A Legacy to Follow

On Saturday, February 14, 2009, nearly 14 years ago prominent educationist and mother to so many generations, Magda Moussa lost her battle with lung cancer leaving behind a legacy of achievements. Allow us to mention some of her accomplishments; with any luck it will be an inspiration to many.

If you were lucky enough to visit Misr Language Schools at Magda Moussas’ time, you felt as if you are entering a celebration. A celebration fueled by the path for unbiased knowledge. A celebration filled with family, friends and laughing students. Magda Moussa juggled kisses, dance recitals, phone calls and endless bouquets of flowers with the grace of a butterfly.

She fluttered around the whole school, calling each student by name, giving out hugs and constantly smiling. Everyone loved her. She exudes warmth and generosity and her happiness was truly genuine. She was an exemplary beautiful woman, extremely charismatic and everyone felt her positive energy. After her death, her vibes are still felt at MLS by anyone who steps its doors.

The celebration turned into a remembrance of what once existed at MLS. Recollection of all the memories, reminiscing the laughter, the good old days, all those who lived her era, and are still able to work at the school, after all the love has gone away, are only doing so, to try their very best to continue in her footsteps, to make her presence a reality by making her dreams come true.

Today, her office, now a conference room, speaks of her achievements. Plaques of success adorn the wall. Full-Bright Scholarships, Ambassador of Good Will Diplomas (signed by Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas),

Young African Leader certificates and many, many more. All those surrounded by pictures of her “Special” students and her sons (who followed in her footsteps by working at the school), with Hillary and Bill Clinton at the White House. Former President Hosny Mubarak inaugurating the opening of the school, Suzanne Mubarak inaugurating a new wing (the teachers research and development center in 1988) and old pictures of Magda at the beginning of her career. It was obvious that Magda Moussa definitely came a long way.

In addition to her record of achievements, Moussa was a founding member of the Middle East North Africa Regional Advisory Council where she served as Secretary General from 1997 to 2001. She also played a pivotal role in getting Egypt to be the first Arab country to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in New York in March 2007. Moussa also launched “The Best Buddies” program through which normal children interact on a peer level with disabled ones.

Magda Moussa was an activist all her life. She sat on the education committee affiliated to the Specialized National Councils, was a member of the Supreme Council of Social Affairs, a member in the Egyptian Red Crescent Committee, President of the Special Olympics Egypt, Board Member of Special Egypt International, and a member of the Special Needs Committee of the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood. She was awarded the State Appreciation Prize for her pioneering role with the handicapped, and was invited to the Hall of Fame in the United States for an appreciation certificate in educational and social services. She was granted audience by Queen Elizabeth II, and was invited to dinner at the White House by former US president and George W. Bush held in honor of those who, in their own countries, were active in making the Special Olympics a success. Moussa is survived by her husband Ismail Osman, Former Special Olympics chairman in Egypt, and one son.

It all started in the 1970s, at the age of 27, she was the first school Principal in Egypt to integrate special classes for students with intellectually disablities with other classes at Al Horreya Language Schools. She devoted her life to the cause of advancing education in Egypt, and especially merging intellectually disabled children in mainstream schools, a move materialized in the 1985 when she founded and became Principal of Misr Language Schools.
Magda was in education business for almost 40 years. Her devotion to the intellectually disabled was called on immediately when she became close to a family who had a “special” son, didn’t know what to do with him and were thinking of putting him into an institution. Not baring the thought, she took him to El Horreya School, and began the first class integrated with intellectually disabled children. She faced so many difficulties at the beginning.

