Shaimaa Yehia, 28, is a violinist with the Al Nour Wal Amal orchestra, a 40-strong ensemble of blind women from Cairo. The orchestra, which plays a full range of string and wind instruments, is run by the Al Nour Wal Amal Association, an Egyptian nongovernmental organization that takes in blind girls from Cairo’s poorest areas.
The association, founded in 1954 and whose name means light and hope, gives the girls a formal education in the mornings — emphasizing literacy and vocational training — and teaches them music in the afternoons.
Shaimaa entered when she was seven. In her first year, she was taught to read and write words and musical notes in Braille.
The following year, aged eight, she chose the violin as her instrument. She then spent five hours a day practicing and just one year later became a member of the association’s junior orchestra. At 12, she entered the senior orchestra, since then traveling with it across Europe to North America and Australia.
Unable to read music as they play, the orchestra’s musicians memorize it, typically carrying around 45 pieces in their heads at any one time, among them works by the Egyptian composer, Ahmed Aboeleid, and classical European pieces by Mozart, Brahms, Strauss, Tchaikovsky and others… see more