Egypt’s underprivileged children given education opportunity in City of the Dead

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The Association of Children with Special Needs is giving the underprivileged and disabled children of Cairo’s City of the Dead an opportunity to learn and socialize together, an opportunity they may not get elsewhere.

The City of the Dead is home to thousands of families who reside in the old cemetery’s narrow, unpaved alleyways. Most of the families survive on pensions, cheap labor, or daily fare to get by, earning no more than 1200 Egyptian pounds a year (200USD).

Even those who maintain steady incomes can rarely afford the cost of raising their children or enrolling them in schools.

The Association of Children with Special Needs, however, has given parents of both disabled and able-bodied children the opportunity of a basic education.

Their services, which are free of charge, aim to fight ignorance, poverty and illness through a range of basic activities and social and health projects.

In a small furnished apartment near the City of the Dead, classes begin every day at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT).

Children are taught simple mathematics, songs and basic Islamic teachings. The association brings together both disabled and able-bodied children in an effort to promote and encourage interaction and acceptance of each other.

Hoda Hamdy, a teacher at the association, says the benefits of their practices are apparent in the behavior of the children who attend classes.

“Disabled children now feel like they are like other children. They [able-bodied children] love them [disabled children] and interact with them and they can associate with them. They also help out and we try our best to make able-bodied children interact with the disabled children, so that they help each other and care for each other and write together - even now sometimes our able-bodied children ask me if they can be the ones that help feed the disabled children and help them hold their pens,” she told Reuters Television in an interview.

”We create cooperation so that the disabled child doesn’t feel alone and isolated from society and that society doesn’t want to interact with them. It is enough that they have a disability without the burden of living in a society which rejects them,” she added.

Due to prejudices towards people with a disability, the idea of mixing in the classroom has not always been accepted by all families. However, parents are beginning to see the positive effects that can result from the scheme.

“In the beginning, there was some hesitation, but we discovered that all the children benefit, and they all work together and cooperate, without fear that our children will be affected by the disabled child that can’t hear or can’t speak, but we all accompany each other,” said Hanan Ibrahim, a mother of one of the able-bodied students.

”And even those who cannot hear or talk, we try to help them in any possible way - we all help each other,” she added.

Following the revolution which forced Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011, many in the graveyards believed their chances of a better life had improved.

But with the country politically divided and economically stranded, the marginalized community of the City of the Dead remains on the fringes of society.

Mo’men and his family live in the City of the Dead. Mo’men, who struggles to raise six children and feels neglected by his government, sends his disabled daughter to the association’s classes.

He says he has dreams of a better life for all his children but particularly for his disabled daughter.

“I have dreams for all my children, not only my daughter. But her in particular, I dream that she can stand on her own two feet like her siblings, and that all my children can live well - that’s it - to live in a place better than here,” he said in an interview.

The association, which has been active since November 2011, relies mainly on donations to fund its activities.