Heba Elswedy

Helping Every Burn Victim in Egypt

Known as Egypt’s own Mother Theresa, Heba Elsewedy is not merely a descendant of Egypt’s leading electronics company; she has been widely known for saving thousands of civilians during the January 25 revolution after which time she founded Egypt’s first-ever NGO dedicated to burn victims, Ahl Masr. We asked Heba everything we were curious about, here’s what she told us.

What opened your eyes to helping burn victims specifically?

During the January 25 revolution, I was exposed to all kinds of injuries and victims. Regardless of the injured political affiliations or nationality, I was trying to help as much as I can. Then, I was faced by the fact that Egyptian hospitals are not equipped to treat the number of burn victims in the country. I discovered the huge gap between the number of causalities and service providers, the lack of awareness causing more death incidents and the lack of specialized facilities and qualified hospital staff. From February 2011 till 2013, I felt that I have an obligation to exert all efforts to help ease the pain and suffering of the wounded burn victims and their families.

How and when did you found your non-profit organization, Ahl Masr?

After the establishment of the organization for revolution-injured victims by the government, we decided to establish a non-profit organization to help ameliorate the life of Egyptians and in 2013, Ahl Masr was founded. With a main goal of creating a new perception of charity and development in Egypt, the foundation works in the field of health with main emphasis on burn prevention and treatment through an institutionalized development framework that is capable of providing social support with high quality and professionalism. Our main aim is to reach a “Humanity Burn Free” world. Ahl Masr Foundation does not stop there but they are also embarking on a mega project to build the first non-profit burns hospital in the Middle East. The Hospital will be built on 12,000 square meters in New Cairo and has the capacity to accommodate, treat and care for patients and their families. Phase one is expected to be completed in three years.

Did you meet any major obstacles in founding your NGO?

Although we felt the support and encouragement of many individuals, corporates and governmental institutions especially from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which is greatly appreciated, the road to realize our goals is still long and the challenges ahead are severe. However, we are confident and committed to our cause and with continued support and collaborations we will realize our dream for Egyptian children and families.

How has your family helped you pursue your humanitarian activism?

I was brought up in a family where helping people and giving is the main motto. Giving is an addicting pleasure that fulfills a person’s heart and becomes one of the most satisfactory feelings in life.

What psychological traumas do burn victims have to face, and how do we help overcome them?

Burn victims suffer different degrees of disfigurements, physical disabilities and psychological trauma. In addition, their treatment takes years, in many cases not less than 3 to 4 years. A majority of the victims and their parents say that dealing with people especially strangers and seeing and feeling the shock and fear in the people’s reaction is the worst. Raghda, a 13-year-old burn victim from Minya, was not allowed out of the house and dropped out of school after her accident for fear of social rejection. Ahl Masr had been treating and caring for Raghda, her family and many others young and old victims. Providing them will medical and psycho-social support and rehabilitation to help them re-integrate in society including the education system and the community.

Are there any precautions we need to take when associating with burn victims to avoid making them feel different?

Ensuring physical greeting contact like a sincere hand shake, hug and a kiss and a friendly attitude is key to breaking the ice with a burn victim. The advice is always “burn victims are human beings and are no different than any other, treat them normally, don’t fear them or stigmatize them, show them you care and they will embrace you.”

Can you tell us some of your favourite inspiring stories/cases that your organization has dealt with?

Where do I start? Children’s stories to me are always the most touching and rewarding at the same time. Helping them have a second chance for a decent life and realize their full potential makes me feel on top of this world.  I cannot choose one favourite.

Does Ahl Masr have to deal with acid attack victims? How do we help put a stop to such barbaric attacks?

Ahl Masr handles and cares for the treatment of all burn victims who seek our support including accidents caused by acid attacks. Ahl Masr also has a core program for prevention and awareness to raise people’s awareness on how to avoid and prevent burn accidents and take simple life-saving steps to protect themselves and their families from burns. The prevention and awareness program is activated in schools, universities, partner corporations, NGOs. In addition, a public awareness communication campaign is underway to be implemented in 2017 to expand the reach of these protective messages to a wider audience and to the benefit the Egyptian public.

Do you plan to found another organization in the future that targets a different issue?

For the time being, we are only giving our time and effort to help the burn victims, and fulfill our dream of building the first non profit burn hospital in the Middle East and Africa, with the highest international standards but maybe one day when the hospital is up and running, we might find another cause to adopt.

What advice would you normally give a burn victim in order for them to live a comfortable life?

You are a normal human being who has been injured, Ahl Masr will help you get the best treatment and care for your injury. In the meantime, accept God’s will and go on your life and pursue your dreams. You can also play an active role in educating those around you on how to protect themselves and their loved one from burn accidents and teach them how you want them to deal with you and other burn victims.

How can our readers help support Ahl Masr?

We all have one goal in mind, which is to reach a “Burn Free” society and all kinds of support are welcome. You can engage with us by visiting our website www.ahl-masr.org, follow us on Facebook: ahlmasrofficial or Instagram: ahlmasrofficial or call us on our hotline 16863. You can also support by donating money or time or even by spreading the word about what we do. I would also encourage everyone to go and buy a fire extinguisher and keep it handy at home and in the office. You will never know when the minute would come that you will need to use it.