For most students, the first day of the school year is a mixture of excitement and nerves, as they begin new chapters of their lives. Students are happily reunited with their friends and are greeted warmly by their teachers, ready for a year of new experiences. However, for Karim El Mougy, a 25-year-old Egyptian living with severe autism, the first day of school was spent anxiously sitting on the ground outside of the Fairhaven School for the Disabled in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria.

As soon as Karim was dropped off at school, he sat down on the ground and refused to move. Karim, who has difficulty adjusting to new spaces and unfamiliar people, sat there for two hours before leaving with his brother. The next day, to help him adjust, teachers left a chair so that he would not have to sit on the ground. Karim perched there, listening to music, for three hours but then left. Over the next few days, he started to relax, encouraged by all the welcoming faces at Fairhaven, and finally agreed to walk inside the school with a teacher.

After just two months, there have already been significant changes in Karim’s life, especially in his improved social skills. Not only has the school been beneficial for Karim, but it also has given his father and brothers hope, seeing his accomplishments in such a short time.

Karim’s family is grateful for the opportunities the school has offered him. Karim’s mother, his long-time caregiver, passed away after a protracted battle with cancer not long ago. His 65-year-old father has recently undergone surgery, making it difficult for him to look after his son.

Looking for the best possible care for Karim, his older brother tried to enroll him in the Fairhaven School for the Disabled. Although the institution had reached maximum capacity, members of the school administration were determined to find a solution for this emergency situation. They also developed a plan to help integrate Karim comfortably into school activities, including computer classes, music, and sports.IMG_6140

In Egypt, people with disabilities represent 10% of the population. They often face marginalization in their communities and many times are excluded from education and the workforce. Parents and families pay the ultimate price by having to constantly care for youth with disabilities. For families with few resources, this work can be exhausting.

When the Fairhaven School first opened its doors in Alexandria, it started with ten children and four teachers. The institution has since grown to over 185 students and 73 teachers, with students as young as two years old. The school aims to build a community based on inclusion. Fairhaven provides activities tailored to each student’s needs to improve academic performance and social skills, promote self-care and independence, and train students in vocational skills in a safe and nurturing environment. Hundreds of parents who could not adequately support their children have benefited from the work of Fairhaven.

HANDS would like to thank our donors whose generous contributions have helped youth with disabilities, like Karim, access Fairhaven’s programs and become better integrated into family life and society.