HANDS recently hosted a group of Egyptian and Tunisian professionals in the field of disability rights for a month in Chicago with the help of our Chicago partner organization WorldChicago. The day before this group of eleven fellows departed, we had the opportunity to interview one of them, an Egyptian entrepreneur named Noha El-Sehrawy, about her experience in the U.S.

HANDS:  Thank you for taking the time to talk with me! Let’s start with a silly question. What was your favorite food that you tried in the U.S.?

Noha: Chicago pizza. I couldn’t get enough of it!

HANDS: That sounds so good right now. Can you tell us about the work that you have done in Egypt?

Noha: Sure. I am a disability rights advocate. I started doing that when my daughter was born with Down syndrome. In 2013, I started an association, called DAMG, meaning “inclusion” in Arabic. It’s basically a database for people with disabilities. It pilots market research to locate jobs for them, and it also provides them with medical services.

HANDS: That sounds great. And where were you placed in Chicago for your fellowship? What did you do there?

Noha: I worked at Aspire, which is a center for children and adults with developmental disabilities. I worked under the Marketing Director, learning about and contributing to their business plan. We were working on different strategies to overcome the stigma of mental disabilities. Aspire was incredible; people were always going out of their way to help me. My second day in Chicago, I got lost on the train, and Marcia Gordon, the President of Career and Life Enrichment at Aspire, came and picked me up, telling me “Don’t worry, you’re doing great.” It was an incredible, dynamic place to work.

HANDS: Did your fellowship give you any fresh ideas for your association at home?

Noha: It did! I want to make an arts exhibition to display the work of people with disabilities. I’d like to make it an international initiative. And many other things!

HANDS: What will be the first thing you do when you return to your association at home?

Noha: I decided to change the name of the association to Zayee Zayek, which in Arabic means “We Are All the Same.” I also want to change my business plan, and the first thing I will do with that is to work on my database to market it more effectively and to fit it to the needs of the people who use it.

HANDS is looking forward to seeing the impact that Noha and our other fellows will have in their communities after this valuable learning experience. We will be visiting them within the next few months with some of their hosts from the U.S. to continue the learning experience.

We’re so grateful to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the many individual donors who make this program possible. Thank you so much for enabling these young professionals to change the future for people with disabilities in their countries!