UNESCO laureate empowers girls with disabilities through inclusive learning in Egypt’s remote communities

“I had been dreaming of being able to read and write. No one in my family can read. In fact, very few people in my village can read,” says Wafaa Mohamed Ahmed as she thinks back about the first time she set foot in her community school.

Born with a growth disorder and muscle atrophy, Wafaa, aged 15, relies on a wheelchair to get around. One of seven children, she is the first of her siblings to attend primary school.

In remote areas in Egypt, many children and adolescents, especially girls, lack access to schooling or learning opportunities. Going to school often requires girls to travel long distances ranging from 5 to 7 kilometers, which many families find difficult to allow or may not be able to afford.

The closest school to Wafaa’s home was some 6 kilometers away. With her family’s limited means and the costs for transportation, formal education was not a possibility for Wafaa or her siblings until the 2018 laureate of the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, Misr El Kheir Foundation, established a community school nearby when she was 10.

Inclusion through community schooling

“I was so happy when the teacher from the Foundation visited our house. My mother did not think they would be able to accept me as a student because of my disability but when I asked the teacher, she said that if I was really keen, they would make sure to build the school nearby so I could come.”

The inclusion of students with disabilities is a core value in the work of the Foundation, as it continues its efforts to expand access to quality education in Egypt’s poorest and most underserved areas.

While students with disabilities have access to public schools in Egypt’s wealthier, urban centers, they are rarely integrated into regular classrooms with their peers, something that Rowida Eldeeb, Director of the Misr El Kheir Foundation, is keen to change.

“Through our social solidarity programme, we provide children with wheelchairs or hearing aids to ensure that they are empowered to fully participate in school life. Teachers are also trained to adapt their teaching to learners with various needs and learning difficulties”, she explains.

For Wafaa, the inclusion of all students has been life changing. “Hundreds of children with disabilities are not accepted in schools, but for me going to school and being able to read and write is how I feel beautiful and normal.”

Since then, Misr El Kheir Foundation has also set up classes for secondary-aged learners in Wafaa’s school so that she and other students who are not able to attend schools further away can continue their studies.

From inclusion to empowerment

Today, Wafaa is a valued member of her school’s community. She excels in Arabic and mathematics and is a vocal advocate for girls’ education in her community.

When she heard that Misr El Kheir Foundation had won the 2018 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, she thought of all the support she had received through her community school.

“I hope this Prize gives others like me the opportunity to learn. We are thousands of girls and boys facing great challenges. In my village, going to school makes us and our families very proud.”

Wafaa says her goal for the future is to become a teacher so that she can pass on what she has learned. “I want to be able to support my community, like they have supported me.”

A laureate of the 2018 UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education, Misr El Kheir Foundation is committed to expanding girls’ access to quality education in Egypt’s most underserved and poorest communities.

The Prize was established in 2015 with funding from the Government of the People’s Republic of China to honour outstanding and innovative contributions made by individuals, institutions and organizations to advance girls’ and women’s education.