Former Egyptian Women’s National Team Basketball star turned engineer turned social entrepreneur comes to Oakland to innovate with Playworks mentor
Oakland, CA—September 26, 2014— A former Egyptian women’s basketball star and telecommunications engineer who left both worlds to start a school for underprivileged Egyptian children is spending three weeks at Playworks’ national office in Oakland as part of the Global Sports Mentoring Program, an effort co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and espnW.
The program, begun during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s tenure and designed to advance the rights and participation of women and girls through the use of sports, pairs emerging female leaders from around the world with mentors here in the U.S. The mentors and their organizations are helping these women to develop their business and leadership skills to take back to their home countries. Playworks was chosen as one of 17 mentor organizations because of its leadership in the education and sports fields.
The Egyptian mentee, Yasmin Helal, was known as one of her country’s leading women’s basketball stars; she continued to play after becoming an engineer in a top multinational telecommunications company. Her life changed four years ago after meeting a desperate man on the street: he asked her for $20 to send his daughters to school. Shocked that so little money was keeping his children from receiving an education, Helal quit her job and, in the chaotic aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, started a foundation called Educate-Me to teach children aged 4-15 from impoverished families.
Helal is being mentored by Playworks’ Chief Marketing Officer Tonya Antonucci, who is an apt choice: she was a soccer star while at Stanford University and went on to become an early product and business leader at Yahoo! and later the founder and first commissioner of Women’s Professional Soccer, a U.S.-based league featuring the world’s top Olympic athletes. She is leading the activities to help Helal develop a robust action plan to move her Cairo school to the next level.
“As I look at the work Playworks has achieved in the U.S., I see where Educate-Me can be in about 15 years,” said Helal. “I’m learning so much that I can take back home, and I know there are many things I’ll be able to implement despite the differences between our countries and the particular hardships facing Egypt right now. It’s critical that we keep up the effort to make sure young underserved children don’t get left behind as we go through this tumultuous time – they are our future.”
Helal’s foundation now has 16 staff and 50 volunteers; more than 200 children are enrolled in the school with more than 450 on a waiting list. Fundraising efforts are ongoing, hampered by the difficulty of accepting funds from outside the country.
“We’re all thrilled to have Yasmin with us,” said Antonucci. “What she’s accomplished in Egypt is remarkable, and we feel like we’re learning as much from her as she is from us. And we’re not the only ones who are delighted to have her here – she’s already visited a Playworks recess and the kids were overjoyed to have this well-known basketball star from another country join them on the court!”
Helal is continuing her work at Playworks’ office and with visits to several Playworks schools in the Bay Area. She will be with the organization until October 4th.
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Playworks believes in the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. The national non-profit organization creates a place for every kid on the playground – a place where every child belongs, has fun and is part of the game. Playworks currently serves more than 900 schools in 23 cities, and reaches approximately 425,000 students directly and through professional training services.