Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1386, (22 - 28 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Celebrating extraordinary mothers

There are millions of extraordinary mothers in Egypt caring for children with disabilities, writes Ameera Fouad 

Celebrating extraordinary mothers
Celebrating extraordinary mothers
Al-Ahram Weekly

Azza’s eyes are watching him all the time, following him everywhere, like an angel guarding him at a decent distance so he does not feel different from the other kids playing in the garden at the club. The more she feels he is engaging with the other kids, the happier she feels, and a smile comes to her tired, sleepless face. 

Youssef was born with a hearing problem tied to his genes. His mother, Azza, discovered this impairment in his first year when he was not fully attentive to sounds and voices. “We might call him several times without getting his attention, and he would concentrate on our lips while we were speaking. Although it is not hearing loss exactly, it was worrying for us because we were afraid he might not be able to speak,” Azza told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Azza Mohamed, 35, is a paediatric gastroenterologist who works at the Shatby Hospital in Alexandria. Besides being a single mother of Youssef, six, and Khadiga, 10, she is pursuing a PhD and working to help single mothers in one of the most impoverished areas in Alexandria.

Her co-workers describe her as an incredibly optimistic woman, but Azza says she is just one of millions of women worldwide struggling for better lives for themselves and their children.  

“I got a divorce after we found out about Youssef’s condition because his father could not deal with it. He would make Youssef’s life hell, always comparing him to Khadiga. I decided to get a divorce. I did not want my kids to be brought up in an environment where their own father does not understand how important it is to respect difference,” she added.

Azza is among the more than four million mothers in Egypt who have children with disabilities. According to figures from the Central Authority for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, 4,060,536 people in Egypt have various kinds of disabilities, going from mental health problems to visual impairment.  

Sara’s mother is a 55-year-old woman who has challenged social norms to get Sara to the place she is now. Sara is visually impaired, having been diagnosed at the age of 10 with macular degeneration that caused low vision. However, Sara’s mother never felt her daughter could not achieve what she wanted in life. The major problem she faced was an education system that tended to exclude her daughter, and this caused her to fight. 

“After she was diagnosed, we were forced to transfer Sara from her private school to the only public school for visually disabled children in Alexandria, and this was a major shift for her,” her mother said.

Sara also faced a problem when she later wished to join the Faculty of Medicine and was told that it was impossible for her to do the practical part of the medical syllabus. Nevertheless, the family did not give up. After she finished her studies at the Faculty of Arts, Sara gained a Special Needs Diploma at the Faculty of Medicine where she was at the top of her class. She is now head of the Complex Impairment Care Unit at the Alexandria Association for People with Special Needs. 

“My mother kept pushing me from a young age. She is my eyes,” Sara added. 

Many mothers are extraordinary people in their own right, but too often their stories are not told and their narratives not revealed. 

Hoda Mohamed is head of the Early Intervention Unit at the Genetic Guidance Association, which is concerned with people who have mental disabilities like learning disabilities, Down’s Syndrome and autism.

Her 20-year-old daughter Aya has Down’s Syndrome, and this pushed her to be one of the pioneering mothers behind Article 18 of the 2014 constitution and Law 10/2018 protecting disabled people. “When the law was implemented, it was a landmark in our lives. It changed the lives of mothers across Egypt and made it easier for them to enroll their children in schools and universities,” Hoda said.

“As a mother, I feel it is a great accomplishment. Before 2014, very few schools would admit people with disabilities, but after the implementation of the law, no school is allowed to say no to any child with a disability,” she said.

Hoda has helped hundreds of children identify their abilities. She has also helped make their conditions better by early interventions to foster communication skills at all levels. “Although Aya was the reason I joined the association in the first place, I feel that all the children over the past 20 years are my kids and that I have helped create their personalities and growth. When I see them successful in sports or in their education, I feel so proud of them all,” she said.

Asmat Abdel-Fattah, now in her 60s, raised her granddaughter Basma, 25, who also has Down’s Syndrome. Basma is now engaged to Karim, and they are expected to get married this year. Nevertheless, Abdel-Fattah has had to fight all her life for Basma’s basic rights and now she is battling for her to get married.

“I have learned not to care about people’s comments. If I had cared, I would never have raised Basma after she was effectively abandoned by her own parents. The moment my daughter left her on my doorstep 30 years ago, only a few days after giving birth, I felt she was God’s gift to me. This is really what she has been,” Abdel-Fattah said.

“I feel every person deserves to love and to be loved, and life expectancy has now reached 50 for people with Down’s Syndrome. Why shouldn’t Basma get married? In the past, people with special needs were often hidden at home, as if they were a stigma. But nowadays, things have changed,” she said. 

Although Abdel-Fattah did not complete her own education, she has been able to provide her granddaughter with many extra-curricular activities. With the help of her husband and the wider community, Basma has had a full support system from neighbours, relatives and sometimes complete strangers.

“I know we must be there for them in their marriage, but I do not care about having great-grandchildren. I just want to see Basma in her wedding dress and happy,” Abdel-Fattah concluded.

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