16 percent of Egyptians suffer from some degree of hearing loss. The Deaf Unit estimates two million are hard of hearing. The government provides deaf schools, but Wassef, a former director-general in the Ministry of Education, says these are overcrowded and not up to a satisfactory standard.

Marina goes further. Twenty-years-old, she is currently completing her high school degree in the government system. The Deaf Unit offers classes only through elementary, defined in the deaf curriculum as kindergarten through 8th grade.

“Government schools do not work hard enough, with insufficient focus on education,” an annoyed Marina gestured with her hands. “Some of the teachers don’t even know sign language.” She skips classes altogether, learning material through a private tutor while Deaf Unit students are in sessions. The rest of the day she mothers them, finding the sixteen teenagers especially challenging.

At the end of each school year Marina takes her tests in the government system, which for the first time provided a high school equivalency exam for the deaf. Egypt is making progress in attending to the needs of this neglected population, and Cairo University is opening its doors to graduates.

Though the Deaf Unit is not permitted to administer examinations, the government greatly appreciates their service, said Wassef. There is now one Muslim student enrolled after authorities encouraged the diocese to open classes to all. Wassef is currently seeking state authorization to extend classes through the preparatory level, in deaf terms from 9th through 11th grade.

“We have to be a model in front of the children, because they will follow someone and right now the morals of many are low,” Wassef told the three house mothers. “And in the end you will be able to say, ‘We developed these leaders.’”

Serving the whole society is part of the ethos of the Anglican Church, Wassef explained, and special attention is given to employ their students. Suzanne, Maryam, and Marina are examples, but several others work outside of Cairo, where community-based rehabilitation groups operate in Luxor, Minya, and Menouf. An audiology clinic operates at the Deaf Unit, which in two years plans to employ four deaf to administer hearing tests and produce ear molds. In 6 October City the diocese runs a full-scale Vocational Training Center.

Setting their sights at a young age, the Deaf Unit takes a field trip to KFC in Dokki, where a socially-conscious hearing manager has employed several deaf behind the counter. Most customers can only confusedly point to their food selections, but by placing the deaf in the public eye the culture slowly changes.

The Deaf Unit does what it can to speed up the process. Sign language classes are offered once a week to parents, relatives, and the general public, said Ramez, the financial manager, with an intensive course each summer. A native of Old Cairo attending the historic Jesus, Light of the World Church, he was intrigued by the fifty-plus member deaf congregation that also meets at the facility. He studied sign language, and has watched others learn. “Before too long,” he said, “anyone can sign professionally.”

Thirty to fifty Egyptians are trained each year, with special instruction available for non-Arabic speaking foreigners. Courses are offered at minimal charge, but the Deaf Unit stands in need of donations. None of the 55 students pay more than 200 LE ($22 US) per year. Wassef says the per-student yearly cost is 17,000 LE ($2,000 US).

But beyond donations, the Deaf Unit appreciates even non-signing volunteers to help with physical education, computers, and vocational training. And for the truly dedicated, teachers and room mothers are welcome. Suzanne, who has 18 years of experience, recalls with a smile her school days when foreign mothers helped raise them.

None have been on staff since the 2011 revolution, but neither can any replace the authentic model. “Our children like foreigners because they look different and are fun,” she said. “It is like what they see on TV.

“But they prefer the house mothers to be deaf, because we are like them and can understand.”

More should try, Egyptian and foreigner alike. To learn more please visit www.deafunit.org or contact deafunit@gmail.com.

This article was published in the October edition of Maadi Messenger.

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Categories
Maadi Messenger Middle East Published Articles

Healing Grace for Upper Egypt

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Umm Peter stood with dignity in the corner of her simple, cinderblock home. With an appearance weathered over the years, in grandmotherly fashion she spoke of the men of the village and the difficulties of life.

Half, she estimated, work in the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh or Hurghada. There is little opportunity in her all-Christian village of 200 families, a three hour drive south of Cairo in the governorate of Minya.

