A unique center for people with disabilities in Egypt will be undergoing an important expansion of its work, thanks to help from an international Catholic charity.
Thanking Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for its support for the project, Mr. Magdi Asham Henein from the Al-Fulk Community in Minia, upper Egypt, explained how it will be able to leave its current house in the desert and move to the nearby city.
Mr. Henein said, “We cannot integrate people into society if we are living in the desert – and with the help of ACN we have bought the land for the new community building.”
Aid to the Church in Need has already given more than $20,400 and promised further support for the construction of the new premises.
According to Mr. Henein, the Al-Fulk community began because of the great need to support people with mental disabilities in Egypt.
Mr. Henein said, “10 years ago people were rejected in society, nobody understood the nature of mental handicap – it was seen as a punishment from God.”
He explained how the families of people with mental disabilities rejected them and threw them out.
He added, “Mentally handicapped people were suffering a lot in society – many were living in the streets, and passers-by would make fun of them. They were completely marginalized.”
Then one of the members of Faith and Light, an international association of people supporting those with learning difficulties, went to live with L’Arche in Guise, France, and on his return set up Al-Fulk in Egypt in 2002.
The community in Minia has a workshop where people with mental disabilities make candles, and receive a salary at the end of the week for their work.
Al-Fulk is affiliated to L’Arche international but under the care of the Coptic Catholic Diocese of Minia.
Like L’Arche, Al-Fulk means “the ark.” Mr. Henein explained, “Al-Fulk means the ship, the ship of Noah, so this is the ark.”
The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, spoke of community as a place of resurrection, and Mr. Henein said this was also the case in Egypt.
He said, “The changes in their lives are a sign of resurrection, they were completely marginalized but now they have changed, a resurrection has taken place for them and for their families.
“Society has changed its attitudes, so there is a resurrection both for the person and for the wider society.”
Outlining the planned move, Mr. Henein added, “It will create some kind of social life for the residents with mental disabilities – they like to buy things from shops and to visit people.”
There are at present seven people in the house – and another eight who come to make candles in the workshop.
“We hope to expand to 10 in the house and 20 in the workshop.”
The community is also a sign of unity as they have Catholic and Orthodox living at the same house – and they are hoping in the future that there may be Muslims involved as well.
Mr. Henein said, “Muslims are the majority, but our work is not widely known and Muslims can be suspicious of it.”
“But in the future Al-Fulk could be a bridge bringing Muslims and Christians together – as other social activities of the Church manage to do.”
He hopes to see Al-Fulk’s work expand further. He said, “There is a great need in Egypt and we want to spread and have many communities.”