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Blind to Limitations

A home for the blind teaches Egypt’s youth to navigate life

by Liam Stack

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Waves crash against the rocky Mediterranean coast near the port city of Abou Kir, northeast of Egypt’s sprawling metropolis of Alexandria. Home to some 300,000 people, Abou Kir is named for an important Egyptian early Christian martyr, St. Cyrus. Today, the city has a large Christian minority (about 30 percent of the population), most of whom follow the Coptic Orthodox or Catholic traditions.

On the city’s narrow streets — better known by the landmarks they connect rather than their actual names — minibuses, three-wheeled motor buggies, rickshaws and horse-drawn carts all jostle for space.

The Franciscan School dominates Abou Kir’s main thoroughfare, which is lined with mobile phone shops, vegetable stands and idling taxis. The Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, a Lebanese congregation whose members run the school, know their facility is the most prominent institution in town.

“Just tell them to go to the Franciscan School,” says Sister Souad Nohra, the facility’s director, referring to visitors arriving from Alexandria’s central station, an hour away. “Everyone knows us.”

It is no wonder why. Each day, some 1,050 students — Christian and Muslim — attend classes at the school, which is known for its demanding curriculum. Next to the school, the sisters operate a pioneering project that, since the early 1980’s, serves one of the country’s most disadvantaged groups: blind children.

“This is a special Franciscan apostolate committed to caring for the blind,” explains Sister Souad with pride. “Their food, their drinks, their sleeping, their health care — from the time they wake up in the morning until they go to sleep at night — the Franciscans take care of everything.”

The Santa Lucia Home — named in honor of the patron saint of the blind — was built with funds from CNEWA’s donors and houses ten girls and eight boys from ages 8 to 18. The children do not attend school next door, which is not equipped to teach the blind. Rather, they are enrolled in public programs in other areas of the city. The boys attend El Nour School in Alexandria’s Muharram Bey neighborhood, while the girls attend a similar school in the Zizina area.

Sister Souad and her colleague, Sister Hoda Chaker Assal, rouse the children every morning for breakfast, baths and a 7:45 date with the school bus.

“Here we wake them and prepare them for school, we feed them and do their laundry and we tuck them in at night and make sure they get a good rest,” says Sister Souad. “It is just like at home.”

The Santa Lucia Home for the Blind has changed considerably since it was first established in 1984. In the early days, the program was far more modest.

“We started with four kids, and back then Father Tarcisio taught them in the church,” says Sister Souad.

“He brought in teachers to help and they just worked with them right there, in a small extra room downstairs.”

A Franciscan priest and principal of the Franciscan School, Father Tarcisio di Piano recognized the serious lack of educational opportunities for the blind in the Alexandria area and took it upon himself to establish the home. There, he helped these children with special needs prepare for a brighter future.

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