“Together, let’s make disability a source of energy”
We’re following a veiled woman in all black as she weaves through the streets of a quiet neighborhood in the center of Cairo. She carries a blind boy in her arms, walking quickly as she passes groups of men chatting beneath shop awnings, mechanics wiping grease from their hands, a butcher hanging red and white limbs in front of his shop. Here, away from tourist areas, our group stops traffic as people stop to stare. We don’t know the woman in black, but it’s a good bet she’s heading to the Al-Kiyaan building, the HQ of a Non-Governmental Organization that serves disabled Egyptian children and their families. We reach the gate at the same time as the woman and her child, and she disappears into the building as we are greeted by Dr. Ayman Tantawi, the center’s director.
People like Dr. Tantawi are the reason not-for-profits succeed. Intelligent, swelling with passion, infinitely energized and cheerful, Dr. Tantawi enthusiastically explained the organization’s history and vision, and began the dialogue of our cooperation.
Dialogue of our cooperation? This is a man who has tirelessly poured his time and energy into Al-Kiyaan since it’s inception, helping an exponentially increasing number of disabled children and their families as the organization has grown. I was fully prepared to sit down, take orders, and learn from his experience. But Dr. Tantawi instead invited us to share our ideas, experiences, and theories about charity work and working with the disabled specifically. With complete humility he asked us to help design programming and to give a presentation to his staff about the way we address disabilities in the United States.
As the dialogue began, we really were able to contribute. Between the eleven of us traveling with DukeEngage, there is a tremendous amount of experience working with various volunteer organizations, a majority of which with disadvantaged or disabled children.
I’m so humbled that people like Dr. Tantawi, and many of the other coordinators at the various NGO’s we visited, want to be in this dialogue on service with us. The more I see of their organizations at work— with their passionate and well-educated volunteers and their programs seamlessly integrated into their communities—the more I am excited to learn from them. By sharing the strengths and weaknesses we’ve observed throughout our respective experiences, Eyptian and American, we’re helping each other to serve our communities more effectively than it would ever have been possible to do alone.