Sitting in her downtown Cairo office, Yasmin Helal is confident, quick to smile, yet undeniably grounded. She knows how far she’s come, but is equally aware of the challenges that lie ahead. It’s been about six years since she started Educate Me, a charitable effort to provide education for underprivileged children. What had started off as a side-project was transformed into a full-fledged career. Yasmin spoke to eniGma’s Mahmoud al Badry about her journey.
Back in 2010, Yasmin, known to be an overachiever, was an engineering graduate with three years of experience under her belt and a member of the Egyptian national basketball team. Little did she know it at the time, but her life was about to be altered forever by a mere interaction with a stranger on the streets of Cairo. In the midst of one of her hectic days, Yasmin encountered a man who asked her for money to send his children into school. Sceptic of his real intentions, she followed him to the school to make sure that the money she gave him really went to his children’s schooling. Reassured that it was, Yasmin wasn’t satisfied by her contribution and felt that she needed and wanted to give more. “There are a lot of people like him, and there are a lot of people like me who wouldn’t mind helping get children to school,” Yasmin explained. She went on to create Educate Me, a fundraising initiative to send underprivileged kids to school.
As more people participated in her initiative, again she began feeling that she needed to do more. Questions about career goals and priorities soon started swirling in her mind. “I felt that my true passion was doing something that I really cared about, something that influences other people,” Yasmin says, looking back. So she left her budding engineering career and began focusing solely on making a difference in life through Educate Me.
Hand in hand with Educate Me’s stellar staff, Yasmin created an admirable framework that allows children to gain invaluable life lessons that simply can’t be found in most schools around the country. To her, “school and education aren’t the same thing.” It’s not about following a routine life trajectory of school to university to work. It’s about finding passion and pride in anything that we do. In Educate Me’s afterschool Talbiya centre, Yasmin’s ideals are expressed through a modern teaching program that affords children with a choice in their learning materials along with providing teachers with the necessary training that allows this process to flow productively and efficiently. In other words, the program’s deep attention to detail and its heavy emphasis on the facilitating role that teachers must provide allows it to focus on skills that mix “creativity, critical thinking, cooperation and productivity.” As Yasmin opines, “it’s not about how we deliver our message to children; it’s about how they receive it.”
Educate Me attempts to instill decision-making capabilities in students from a very young age. Doing so not only adds a fun element to the occasionally dull educational journey, but also allows children to forge their own identity rather than follow a premeditated path.
Throughout Yasmin’s successful efforts, one theme has remained constant: simplicity. She didn’t have any expectations when she started. What she had, however, was an idea, a purpose. Looking ahead, Yasmin isn’t content with the over 200 students that Educate Me has in its Talbiya after school centre; she wants to continue to expand to help in other parts of the country. She knows how much time and effort that will take, yet seems completely unfazed by it. After all, in her mind, “the only right decisions are those that are made for the right reasons.”