November 23, 2020
By: May Allam
Since the start of COVID-19, Manal Hassan has spared no time, effort or resources to help people who contracted the virus, whether by providing them with food, medication or hospital beds.
With a major in economics and a minor in business administration, the AUC graduate, started a business with her husband. In 2007, she stepped out of the family business and worked as a financial consultant for multinationals before she joined the Arab African International Bank as Executive Director for AAIB foundation. Currently, she is working as the group director for sustainability for El Sewedy Electric Group. She is also the Vice President of El Sewedy Electric Foundation.
Hassan’s interest in social work and community service started since 1992, and continued to date. She has been involved in the healthcare and education sectors for some time now.
When the COVID-19 started. Hassan did what she does best; taking care of people and offering them a helping hand, using not only the resources she has, but also through her personal connections and networking, she makes sure no one is left behind.
Hassan has two daughters and a son. When she isn’t doing her social work, she likes to play soccer, basketball and volleyball. She also likes music, playing computer and mobile games.
WoE: What prompted you to start helping people during the critical time of the pandemic?
MH: Social work is part of my DNA and my daily life. I’m a people’s person. When the pandemic started, it was my duty to help people. I was already involved with all hospitals in Egypt, fundraising for them, trying to get them masks, equipment, ventilators, oxygen tanks and other supplies they needed. I had started fundraising from the AUC community when two of my friends created a Facebook group, AUC Covid-19. They invited me to admin the group since I had experience and connections with the medical and pharmaceutical communities, and thus handle crisis situations and help those in need. I liked the idea and I began to help both AUCians and non-AUCians as well as their family members, co-workers, friends, employees and other people who were incapable of paying hospital bills.
WoE: How does your initiative work? Do you reach out to people with corona virus, or they reach out to you?
MH: Our initiative is about word of mouth. Members in the group who see posts on Facebook or personally know cases who need help, they would post it. Through the network we support the case until it’s closed (we even write on the post) to avoid commenting further on it.
WoE: What are the services your initiative offer people who are tested positive to COVID-19?
MH: We send nurses to them to do the covid test at home (PCR test and blood tests). We send them to the nearest CT scan lab so they don’t infect others. We provide food to those who can’t cook, bedridden or live alone; medicine to those who cannot find it; cleaning service, transportation, support, oxygen tanks, doctors, tele-medicene; ambulance service, blood or plasma provision for those who need it. We provide whatever a covid patient needs.
WoE: What are some of the challenging situations you faced when dealing with several enquiries daily?
MH: Challenges included not finding medicine or hospital beds, and that’s why I decided to have my own network. My network of friends supporting in New Cairo, 6 October, Heliopolis, Maadi, Zamalek and so on. There were so many people who gave a helping hand and with the grace of God, there were no major issues we couldn’t handle.
WoE: How does it make you feel taking part in treating people?
MH: As a child, I’ve always wanted to become a doctor. I never became one because I’m a very emotional person and knew I’d be emotionally attached to my patients. Social work fulfilled the part in me wanting to help people, especially the sick. It feels great when you know a child, a mother, a father or any family member will be discharged from a hospital. It makes me very happy. Even those we lost, I am still glad we did our best and we were there for their families.
WoE: How many cases have you assisted since the initiative started?
MH: I cannot tell how many cases because I haven’t counted them. My personal initiative started with the spread of the Corona virus, in February or March. I was supporting a lot of NGOs helping covid patients; buying masks for hospitals, fundraising and so on. We were also helping to bring home people stranded in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA, Canada, London. The Covid-Facebook group was created at the beginning of June. Thus, I don’t know the number of people I actually helped, I lost count, but probably a few hundreds.
WoE: Where do you find funds to help people?
MH: Funding was the least of our worries to be honest. Egyptians are legends when it comes to helping each other during tough times.
WoE: Do you find it overwhelming that so many people ask for your help on a daily basis?
