Last week, we stumbled upon a Facebook page called Super Younis that immediately caught our attention. The amazing admins, Mostafa Menshawy and Reem Esmat, started this page to empower and support other parents of children with special needs. Their main inspiration to start this page was their four-year-old son, Younis, who was born with one hand. We met with Mostafa and Reem to know more about their initiative, and how they empower their super child.
Younis entered our studio like an excited child on Christmas Day. “Superman and Captain America are my all-time-favorite superheroes,” he tells. “I want to become a “super” police in the future, so I can create peace just like my favorite characters do,” he adds.
Finding proper help was the parents’ main goal when their special Younis was born. “We were searching for similar cases like Younis in Egypt to support us. We were shocked when we didn’t find any support groups or correct information online. We communicated with a case abroad like Jen Lee Reeves: an entity that empowers differently-able people, who guided us all along the way,” Mostafa tells.
With bullying getting very common amongst students today, parents of kids with special needs sometimes get really worried about how their kids spend their day in school. Younis got bullied in nursery by older summer camp students who kept on telling him that he won’t be able to survive school. He used to come back home crying on daily basis. “I called the nursery and they told me that they are surprised that this keeps on happening. Furthermore, they requested a shadow teacher with Younis before they even evaluated his mental and physical skills. I convinced them that he doesn’t need one and he was accepted. We applied in many schools and one of them told us we aren’t responsible if he gets bullied! Of course like any parents we were really pressured by the assesments and applicaton process and he finally got accepted at Roots School and he is now in KG1. They are doing a great job honestly with him and gave a great orientation about how they will deal with a special case like Younis”, Reem tells.
By the time Younis had to go to school, his parents got anxious about how other kids will perceive his “difference”. They didn’t want to risk harming his feelings by any means. So they had a letter delivered to the school board and parents alike, explaining Younis’s case –and how they should deal with him.
Younis’s mother, Reem Esmat, opened up about the whole story behind Super Younis’ social media initiative. “After we had sent the letter to the parents at Younis’s school, I saw a mother asking other mothers on a Facebook group about his case. Mostafa and I were shocked by people’s wrong perceptions, advice and comments. Some comments were very pitiful toward his “condition” and this is something that we don’t need at all. We had to reply to each and everyone of them in a decent way and explain Younis’ case and show them that all he needs is empowerment not pity. We decided we should create a supportive community for parents with cases like Younis, to clear misbeliefs. We started documenting each stage of his life, with its ups and downs, to support other parents,” Reem tells.
“I actually get more offended than Younis and it destroys me to bits. People on the street sometimes ask me in front of him what is wrong with your son? Why are you leaving him like that without prosthetics?”, Reem tells. We learned from Reem that prosthetic surgeries aren’t guaranteed in Egypt at a young age. “If I decide to travel abroad to do it, I have to spend over 100,000 LE and redo the surgery every 8 months because his bones and muscles grow of course. The best thing to do is to wait until he reaches a certain age when he is all grown up. We have many options like implanting a 3D or plastic arm just for cosmetic purposes and take it off at home by end of day but I don’t want useless methods, I want him to master sports, go out and have fun with self confidence”, Reem explains.
Swimming is one of the best sports for differently-abled kids, and we learned that Younis’s child psychologist also agrees. The four-year-old had started to grow a fear of water and swimming. His parents wanted him to get over his fears, so they enrolled him in swimming practice at a very young age. “Swimming gives him more confidence to make new friends,” Mostafa says.
In today’s fast-paced world, finding quality time is a challenge for every family. Speaking of challenges, the young parents here try as much as they can to empower their child to turn his challenge into power. “Families should understand that having a differently-abled kid is nothing that they should be ashamed of. We teach Younis to accept himself as he is. We don’t provide Younis with special treatment. We tell him what’s right and what’s wrong, and we punish him if he makes a mistake like all parents do and he went to nursery when he was two years old although a lot of people were against my decision,” Reem says.
“Befriending your kids is the best way to raise them. I attempt to enhance Younis’s self-esteem by engaging him in serious conversations, playing Playstation and X-Box together for example,” Mostafa adds.
Reem and Mostafa aim to turn Super Younis to a greater entity that unites national and global forces together, and guarantees differently-abled people’s laws and rights. “We are also looking for producers who can work on cartoons including characters with disabilities in order to raise awareness and teach kids about inclusion”, Mostafa says.