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Malak Al-Sherbini

( 1929 )

Malak Al-Sherbini

Social work pioneer

Malak Al-Sherbini is an Egyptian woman pioneer of social work. In the interview, she spoke about her involvement in charity and social work, particularly her volunteer work at al-Nour w al-Amal Association, which was among the first organizations to mind with the welfare and empowerment of the blind. Malak had been a member of the Association since the year 1960, and became its chairwoman in 1981.

Malak grew up in Masr Al-Gadida district to what she considered a privileged family. Her father studied law before traveling to France to pursue further studies. He earned his PhD during WWI. Malak described her relationship with her father saying, “he was like a brother to us, like a mother, and a friend. We had a good relationship. He liked to spend time with us to talk about school and our lessons, or discuss any topic in history, geography, or religion. He was truly an intellectual. I loved spending time with him.” Malak’s mother, Zaynab Saeed Mazhar, came from a prestigious family with Turkish descents. She studied in al-Saniya School, and was proficient in both the English and the Arabic languages.

Malak attended Notre-Dame Christian School, and described her school education saying, “being raised by nuns made me who I am, in every way, my ethics, humanity, and how I deal with people. There were so many things that I acquired at school from the nuns that I did not learn from anyone else.” Malak then transferred to the French Lycée School to earn her high-school diploma. Despite her father’s progressiveness, and his keenness on education, he refused to enroll Malak in a university upon her school graduation. However, he made sure she developed her general knowledge, and put her time to good use. He also signed her up to attend an Italian art school.

Malak got married to engineer Kamal Ezz al-Din in 1952, and had three children. She recalled that the day of her engagement was the day when King Farouk left Egypt. 1960 was the year when Malak commenced her journey with social work. She recalled that before then, she was not interested in working at all, and spent her time reading, and doing handicrafts. She also enjoyed listening to the radio, which was how she found out about the donations being raised for organizations like al-Nour w al-Amal, and the Red Crescent. Around the same time, Malak’s husband attended several events held for these organizations, and told Malak about them. A family relative encouraged Malak to participate in the activities hosted by these charity organizations. Malak recounted that her husband was very excited and supportive of the idea, and encouraged her to apply because he was concerned that she would get bored at home, since he worked all day, and came home by midnight.

Malak started working with Al-Nour w Al-Amal Association, and noticed that most of its members were also members of the Red Crescent. She recounted that some of the members of the Red Crescent were particularly involved in providing care for the blind, and later decided to establish al-Nour w al-Amal as an independent association for the welfare of the blind girls and women. They began raising funds, with the help of advertisements published by Akhbar al-Yom Newspaper. Hassanein Haikal and his wife joined the Association, which was chaired by Istiklal Radi. The Association founded a school, and started literacy classes, in addition to vocational training in basketry and carpet weaving. The Association was also keen on registering the blind girls in the Ministry of Social Affairs, and helping them secure jobs, since at the beginning, the Association could only offer the girls employment within the Association itself. Afterwards, the range of activities organized by the Association expanded to include music education, knitting, and glassmaking, in addition to the center for plastics founded by Istiklal Radi. A nursery was also founded for the blind girls. To generate more funds for the Association, a sewing department was established, in which sighted women worked alongside the blind, who were responsible for folding and ironing. The Association also established a guesthouse, as well as a showroom to sell the various products created in the Association.

Malak spoke about Al-Nour w Al-Amal’s Orchestra, which was founded with the help of Dr. Samha al-Khouly. The members of the blind women’s orchestra were graduates of the Association’s school, who later attended the Cairo Conservatoire music school, then joined the university. Malak recounted, “they were excellent girls. They continued their education in the Conservatoire, and earned their higher diplomas. They spent years in the school with us, then became members of the Orchestra. Almost 45 girls, and they are all grownups now. They still come to help the younger girls with their studies, teach them, and play music with the schoolgirls. Some of them got tired and quit to get some rest, but the Orchestra continued. Dr. Samha is always supporting us, and she never stopped. She supervises the Orchestra herself, and always sends teachers whenever we need.” Al-Nour w al-Amal’s Orchestra held concerts in several countries around the world, including Austria, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, and Thailand.

Among the Association’s many success stories, Malak recalled Dr. Saeeda Hosni, saying, “she was one of the first girls who received the training and rehabilitation as soon as the Association was established. She stayed here until she finished her training, then attended school, earned her high-school diploma, then entered university. She worked in a company called Memphis, while studying in university, and they used to allow her to leave for classes. They were really good to her.”

The most recent additions to the Association’s services were the ophthalmic clinic, the computer center, and the culture club that contains books written in braille. Malak explained, “we teach computer skills to the blind, and the girls use the internet, but supervised. When sighted people came to the center and asked to take the training, we decided why not? We will train them. But, the majority of the activities are for the blind. We also started the culture club with our girls who copied stories in braille to read them.” Malak al-Sherbini worked at al-Nour w al-Amal Association for 45 years, and served as its chairwoman in the period between 1981 and 2007.

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