Envisioning a Better Future

Journalist Sarah Topol reflects on the Santa Lucia Home, the topic of her recent article in ONE.

In the spring 2014 edition of ONE, reporter Sarah Topol writes about the inspiring work being done for blind children at the Santa Lucia Home in Egypt. Here, she adds her own impressions of the facility.

The first thing that struck me about the Santa Lucia Home was the facility’s immaculate cleanliness. The red brick church and home are just a few blocks from the crashing shores of the Mediterranean and the smell of the sea wafts through the white-tiled hallways. The sisters took me on a tour through the living, studying, dining and kitchen areas. The operation was pristine.

Egypt is a country known for its poverty. Here, garbage lines the streets and public hospitals are unsanitary affairs. At the home, the clean and tidy desks and neatly ordered cabinets made me think the children themselves take pride in their surroundings — no small feat for 4-18 year olds, from what I remember of my own school desks.

I was surprised to learn just how many activities the home offers for the children, from playing soccer with a special ball that makes a sound when it’s moving, to swimming in the pool, playing instruments and performing plays. The children at the center seem to have a host of activities aimed at boosting their self-confidence.

The children were on extended holiday when we visited, so we were unable to meet them in person — though we spoke to some over the phone. The way the sisters and the students independently described the sense of community between the children was incredibly special. It was as if they had created their own family away from home. And that family enabled and encouraged them to grow and mature.

Sister Souda and Sister Hoda are the epitome of matronly figures. Their soft voices and calm shuffles made the place feel very much like a home. Their no-nonsense manner over the course of our interviews made me think the time the children are meant to spend doing their homework must actually be homework time!

The Sisters’ positivity radiated in our conversations. They refused to admit that the children were anything but normal and fit for productive and fulfilling lives in Egypt, to the point where I felt we were skirting some of the discrimination blind children and adults face in Egypt. Perhaps it was a product of years of repeating their positive mantra. But the challenges for blind children are very real. Seeing a center try to change the future for these children was heartening, but it was just as upsetting to realize that, as lucky as these children are, they still face a great many challenges in Egypt that they might not elsewhere.

The children still work on Braillers, which the sisters import from America, and which they have to send back to the U.S. for repair. The center has one computer that children share. To think of how many visually impaired students in the U.S. benefit from new technology — while children in Egypt continue to use typewriters — was difficult. Based on the stories we heard about them, and the dreams they themselves conveyed over the phone, these are creative and curious young people.

It made me wonder how they would fare if given even more of the opportunities enjoyed in the West.

Read more about efforts to bring young Egyptians Out of Darkness in the spring 2014 edition of ONE.

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