Mohamed Ait Elmaader, a quiet young man with a slow smile, manages a center for children with disabilities in his hometown of Agadir, Morocco. This spring, he participated in the HANDS Professional Fellows Program (PFP), funded by the US Department of State. The theme of this year’s program was NGO Development for organizations helping people with disabilities, and Mohamed participated in order to learn new skills and information to help him grow the effectiveness of his organization.

Mohamed prepares to give a presentation about his work in Morocco to an audience of disability professionals in Chicago.


As part of the HANDS program, Mohamed was placed with the Family Resource Center on Disabilities (FRCD) in Chicago, where he gained firsthand experience in advocacy for children with disabilities and their families. One event that stood out in his mind was a meeting that he attended at a public school in Chicago. The school was not consistently implementing a special needs child’s Individual Education Plan, but the Family Resource Center on Disabilities team was able to convince school officials to implement the child’s specialized education plan without exceptions.

Mohamed (far left) participates in the Chicago Autism Walk along with his colleagues in the Professional Fellows Program.


During his time in the US, Mohamed was surprised and pleased to find that “America is based on the consideration of the other”. He was also impressed by “the general integration of people with disabilities [and] the level of accessibility in all areas.”


Now that he’s back in Morocco, Mohamed is already implementing his newfound knowledge. He is arranging a training in advocacy techniques with his colleagues at the Agadir Children’s Center, and he is creating a yearlong plan to improve the organizational structure.


When asked to reflect on his experience in the HANDS program, Mohamed grins and says it was “an amazing feeling” to learn so much and be part of a team of fellows from Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. Beyond that, he says, “it happened too fast!”

Mohamed is grateful to have experienced one month of professional development in Chicago.
Mohamed explores Chicago by boat as part of a weekend cultural excursion.


HANDS is grateful to the US Department of State, to our local partners at World Chicago, and to our many generous donors for making this experience possible for Mohamed and his colleagues on the PFP program. We look forward to seeing his successes in the coming years!