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by Sarah Topol

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Sister Hoda Chaker Assal

Sister Hoda Chaker Assal administers the Santa Lucia Home, which provides a loving and encouraging environment for blind children. Since joining the Franciscan Sisters of the Cross, she has served the community in a variety of ministries. From Cairo, Sister Hoda studied in Lebanon and received a degree in disability studies from the University of Alexandria in 2010.

ONE: Why did you pursue a degree in disability studies?

Sister Hoda Chaker Assal: I belong to the Franciscan sisters — our order cares a lot about people with disabilities in Lebanon and Jordan, and Egypt also. I studied general disabilities, but I specialized in blindness.

ONE: What do you think most people do not understand about blindness?

SH: People should accept the blind as equals. Blind people are normal people. They can’t see, yes, but they are still the same. So treat them as anyone else, not as special cases.

ONE: What has been one of the most challenging parts of your job?

SH: The difficult thing is to convince the children of their worth, specifically boys. I try to tell them: “Don’t get depressed, you will have your own life, you will have your own family.” For me this is the most difficult thing, to convince them and to prepare them for the world: “You are not here to be pitied.”

This is difficult.

ONE: What are some of the ways you cope with this?

SH: It is a difficult situation. In Egyptian society, men are expected to make money, to provide for the family. This is a lot of pressure on every Egyptian, regardless of their situation.

I always depend on giving them examples of blind people in Egyptian society who became famous, who live comfortably and are respected. For example, I mention Taha Hussein, the famous Egyptian author who became the education minister. He was blind. I mention Ammar El Sherei, the composer. He was one of the most wealthy and respected men in Egypt. He was blind. Then, I mention men who passed through here. They graduated, they make good livings, and they are blind.

So I keep telling them a lot of people did it, and you can do it, too. Don’t give up.

ONE: Do boys have a more difficult time with this than girls because of this social pressure?

SH: It is personal, according to the children themselves, boys or girls. It depends on how he or she is interacting with his blindness and if they have been reared from a young age to be self-dependent or not.

ONE: What about children who come to the home later, or those who have internalized their blindness as a stigma?

SH: It takes time. There’s another thing we depend on: They help each other. In this community, the children form a close circle. They help each other. For example, if one is talented in history or music, they start helping the rest, automatically. They do that with each other, so this helps all of them. They cooperate.

ONE: How do people react to a group of blind children on a field trip? How does society treat them?

SH: When we go on a trip, I am very happy that people open doors for them and welcome them.

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