The whole school was upset, teachers didn’t know how to handle the boy and parents and students were uncomfortable. Magda, instead of giving up, took the time to educate the parents, the school and the students on the intellectually disabled boy. People were afraid of what was different, they had never directly dealt with “special” children before.” Soon her one student became a class of three and history was made. At Misr Language School, she started a fully integrated system. “The special” students mix with the normal students. They have music, art, gym and extracurricular activities together. The normal students have a better understanding of the other children and the intellectually disabled were psychologically stable because they are out and about with the other children.” It worked out perfect on all levels. Integration had proven itself; MLS was one of obvious harmony where there was laughter and creativity everywhere. She had managed to achieve cohesiveness in an area that usually alienates. “The parents were happier and the students progressed quicker. She thus led the call to merge intellectually disabled children into the community, encouraging them and their families to discover and develop their skills, in an attempt to make them productive adults who would not be a burden on society. MLS had 2,500 students, 100 of which were handicapped and 7 are blind at that time. They were involved in Special Olympics, theater, a production of Annie, and were trained to work when they graduate. They worked out in a state of the art gym, played on the soccer field, sculpted with clay and weaved rugs.Along with her 2,500 children (she really considered them her own) Magda had 3 sons and 1 daughter, a combination of hers and her second husband, Ismail Osman who proudly remembers that she was able to combine her family and public responsibilities with such grace and kindness. Magda handled all students on a mental, emotional and spiritual level so that no matter what mental capacities they had, she was able to deal with them. She recognized their strengths and gave them power. She recognized their uniqueness and potential and helped them attain their needs and aspirations, no matter who they were.“Beauty of the soul reflected itself on her face,” Her supportive husband states until today. This was clearly the reason why Magda was so beautiful. Of her beauty she hersely spoke humbly, She jogged everyday and/or went on the treadmill. I remember she once stopped because of an accident she had but recalling her “special” children and their accomplishments, gave her strength. Magda’s eyes always filled with tears when she spoke of her love for her students.

She believed that at MLS, everyone recognized that all pupils were different. Her purpose was to provide them with varied experiences that will enable them to achieve their maximum potential and become productive members of society. Magda never saw herself as a separate entity to her school and her work. Magda’s youthfulness clearly comes from working with her “special” children and seeing them survive in this harsh world that could easily walk all over them. She acknowledged that that was where her true happiness came from. “If I am youthful or beautiful, I owe it all to them”, she always said. Her dream was simple, to make all children of the world happy. At least in our world, her dream came true! She worked until her last breath, only stopped going to MLS a week before her death. Her dying wish was asking everyone to look after Misr Language Schools. One has to mention that Misr Language Schools (MLS) Was Inaugurated By His Excellency Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, President Of Egypt, In April 1985. The School Premises Covers An Area Of 17.6 Acres And Is Located Next To The Great Pyramids Of Giza. Magda Moussa dedication and commitment led to the Expansion of MLS To Include The Following Divisions: National, Mission Laïque Française, American, British And Division For Students With Intellectual Disabilities. She died leaving behind an extremely well-established school with four successfully running divisions, an unbeatable reputation and recognition across the country.

The Special Olympics movement was introduced under Magda Moussa’s guidance in 1994 when she launched the program in Egypt, Changing the lives of over 30,000 Special Olympics athletes in Egypt. Special Olympics Egypt and the lives of Egyptians with intellectual disabilities would not be what it is today without Magda Moussa.
Dedicated to social and educational justice, compassionate advocate for those who are vulnerable, she devoted her life to bringing happiness and achievement to the intellectually disabled. Following in the footsteps of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics International, Moussa was able to make Special Olympics Egypt an example to be followed, and transformed the program into not only one of the leading programs in the region but was honored as the best the world over.

The motto of the contestants was: “Let’s win. But if we can’t, let’s have the honour of at least having tried”. During Moussas’ tenure SOE won 45 medals in the 2007 Special Olympics in Shanghai, and 12 medals in the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. After her death the program was unfortunately seized by her nephew, from all those who originally launched it with Magda Moussa, even Ismail Osman was left out of the Egyptian program. That was the end to the true Special Olympics Egypt program and was handed to a group of people who knew nothing about the beginning and the true cause of the movement and the struggle Magda Moussa had to make this program a success. Every great story comes to an end. But to say that the lot of people with intellectual disabilities in Egypt had improved because of Special Olympics is so grossly understated as to be meaningless. Mousses’ life movement did nothing less than release an entire population from a prison of ignorance and misunderstanding. It did something else, to create a cathartic covenant between competitor and fan that is unlike anything else in sport. You watch and what you see is nothing less than a transformation, the passage of someone who has been labeled unfortunate, handicapped, disabled or challenged to something else: A UNIQUE ATHLETE

Magda Moussa knew this could happen. Forty years ago she saw it all. For that, we recognize her as one of those revolutionaries who saw opportunity where others saw barriers, someone who started a movement, lived a life of philanthropy and changed our world. Nothing or no one can deny that or change the reality that changed thousands of lives, in so many different fields of life. We cannot replace her, but we can dedicate ourselves to her memory. She was a legendary force for countless ideas and movements in Egypt and around the region. Everyone who called upon her found the same combination of insight and kindness. She was a treasure not only to her family, her students, Misr Language Schools, the Egyptian Society but also to the whole Arab region.

Shahinaz Shehata