I confess: I tend to be a sucker for kids. Whether it’s at the Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum, the oases, the beach, or any of the sites down in Luxor, I’ll buy nearly anything they’re selling if they’re adorable enough. The kid vendors at these places are rarely pushy and are actually quite convincing. They even speak English and can’t be more than 8 or 9 years old usually. Most of the cheesy tourist crap I’ve hoarded over the years in Egypt has been bought from the kids because even though I certainly don’t need it anymore, I just can’t resist. And rather than just ask for money, they always want to sell a product or provide a service. Western kids could learn a thing or two from these enterprising juniors in Egypt.
Kids in general are one thing, but poor little girls can be a heart-melting multiplier. Not only do they face all of the challenges of growing up in a rough, overcrowded, resource-poor developing country, but they’re also often subjected to strict social and religious norms and expectations that can result in sharply reduced opportunities, forced marriages, and more. And then throw a disability on top of all that and, well, game over for me. That’s why recently I was so moved by a short BBC clip I saw about a school for blind girls in Egypt that I quickly sprang into action and decided to try to find a way to help them out.
The Light & Hope (or Noor wa Amal) Association is an organization in Cairo that sets up schools for blind and visually impaired young Egyptian girls. On top of that, they also host a music academy where girls who want to learn an instrument are taught how to do so, after which they learn to read music in braille then commit musical compositions to memory to play. The spectacular result of this program is the Light & Hope Orchestra, in which more than 50 blind girls memorize their respective pieces and join together to put on a spectacular performance of both classical and oriental music in concert.
I’m amazed at the regular kids who are talented and disciplined and sophisticated enough to learn to play complex instruments and play them in concert as they read from page after page of sheet music in front of them. But these absolutely incredible young ladies, despite their disabilities, despite their challenges, and despite the conditions around them in Egypt, not only do all that but go yet another step above by memorizing an entire library of musical compositions and performing them together in perfect harmony for audiences in Egypt, Europe, and beyond.
After seeing the BBC segment highlighting the Light & Hope Orchestra, I looked them up online and tried to call the school’s main office to find out when the girls would be putting on another public concert. Unable to reach anyone at the school by phone, I called a driver and a female Egyptian colleague and drove out to the school to try to find out more. There my colleague and I were able to talk with the school’s staff, meet a few of the girls who play in the orchestra, and speak with the director of the program. I’m now working on finding ways that I can help raise awareness about this school and its amazing programs back home in the U.S. and procure resources and money for them to continue their work and expand to help more impoverished blind children throughout Egypt.
They say that moving music can reach inside you and touch your soul, but the music made by the Light & Hope Orchestra not only touches your soul but also your heart. At least it has touched mine, and I look forward to helping them in any way that I can moving forward. If you’re interested in joining me on this, please shoot me an email and I’ll be in touch.