Umm Peter was speaking to a group of six expats, visiting from Maadi Community Church (MCC). Gathered around were her ten-year-old son, Peter, and his only slightly looking older married sister. Peter is a sponsored child of Healing Grace, a ministry of Kasr el-Dobara, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East, situated at Tahrir Square.

MCC is a partner organization, supporting one of the villages within Healing Grace.

Umm Peter’s own husband is away only half the year, and currently. There is not enough work in the Red Sea either, and he is too old for the rigors of construction.

His age, she was asked. ‘Forty-eight,’ she replied, as if he was already elderly. In village years he might be.

But there is hope Peter might not age as quickly, supported widely through the generosity of donors and the community it helps create.

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‘I want Westerners who come here, who live in an expat bubble, to see another side of Egypt and how people live,’ said Rev. Steve Flora, pastor of MCC. ‘Though they barely have electricity or water they are happy, and their lives are being changed for good by the Gospel.’

Flora, who has sponsored a child in the village for the past four years, appreciates Healing Grace for the opportunity to develop a relationship with him. The church arranges visits twice a year; on this occasion twenty expats split into three groups to visit only some of the 49 families who benefit from sponsorship.

Bassel, the sponsorship coordinator for Healing Grace, said the program focuses on three components: Jesus, education, and health.

Every sponsored child is visited weekly by village staff members, who disciples him or her in an age appropriate manner. Healing Grace works with local churches to host an AWANA Club, and sends each child to a weekend retreat once a year. Peter’s favorite Bible story is Joseph and his brothers.

The program pays all school fees, including uniform and supplies, and helps provide private tutoring if necessary. Peter’s ambition is to be a doctor.

Perhaps he has been inspired during his medical checkups, provided free of charge with all necessary medicines. Healing Grace also supplies a monthly package of basic foodstuffs and twice a year outfits Peter and his siblings with new clothes.

‘These kids are different now, the sponsorship gives them health, education, and Christian community,’ said Bassel. ‘Every child deserves a chance, and we want to help transform their lives.’

Since 2009, this has been a reality for 1,275 children in 21 villages. In some Healing Grace has also installed water filtration units in a local church, open to all.

Flora remarked that within Christian denominations Healing Grace is an example and catalyst for unity. In Umm Peter’s village the sponsored children are supported equally through the Orthodox, Evangelical, and Pentecostal churches.

‘We thank you for this ministry that provides spiritual and educational needs in this village,’ said Rev. Emil of the Evangelical church, built in 1917. ‘Christianity is not about preaching only, but also serving and helping others.’

Umm Peter served tea to her guests, extending hospitality to those far better off. After praying together the group bid farewell, ready to visit the next family just down the earthen path.

Sponsorship costs $30 a month, all of which goes to support the children. Healing Grace’s overhead costs are raised separately, supporting a staff of 60 with an additional 100 volunteers. For more information about children available for sponsorship, visit healinggraceministry.org or email healinggrace@kdec.net.

‘The ministry of Healing Grace is transformative for the villages, and for us who go and see,’ said Flora. ‘We hope the comparatively wealthy expats in our own church can experience even a portion of the life change that goes on in the village.’

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This article was first published in Maadi Messenger.

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Saying Good-Bye: Part and Parcel of an Expat’s Life

Saying Good-Bye

Growing up I lived the first 18 years of my life in the same house, only moving to go to college.  My mom has lived in the same town her entire life, and all four of my siblings still live within 20 minutes of that town.  I didn’t grow up saying too many good-byes for the first 18 years of my life.  The second 18 years, however, were quite opposite.  College, grad school, first job, marriage, and then life overseas; lots of changes and lots of moves.  Since my husband and I first moved overseas, we have lived in three different countries, four different cities, and five different apartments.

While not every expat moves often, saying good-bye to people and places is a common part of the expat lifestyle.  Even if you are one who stays put in the same foreign country for many years, you must still say good-bye to the others who filter through year after year.  And then add factors like childbirth, children’s schooling, medical needs and a revolution, and there are good-byes all over the place.

