After knocking the doors of Egyptian schools twenty five years ago, and failing to find one equipped school to take in the differently-abled amongst their students, the hard-working Esraa El Bably and her family did not take no for an answer and sought an alternative in Bahrain, making persistence their life slogan.
At the time, there were no constitutional laws to oblige schools to accept the differently-abled. Their one option was the schools catering to the deaf or the mute, which fully focus on teaching sign language only. Esraa’s family refused to get her enrolled in these schools because they believe it makes the students get accustomed to closed communities, with limited interaction with the real world.
“My mum used to always tell me that we need to keep trying and trying and trying. Taking what people impose on us as a given is unacceptable and non-negotiable,” says Esraa.
Resilience came in handy for Esraa, who is currently the Arab World’s first dentist with hearing impairment. She gave a speech at the UN’s Women in Innovation and Connectivity High-Level Panel in 2017, inspiring everyone, and not just women. She also has her very own clinic, and is pursuing her Masters degree.
Having the required handy skills and the passion for art and craft, Esraa realized her passion for dentistry and decorating teeth. “I treat every tooth as an artistic masterpiece, with beauty that needs to be shown. When I work with a patient at the clinic, I lose the sense of time or tiredness,” she adds.
When she was faced with criticism or questioning for her choice of career, she felt even more determined to achieve her dream. “I was always wondering who gave humans the right to label? Who gave them the right to make or break others? Why can’t any field be welcoming for everyone regardless of their circumstances? And when one fails, they are the one who should make the decision to shift their career without the community’s prejudice,” Esraa says.
Labeling people as “incapable” or “not good enough” and “unwelcomed” is unjust and brings out destructive feelings for people, Esraa stresses. Yet, whenever she faces those societal obstacles and doubts herself, she decides to shift her feelings into goals and missions.
It’s this persistence that enabled her to convince the Future University’s President to admit her in the dentistry program. “After I passed the university’s acceptance tests and it was time for the medical checkup, some people advised me to hide my hearing impairment which was very humiliating for me. But I completely refused, and it was the first thing I mentioned,” Esraa illustrates.
She then headed to the President’s office to ask him if they would reject her based on her hearing impairment solely, even if she could be a good doctor. “I told him that if I fail, I’ll come on my own to ask for a change in my major, but he welcomed and encouraged me to keep going,” she adds.
For Esraa, the situation of the differently-abled in Egypt needs a lot of work. She expressed her discontent with the conferences held with big budgets, without concrete outcomes. She also recommends installing a law to combat discrimination against the differently-abled in work opportunities. “It’s unfair to hire a less-qualified candidate just because they have all their senses. We need to stop punishing people for something that is out of their hands,” Esraa emphasizes.
The key to make a difference according to Esraa is the change from below, from the people themselves. It happens through normalizing the presence of the differently-abled in the work place for their qualifications, and not just through mere obligation of the 5% the law enforces.
“I’m happy to be the first Egyptian deaf dentist, but I’m happier that I paved the way for others to pursue their dreams. I hope that my case is not the last, and for those coming after to have an easier journey,” Esraa concludes.