In November Jai and Shaun were invited to Cairo, Egypt to give three days training on working towards full inclusion for people with learning disabilities and self empowerment by the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services (CEOSS). Here in their guest blog they discuss their visit.
Working in a different country we needed to find out about the culture and attitudes of people. Because everyone spoke Arabic everything we said had to go through a translator. Mina had a hard job, especially when the discussions became heated and everyone wanted to speak at once, but he did great work and was able to keep the conversation flowing so all could be involved! We started by getting to know all the CEOSS staff and finding out what their jobs were. Everyone was clearly very passionate about the rights of people with learning disabilities and were keen to find out how we could help them to be empowered and become valued members of society. We went through article 19 (Living independently and being included in the community) and article 21 (Freedom of expression and opinion and access to information) of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
We were shocked to find out that people with a learning disability in Egypt are not allowed to vote, get married, or open a bank account. In 2009 the minister of Education said that children with a mild learning disability (over 52% IQ) can go to school. This is not happening, there are only about 7 children presently in main stream schools. The attitude of the other children in school to these children has been that of acceptance and this is encouraging but there is still a long way to go.
In the second two days there we ran workshop for a group made up of professionals working with people with disabilities, people with physical and learning disabilities, and parents of people with disabilities. There was a young man there with autism who really liked Shaun, and kept drawing him pictures and bringing him gifts of biscuits throughout the sessions!
The whole group were really keen to learn more about communication skills, how to stand up for their rights, what Easy Read is, and how to change peoples’ attitudes in the community as a lot of people in Egypt treat a person with a learning disability really badly and like they are a second class citizen. Very often people with a disability are hidden from society and are either considered a “shame” or a “blessing” on their family. The group enjoyed hearing about Shauns’ life experiences and what he has achieved with the right support and help and where particularly interested in how the co-working model works. We used a lot of interactive methods in the training and the group really enjoyed being part of getting up and actioning out issues instead of just talking about them.
It is most important to change the concept of learning disabilities, the problems and the circumstances. In many communities they believe that the people with the disabilities are the problem. There are major problems with people with learning disabilities believing in themselves as they have been brought up to believe it is them that have the problem. Now more people are aware of their rights they are demanding that these are met.
At the end of the three days we asked what people had got from the training. Some of the comments were; “Exchanging of experiences” “Communication skills” “Change is necessary” “To be a partner of the group and serve others” “Teamwork, which leads to the goal.”
We really enjoyed working in Cairo, and even managed a trip to the pyramids! We hope we can go back again.
You can find out more about the work of CEOSS here: http://en.ceoss-eg.org/