Maadi center offers cutting edge physical therapy for cerebral palsy sufferers
CAIRO: In the courtyard at The Children’s Center in Maadi, little Mahmoud is practicing walking with the help of his trainer, Anna. Seated on a chair with wheels, Anna rolls along holding Mahmoud, who is leaning on his walker as she helps him put one foot in front of the other. A volunteer stands a few meters away, lightly misting Mahmoud’s face with water from a spray bottle, delighting the little boy and encouraging him to move forward.
Walking is a big accomplishment for Mahmoud, who along with the other children at The Children’s Center has cerebral palsy, a condition affecting body movement and muscle coordination, caused by a brain injury before or during birth or in the first few years of life.
At The Children’s Center, which opened last year, the trainers work with children to increase their ability to sit, stand, walk and help themselves with everyday tasks, aiming to give the children more independence and involvement in life.
The program used comes from MOVE International, a non-profit organization based in the United States dedicated to helping people with disabilities. Each child has his own program tailored to his or her needs, and parents are given a written update of what happens each day.
As the children work with their trainers in the small courtyard, the atmosphere is gentle, happy and caring. Hanaa Helmy, owner and director of the center, supervises. She points out that at The Children’s Center, they always try to include an element of fun in the children’s therapies.
Today, for instance, two-year-old Sabry’s trainer has painted his nose red and put a small gold star on it, and she is encouraging Sabry to look at his colorful nose in a hand-held mirror. As a little girl called Gabi practices walking with her trainer, he makes a funny sound in her ear when he wants to encourage her to take another step, while in the physical therapy room the radio plays pop songs as the therapist works with Youssef.
The children have made great progress with the MOVE Program. “He was folded onto himself when he first came here, says Helmy of one of the children, Ashraf, who is now able to sit up and has a very quick mind. Helmy already has two children who have progressed enough that they have left to go to mainstream schools.
“They can’t believe it, Helmy says about medical professionals who visit the center and see what she has achieved. Parents of children with cerebral palsy in Egypt are often given the diagnosis in a very harsh way, and then advised by doctors to just take their children home, that nothing can be done. Helmy is quietly determined to prove that these children are valuable members of society who can lead full lives if given the right opportunities, and her center is proving it.
It’s funny how a series of unexpected circumstances can lead to such amazing results. Helmy was a computer engineer who had worked in banking in the United States for 15 years. When she moved back to Egypt, Helmy decided that banking here did not appeal to her and she decided to switch careers, at first starting a business to import furniture. Through this work, she came across furniture for kids with special needs, which led her to discover MOVE International.
Helmy was so taken by MOVE (Mobility Opportunities Via Education) that she became a certified trainer of the MOVE Program and decided to set up The Children’s Center to provide the program in Egypt for kids from birth to age 12 who have cerebral palsy.
Helmy faced many challenges starting out. She had to completely renovate the location she had rented on a quiet street in Maadi, wait nine months for her license as a health center and find good trainers. She now has trainers who come from several fields: psychology, physical therapy, computer science and business. They had all been trained in the MOVE Program, after which they spent time simply observing the children until Helmy felt they were ready to be fully-fledged trainers.
Equipment was another issue, as the children need special chairs, walkers and standers that were very expensive for Helmy to buy from the United States, especially considering the customs duties she had to pay on them when they arrived in Cairo. So Helmy got approval from MOVE International to manufacture the equipment in Egypt and found an engineer who took apart the originals and made computer drawings of them, so that they could be produced in several Cairo workshops. While still very expensive, the locally produced equipment comes at a fraction of the price of their imported counterparts.
The program costs LE 20,000 a year per child, an amount that is obviously way out of reach for most parents, so Helmy has found business people to sponsor the children. Helmy has also arranged for a car to pick up three of the children who live far away and who would be exhausted taking public transport with their parents every day to reach the center.
Helmy’s aim is that the MOVE Program be used throughout Egypt and she has done several “train the trainer sessions at NGOs that work with people who have disabilities, even giving talks at Rotary Clubs to raise funds for these NGOs to get the equipment they need.
Right now, The Children’s Center has a capacity of 12 children, but Helmy’s big dream is that the business community sponsor a large MOVE center in Cairo, so that all the children who need the MOVE Program can participate in it.
“It is so rewarding, so satisfying, says Helmy of her new career. “To put a smile on one child’s face is worth a lot to me.
Contact The Children’s Center at Tel: 521 2321. For more about the MOVE Program, log onto www.movemiddleeast.com