“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” –Mahatma Gandhi
Gamal Talaat is certainly an example of a man who has dedicated his life to the service of others. Talaat, who was once an officer in the army, now spends his time helping thousands of women in Egypt. This country has previously been ranked as the worst in the Arab world for women’s rights. Luckily, there are people like Talaat, who are working to change that.
The project launched by Talaat is called el-Masryeen Awla, which translates to “Egyptians First”, and it aims to teach women how to earn a living out of making handicrafts. Talaat began pursuing his vision by simply traveling to public parks and teaching women in need how to create handicrafts. Word of his efforts began to spread leading Talaat to travel even farther in an effort to reach more women in other cities.
This desire to help others came from an experience with his daughter. Having suffered a lack of oxygen at birth, his daughter has lived her life with severe disabilities. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Talaat said, “I had the means to send my daughter to a hospital and care for her. But then I started thinking about what I could do for others who were not as fortunate — people with disabilities, people with economic needs, women, widows and divorcees who have no income. After I retired, I felt it was my duty to do something that could help them.”
The project grew from Talaat teaching people to make simple handicrafts in public parks to him offering courses on making jewelry and leather products, sewing and designing clothes, and reproducing Pharaoh antiques in major cities like Cairo and Giza.
Now there are training centers in Cairo and Giza that consist of up to 200 female trainers and 400 trainees. The trainers give lessons to newcomers at no cost. These new trainees, in turn, teach others. In the past 11 years Talaat has taught over 40,000 women how to make crafts that can be done at home.
Talaat told Al-Monitor, “The idea is very simple: Your factory is at your home. Each woman only needs a 1-meter size table at her home where she can work on it to create products. Even the children can be integrated into the task, so that the family’s energy is tuned to producing something and growing a business rather than spending time and energy watching TV or browsing the internet aimlessly.”
Talaat has also worked tirelessly to help ensure that some of the folkloric handicrafts designed and produced by the women in their at-home factories maintain their value. By urging the government to ban the importation of crafts such as Pharaonic statues and Ramadan lanterns from other countries, he is helping to strengthen the authentic women-made crafts from Egypt.
This is about the big picture for Talaat, who recognizes that when women benefit, the entire country benefits. “In order to make this society peaceful and to eradicate terrorism, people regardless of age and sex should have a job and economic power. This would prevent them from being the prey of extremist groups,” said Talaat to Al-Monitor.
Bill Gates once said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Talaat is, by that definition, the epitome of a leader.
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