Socialism Art Nature

Helen Keller in Egypt, 1952.

Of this trip she wrote to a friend:

Egypt is in the very heart of Islam. Having read about the anti-British riots, I could not help wondering how it would fare with us in our work in Egypt. To my surprise the people we met showed us warm friendliness, and were most hospitable. In Cairo I addressed the Medical School, students from the different colleges at a big meeting in Dhakema and the American University on prevention of blindness and the urgent need for rehabilitation for the blind throughout Egypt. We visited the few schools that exist for children without sight. I was grieved to find what meagre openings the adult blind of Egypt have for reeducation or employment. The good school at Zeitoun and the workshop for the blind established by the Government and the splendid school for deaf girls owe their existence to the untiring perseverance and unbreakable optimism of Mr. Sayed Fattah, a jolly, lovable personality whose jokes made me laugh away difficulties whenever we met. As one of the charming, progressive Egyptian women said to whom I was introduced, “our people have a strong will-power, but you must make them believe in a movement before they support it.” How true that is of the work for the blind and the deaf!

While in Egypt, she also had the opportunity to meet Taha Hussein, one of the most influential literary figures in the Arab world. Born in Egypt, Hussein went blind at the age of three. He would later become Egypt’s Minister of Education in which capacity he advocated for free universal education for all (i.e., not just for the wealthy).

She writes of Hussein:

For years I had read about Taha Hussein Pasha, and I cannot express my delight one day when he visited me at the Semiramis Hotel, bringing his wife and son, and stayed a whole hour. I was privileged to touch his face, and how handsome, scholarly and full of inward light it was! His responsive tenderness warmed my heart, and I felt as if I had known him always. We discussed many topics — Homer, Aeschylus, Euripides, Plato and Socrates, the liberating power of philosophy, Taha Hussein’s studies of the great blind Arab philosopher of the tenth century and his work for the blind. He told me that while he was Minister of Education, he had worked quietly enabling capable blind persons to go to universities and colleges, and that he was still deeply interest in that measure. He said that one of the chief needs of blind students in Egypt was secondary schools from which they could go to finish their education in college. It was a precious boon to me to feel Taha Hussein’s personality behind me when I called on various ministers of the Government and begged them to authorize those secondary schools. Finally the Minister of Education promised me that those schools would be opened, and Mr. Fattah was confident in his assurance that it would be done.


Top Photo: Helen at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquity, Cairo, Egypt, 1952. Helen examines a sculpture from the IVth Dynasty Ginza.

Bottom Left: A crowd surrounds Helen Keller as she gestures. She stands in front of two boys who are blind, one of whom is holding a musical instrument. Egypt, 1952.

Bottom Right: Helen Keller assists a young boy who is holding a chicken. They are surrounded by a group of people at a school for blind children. Egypt, 1952.

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