Visiting Mr. Fattah

Sayed Fattah, Teacher Training Class of 1938

Outdoor group portrait of members of the 1937-1938 Harvard Class.

A group photo of the members of the 1937-1938 Harvard Class. Sayed Fattah is on the left with his hand in his coat pocket. A full description with class members identified is available on Flickr (bit.ly/ClassOf1938).

February 13, 2020

In 1937, Sayed Fattah traveled to Watertown from Egypt to participate in the 1937-1938 Harvard Teacher Training program. The Teacher Training Program, as it became known at Perkins, was founded in 1920 and was the first formal training initiative in the United States for teachers of the blind. A partnership between Perkins and Harvard, the program combined rigorous study at Harvard with experiential learning inside Perkins classrooms. Participants lived on Perkins’ campus, working closely with students and staff. 

As a member of the class, Fattah wrote two papers: “Blind in Egypt, Their Education: How and What It Should Be” and “Vocational Training and Vocational Guidance in the School for the Blind.” After his time at Perkins, Mr. Fattah returned to Egypt and joined the Department of Education (Lantern, 3/15/1945). 

A letter from Mr. Fattah was published in a 1942 issue of The Lantern. He wrote to share news that the Queen of Egypt was “kind enough to visit all the institutions and associations for the blind around Cairo. This visit marked an epoch in the life of our blind people. The Minister of Education proclaimed in front of her Majesty that, in memory of her gracious visit, two institutions and two workshops attached to them will be opened next September. So, when Perkins, the father re-opens, he will have two little new-born Perkins, Jr. in Egypt. Such news, I know, will be interesting to you and the Perkins Family.”

Fattah’s relationship to Perkins continued in 1952 when Helen Keller and Polly Thomson traveled to Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. While in Egypt, Keller and Thomson met with Fattah. In a July 2, 1952 letter to Nella Braddy Henney, Keller wrote that, “The good school and workshop for the blind at Zeitoun and the splendid institute for deaf girls opened by the Government owe their existence to the untiring perseverance of Mr. Sayyed Fattah….” She described Fattah as, “a jolly, lovable man, an undiscourageable optimist, whose jokes made me laugh away difficulties whenever we met.”

In an essay about her visit, “My Work in the Near East,” Keller described her visit School for Deaf Girls at Matariah with Fattah: “In that capacity he had waged a persevering campaign against popular prejudice and governmental indifference to obtain several schools for the blind and the deaf of Egypt. I have never experienced a more lovable nature than that of Mr. Fattah. …[H]e was inspired in his labors for the handicapped by the Perkins Institution. His beaming optimism, overflowing goodness of heart and unfailing sense of humor qualified him admirably for his long struggle to give the deaf and the blind in Egypt a chance.”

The same year, Fattah attended an International Conference on the Education of the Blind was held in Holland. An article in The Lantern noted that “The world-wide influence of Perkins Institution was well displayed by the number of men and women who studied with us at one time or another” as they were in attendance at the conference

A note in the 1954 Annual Report announces that Fattah was now “the Inspector General of Education of the Handicapped in the Ministry of Education in Cairo.” 

A year later, in 1955, Perkins Director Edward J. Waterhouse, and his wife Sina, traveled to Egypt and visited with Fatta and his wife. He reported, “In Cairo we had for a guide Mr. Sayed Fattah who took the Harvard Course in 1938. He and Mrs. Fattah devoted their whole day to us, during which we visited the Zeitown School for Blind Boys and the Pyramid School for Blind Girls. These are Government Schools and there are quite a number more in the City which time did not permit us to visit. Afterwards we visited one of King Faourk’s rest houses where...Mrs. Waterhouse was made to feel thoroughly welcome to examine tactually all the rare treasures on display. We rode camels from the Pyramids to the Sphinx, visited the Citadel with its magnificent Mosque, sipped mint tea and smoked a water-pipe in the Bazaar where we also did a little shopping (Mr. Fattah did the bargaining and it was quite an educational experience) and finished by enjoying a magnificent Egyptian feast at the Fattah’s home.”

Waterhouse again traveled to Egypt in 1961 and wrote that “[Fattah] is responsible for the schools for the blind children as well as for children with other handicaps.” He concluded, “We have every right to be proud of him and his schools….”