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Egypt – Road to light

The Baseera Foundation in Cairo was founded in 2004 by Doaa Mabrouk and her mother Dr Sawsan. Their son and grandson is visually impaired. But the two women were determined not to let this stop him from enjoying his life to the fullest. So they founded the Baseera Foundation: to support him and other people with visual impairments.
With an incredible amount of energy, the Foundation has started many things since then, with project-based help from Visio. Definitely time to scale up. In 2017 we started an ambitious programme together: Road to Light.
 

Road to Light

Egyptian law states that children with disabilities are entitled to education. This means that the will from the government to promote inclusion is there. But because of the lack of knowledge about visual limitations, this ambition does not bring about much change.
An example: visually impaired children are often treated as being blind. They often go to schools for the blind and sometimes learn how to read Braille there: they see the dots with their eyes instead of using their fingers to feel the dots. And some of the visually impaired children do not even receive education at all. 
Missions in Egypt:
  • Develop an accessible system to detect children with visual impairments, not only in Cairo, but also in the provinces.
  • Set up a campaign to draw society’s attention for people with a visual impairment.
  • Set up a low vision clinic, so that good assessments and appropriate rehabilitation can be offered to visually impaired people.
  • Ensure that children can participate in regular education.
 

Travelled into the country

One of the first actions carried out was that in 2018 a team of ophthalmologists and student researchers went to the province of Beni Suef. There they screened more than 20,000 children in a relatively short period of time.
The pilot draws the attention of a number of large organisations.

They understood the importance and provided financial resources to screen children in other provinces as well. In the meantime, protocols have been drawn up and new people are being trained through train-the-trainer to examine young children on the quality of their vision.
 

Worked on awareness

The pilot showed that a relatively large number of children did not show up for a follow-up appointment at the optician's or ophthalmologist's office after the screening. An investigation is running to find out what the reason is. With the results, government and organisations such as Baseera can campaign extremely targeted.

In addition, a low vision conference was held in December 2018: the first in the region. The goal was to draw attention to people with low vision; for their needs, for what we as a society can do for them and what developments are taking place worldwide. The conference has gotten a huge amount of media attention: more than 90 interviews in newspapers, on television and on the radio. Partly in response to this, a large bank has indicated that it would like to hire people with a visual impairment.
 

Teachers have been trained

The Department of Education realises that the screening is just the beginning; and that care and facilities have to be available to provide follow-up. One of the actions the department has taken is that it has instructed Baseera to train teachers on how to deal with children with visual impairments. Which is great. The will for inclusive education was already there; now it is also actively being implemented.
 

What is the challenge in Egypt over the next few years?

Baseera is very eager to learn, ambitious and is growing fast. It is becoming a knowledge centre. The challenge now is to share that knowledge more widely; also to other regions in Egypt. That ambition, the will and the support from the government are there.
In the meantime, Baseera has already opened a low vision centre in Cairo and there are plans to start satellite locations in the provinces in the near future. The road to light has started…