MH: Absolutely not! I’m never overwhelmed. On the contrary, even though I was happy that people in the summer managed to travel to the North Coast, Gouna or abroad, and nobody was seeking help – I felt lonely. I forgot what I used to do before corona and it gave me time to go through the list of people, call them, check on them and remind them to do their CT after 45 days, ask about their blood tests and so on. It was like trying to find something to do by reaching them. I’m always happy when people call me on the phone, send me a voice note or a message.
WoE: What measures do you take to guarantee you are in fact helping infected people? Do you have testing kits?
MH: I don’t have testing kits, I’m not a doctor or a lab, but I can send people to labs. If they cannot afford to pay for the tests or CT scan, somebody pays for them. We buy them medicine. I’m blessed with friends who trust me and know my work. I’ve been helping people since 1992.
WoE: Have you ever felt powerless in any situation you have faced? How did that affect you?
MH: Sometimes I did, but it didn’t really affect me. I felt powerless when I didn’t find a medicine, or it took a day or two to find it. I feel depressed if I cannot find it promptly, but I learned from the experience if I can’t find it in Cairo to reach out to other areas, to decrease the waiting time.
WoE: How do you believe empowering women in Egypt will help the Egyptian society face the pandemic and other challenges?
MH: Women have always been empowered in Egypt. We have seen it in our grandparents. My mom had her PHD from the United States in 1964. We are a civil society. Women are bread-winners. Even if you go to the villages, you see women working with their husbands in the fields, or working in factories. Women are the pillar of any society not just Egypt. Women around the world have done a great job in taking care of their families during the pandemic.
WoE: Would you create a platform to help in woman empowerment, especially you have many followers now? What areas would you focus on most?
MH: If I would create a platform to empower women, I would focus on family values, women health, marriage and divorce laws. Many people are getting divorced. Young people are getting divorced after few months. We need to focus on this area and find a solution for it.
I would also create a platform to empower women to stand against violence, harassment and divorce. These things happen because Egyptian women are very patient and want the best for their kids. They have to learn that they can still do without having to accept injustice, or their husbands’ abuse in order for the family to strive.
WoE: Charity work and helping the sick take a lot of time from your family and personal life. How do you balance between your own needs, the needs of your family and your social responsibilities?
MH: It us all about organizing my time. From 9-5 is the time for my work. When I get into my car to go home, I might answer a few phone calls. My kids are adults and they all work. My social work doesn’t really take me from them because I’m there with them at home. My husband works late so when he’s home, he supports my social work because he knows I’m passionate about it. It’s all about timing, balancing and prioritizing, and sometimes my friends in my network handle cases instead of me.
WoE: What are your dreams on a personal basis and your dreams for women in Egypt?
MH: On a personal basis, I hope I can live long enough to see a proper healthcare and education systems in Egypt. I think education and health are the things we really need to work on and donate money for. We need to help and support the to transform them into how we would like to see them. My dream for women in Egypt is for the country to take violence more seriously and we see laws that govern domestic violence because it affects kids. Domestic violence needs to be stopped.
WoE: What advice could you offer women to help during this critical time as no one knows when this pandemic will end?
I would advice women to have time for themselves, even an hour a day. Do the things you like to do, even if you just want to sit and stare at the wall. If you find yourself at home, confined with your kids, find creative activities to do together; play cards, monopoly, scrabble, watch old movies, look at family photos, clean up closets; just have family members engaged. I know a lot of families have kids doing online school or university, or work from home. Have an area in the house where everyone working online can sit together like in a classroom. Hopefully, this rough time will end.
WoE: With the country opening up, what advice do you give people to stay safe?
MH: Corona isn’t over. The numbers are increasing even though the symptoms are milder than before. Be very careful, wear your masks, use alcohol, keep social distance, do the proper ventilation. Don’t stay in a room without fresh air for more than 15 minutes, even if you are home with the a/c on. If you have guests or friends open a window. Don’t go to crowded areas or closed crowded areas unless it’s urgent. Wash your hands at all times, and don’t worry or stress because stress decreases immunity. As long as you are keeping your mask and alcohol with you, go on with your day. We don’t know how long it will last or if the vaccine will be effective enough. So, wearing a mask is our new norm. It is the accessory we will be wearing for some time.
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