Good-byes are a reality for us, but they don’t have to be a negative aspect of expat living.  Before traveling overseas, my husband and I took a course in grief counseling.  We didn’t exactly realize it at the time, but it was great training for this lifestyle.  Every good-bye is a loss.  And every loss causes grief.  Sure there are some losses more painful than others, but all losses are felt at 100%.  Given this reality, how can we keep from shutting ourselves off to new friendships or new opportunities that we know may eventually require another farewell?

Stay ‘complete’ in your relationships

You never know when a relationship could end or be interrupted.  There were people I could not physically say good-bye to when the revolution occurred two years ago.  I didn’t anticipate needing to say good-bye, and so I wasn’t complete in all my relationships.  I wasn’t able to tell people I was thankful for them, or that I loved them, or that I was glad they were in my life because….

On the other side of that spectrum, we have to deal with the difficulties that come between us and another person.  If we work through the problems, we won’t let the pain of a strained relationship be a burden to carry into our next assignment.

We’ve all heard people lament, “I just wish I had said this to her before she died.” Or, “If only I told him I loved him before he left.”  Living with those ‘unsaid statements’ makes you less free to join in a new relationship.  Communicating them does not remove the pain of saying good-bye, but it does help to heal the pain.

Say ‘good-bye’ to people, places and things

This is one of the most practical points I took from the training those many years ago.  Don’t be afraid to say good-bye.  Embrace it.  Hug. Cry. Say the words you hold within you.  Saying something simple instead, like “See you later,” may seem like it will hurt less, but if you know the good-bye is for a significant period of time, you must say it.

This is especially true for our children.  We hate to see them hurting as they say good-bye to yet another friend.  Sometimes we try to comfort them by telling them we can visit their friend next year, or maybe the friend will visit us again.  But instead of offering such hope, which often proves false, grieve with your children.  Agree with them that saying good-bye is really hard, that the friend they just said good-bye to can’t be replaced.  That’s it.  You don’t need to make promises or try to make it hurt less.  Let them grieve and help them to say good-bye well.

Saying good-bye to places was a new concept for me, but we have done it in every flat we’ve lived in since living overseas.  I am sure our 9-month old daughter doesn’t remember our apartment in Tunisia, but we still walked with her through each room of the flat and said good-bye to the rooms. We talked about what we enjoyed doing in those rooms or how we would miss them.  It may seem trivial, but if you think about it, you can probably vividly picture some special places in the home where you grew up.

While the flat you have lived in for the last year may not seem as significant as your childhood home, it is still good to treat it as a place to say good-bye to.  Again, for your children, you may not know what their special memories are in that place.

For some, Cairo is a tough place to live.  As you move onto your next assignment, or return home, you may do so with a sense of relief.  And yet, living here has changed you.  The people you’ve met have affected you, for good or for bad.  Even if you joyfully skip through you apartment on moving day, and say good riddance to your bawwab as you walk out of the building, it would still be good to close off those relationships and places completely.

Life overseas is exciting: It is a chance to visit ancient sites, interact with people so different from yourselves, perhaps also to help the poorest of the poor.  But it also has its challenges, and the ‘good-byes’ are among the greatest.  Learn to be complete in every relationship and say good-bye well, and this challenge will be just a little bit easier.

This article was originally published on Maadi Messenger.

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Maadi Messenger Published Articles

School Kids and Microbuses

A few weeks ago we provided a look into our local neighborhood here in Maadi, Cairo, during a seven minute video tour from our apartment to my work. Click here if you missed it or would like to see it again. Today we provide an extended look at one of the more lively sections of this walk, taken from our balcony depicting the street below.

Julie provides the commentary at the moment the kids from the boys’ school exit out onto the street, which also happens to be the beginning point of local public transportation in which microbuses carry residents from a nearby neighborhood back and forth. Our street is not always as noisy as the video will show, but neither is what she will show you unusual.

Please click here to enjoy the video on Vimeo (sorry, we had trouble with YouTube).

Note: Should the microbuses in particular strike your fancy, please pay attention for a coming post Julie is preparing which features another aspect of these, our illustrious neighbors…