A group of young Egyptians are working to show the abilities of challenged people and integrate them within the society, Sarah Eissa writes
“There are no disabled people, there are only people with different abilities,” explained Amina Al-Saai, during a conference organised by the Helm (Dream) initiative, of which she is the co-founder, at the American University in Cairo (AUC). “And everybody has the right to apply the abilities they have,” she added.
As part of their vision, Helm seeks to provide adequate care and aid to Egyptians with disabilities and to assist them with training and development that can help them get the job that suits each person’s particular competences.
Helm recently won the first prize in the annual Impact Egypt competition created by Negma Egypt, a non-profit organisation that was set up within the MIT Media Lab in Boston following the 25 January Revolution. The prize is an incubation period with other organisations.
Al-Saai explains: “The reward is not financial, it’s a lot bigger. They will teach us how to manage our money. Without that, we could earn a lot of money and still not know how to spend it.”
Helm was founded by Ramez Maher and Al-Saai, two childhood friends who happened to enter the same university work in the same office and share the same dream. They wanted to do something positive for people with disabilities, and in 2011 they started to make their dream come true through Helm. After six months of research, they found that organisations serving people with special needs face problems when it comes to finding employment for them, so they decided this was the area to concentrate on. “Our focus now will be on training, development, and employment,” Al-Saai told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Maher explained that they are currently building a database where non-governmental organisations (NGOs) serving people with disabilities can upload the CVs of job seekers with disabilities. Employers will also be able to enter vacancies they have, and jobseekers will be able to search the site for opportunities that might suit them. Al-Saai told the Weekly that access will not be limited to organisations, but individuals will be able to use the website too.
Helm offers workshops where experts teach a range of different practices, from art and jewellery-making to various professions. Through those workshops Helm can better assess the vocational abilities of the challenged people they work with, which will then help them find suitable jobs.
The experts teaching those workshops donate their time, and the workshop materials are self-funded by Helm volunteers. The products that come out of the workshops are sold at fairs across the world, from Al-Sawy Culture Wheel to the US. “We want to create an international market for our work, not to make people buy it out of pity. This should be a professional way of earning money,” Al-Saai clarifies.
Maher adds that they are also looking to develop people’s non-vocational abilities by partnering with Tatweer Company that offers a “Stream the Dream” course. Heba Al-Ashmawi, head of Tatweer e-learning business, said they are helping Helm by providing them with a chain that is easily accessible and customised to train disabled people. Through all these activities, Helm’s main target is to help Egypt’s 10 million disabled people obtain the qualifications they need to find their place in the job market.
Helm currently has 150 volunteers working with them, including people with disabilities, and is going through the process of registering as an official organisation. “We don’t want to be an NGO only,” Al-Saai explains. “We also want to be a foundation and to have a private arm that can help establish projects and support other organisations.” Meanwhile, Helm’s volunteers are self-funding the dream. Recently they organised a fundraising concert through AUC’s community service club where all the bands performed for free. “To date, we’ve employed 170 people. This year, we aim to be coordinating with 15 organisations who work on training and employment for challenged people, and to train and employ 1,000 people over the space of 12 months.”
However, Helm was not the only initiative to carry off a Negma award.
This year, Educate-Me NGO took second place. According to the Negma website, Educate-Me was founded “in 2010 to serve financially underprivileged children on the outskirts of Giza governorate.” Its initial focus was to help students who had dropped out of school for financial reasons to get back into education by sponsoring their fees. However, more recently Educate-Me has developed a more far-reaching initiative to redefine education itself.
In third place came the Maddad social business. Maddad is “powered by an online platform that brings technology and the business mindset to civil society. It provides a gateway for all donations, supporting organisations in their contribution to society, marketing causes through innovation channels and ensuring development is strategically planned and performed transparently.”
Other initiatives that made it through to become one of the 10 finalists were IDEA (Identification for Egypt Advancement) Technology Solution Company, the Sharek web-based solution system, Gebraa, the Meshgel project that seeks to provide training, employment and development in underprivileged regions, and Clean tech Arabia, a development foundation aimed “at advancing Clean Technology in the Arab world in order to improve quality of life, empower communities and tackle severe economic and environmental challenges”.