Meet the Match

An Education Educators Wants to Make Dreams Realities

Yasmin Helal was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt. She grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and attended a private school.  As a child, she was stubborn and introverted. School was a breeze for Yasmin and didn’t challenge her in the ways she needed to be challenged. This ennui led to increased frustration and boredom. Yasmin’s mother suggested sport as a solution. Despite Yasmin’s initial lack of enthusiasm towards physical activity, her mother enrolled her in swimming lessons and a basketball league. This small act changed Yasmin’s life.

Through basketball, Yasmin was challenged mentally, physically, and socially – she learned to struggle, to compete, to set goals, to make friends, and to follow-through. Being on a team was a new concept for Yasmin, but one that gave her a sense of belonging and a higher purpose. “Basketball became my everything. It was my school for life. It taught me the importance and responsibility of being on a team, it taught me to set goals, it helped me to express myself, it allowed me to make true friends, and it helped me develop into a leader. These were not lessons I could find in school.”

With her mom’s support, Yasmin later went on to play for the Egyptian National Team. While playing professionally, she also attended Cairo University, where she studied Biomedical Engineering. Because of the difficulty of this major, Yasmin was one of the only students in her very male-dominated department to participate in any extracurricular activities. Despite the intensity of the program, Yasmin flourished, graduating with the highest honors and Top Ten in her class. She then accepted a job as a Radio Network Engineer for the telecom giant, Alcatel-Lucent. In just three short years, she was one of the company’s top performers.

According to Egyptian standards, Yasmin had it all – an excellent job, a prestigious degree, a spot on the National Team, a supportive family, and impressive socioeconomic status. And then one day, Yasmin encountered a beggar on the street who completely changed her understanding of life and human purpose. “I met a man on the street who asked me for money to send his children to school. I asked how much and he said, ‘$8 per child.’ I couldn’t believe it. That’s nothing; it’s like the same as a Burger King combo. I asked him to meet me the next day at the school so I could learn more. From there, I started a Facebook campaign among my friends to encourage them to give $30, which would cover the school fees, uniforms, and books for one child for an entire year. That was the beginning of Educate-Me.”

Shortly after this encounter, Yasmin left her job and officially founded the nonprofit Educate-Me. After a few months of research, she soon realized that the education system was failing the students they were paying to attend. Regardless of age, grade, or gender, most all of the students Yasmin met with were illiterate, even after attending school for more than a year. So Yasmin shifted her focus from supporting student attendance to creating a comprehensive after-school program based on the idea of “Dream-Driven Development.”

Yasmin’s program provides choices for students in very impoverished areas to pursue their dreams in education, sports, and the arts. Through this creative enrichment program, Yasmin is able to offer a number of courses in which students can choose their own paths for education and fulfillment. Currently, she works with more than 120 children and 20 mothers. Through the GSMP,  Yasmin would like to learn how to scale up the sports components within Educate-Me, especially focusing on the broader concepts of physical activity and active play.

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