Hope for a Brighter Future
Hope for a Brighter Future
In the centre of Cairo, residents have joined forces with the goal of helping their community. Their organization Ruwwad assists children, youth and families. A student article as part of the youth media project Bashkatib.
At the heart of Old Cairo, in the midst of its historic center, is a burial site that dates back to the year 641. It is known as Qibab al-Banat (the domes of the girls). It is one of the major landmarks of Ezbet Khairallah, a town that is socially disadvantaged, poor and at the mercy of arbitrary authorities. This is partly due to the fact that it was built without any regard for urban planning and codes – it is a community surrounded by history, disregarded by the present and faced with an uncertain future.
But Ezbet Khairallah is also home to young people who are full of hope and determination to change the present and find new prospects for a better future. In the year 2010, some of them joined forces to pursue the common goal of helping their community. They founded a non-profit community organization with the name Ruwwad for Development (the development pioneers).
There is no other place where they could learn these things
“We wanted to create a space where youngsters, parents and children from Khairallah and its surrounding areas could learn together.” This is how Ihab Jamal, Director of Ruwwad for Development begins his interview with us. “We want to support people in their search for appropriate career opportunities and inspire them to explore solutions to their problems.”
Asmaa Tarek is one of the founders of Ruwwad and in charge of the program childhood development, which provides kids with an environment that fosters learning and educates them about their rights. Tarek reports: “Our work with them is based on three pillars: provide academic and educational support, develop their reading and writing skills to compensate for the poor quality of instruction at school, and teach them values and positive behaviors. In a society that is mired in violence and social problems, there is no other place where they could learn these things.” She tells us that Ruwwad works with children between the ages of four and sixteen on five days a week. A day consists of four hours; two for schoolwork and two for recreational activities. Shirin Karim (12 years), who is a regular participant with Ruwwad, says that she also applies what she learns with Ruwwad at school: “Of course, when we learn something here, we can answer the teacher’s questions back at school. I share some of the things I learn here with my friends, like not to litter. Even if this center shuts down, I will continue to share with my friends what they taught me here.”
“They taught me how to read,” says 9-year-old Fathi Ayman. Fathi takes part in a lot of Ruwwad activities, like crafts, puzzles, computer and, his favorite, drawing. He adds: “I always leave a lot of room in my mind for creativity. We also learn to stage puppet shows.” Fathi likes the center better than school, because the people there respect him and his ideas, and there is no violence.
Everyone works together
Ruwwad’s second main program is youth organization, Director Ihab Jamal tells us. “This is our core program; this is how it all began. It is designed to strengthen young people’s social involvement. We grant them one-year academic scholarships that can be extended by another year. In return for the scholarship, the recipient volunteers for the community of Ezbet for four hours each week and participates in the ‘Dardashat’ Enrichment Program. One day each semester, the volunteers meet for four hours and talk about what they encountered, and their ideas to make Ezbet Khairallah a better place. Then they organize charity bazaars to supply clothing to the poor, or public health campaigns to make the area a nicer place.” Ahlam Salah (21 years old) spent more than 18 months with Ruwwad and took part in many activities until her dedication paid off: She was put in charge of the library and its activities. She says: “I used to be very introverted before I came across this organization. It made me a cooperative and active person.”
Ahmad Awad Allah, a volunteer with Ruwwad, tells us: “We organize theater shows for children. They revolve around important values, but also things like career information or social responsibilities.” About his experience with the organization, he says: “What matters most is how we function as a group, how we all work together. And then there is our work with children. When I first came here, I didn’t know how to handle children, but now I’m very good with them.”
Giving something useful The illiteracy rate in Egypt amongst people aged 15 or older is almost 30 percent; 20.5 percent of the men and 38.1 percent of the women cannot read and write sufficiently. Basim Abd al-Basit, volunteer and head of Ruwwad’s literacy program, comments on the problem: “As we were working with the children, we had the idea to start a literacy program. We noticed that there was a missing link in the chain, and that was the home [the parents]. The program is designed to teach parents what they need [in their daily lives] in order to see fast progress. We start with words the women need every day, while they’re cooking, for example, and that motivates them.”
Some participants in the literacy program talk about their experience: “The attitude here is very pleasant, and they give us something useful. Our instructor Basim teaches us things in a simple way, and we learn something new every day.” Another woman adds: “I’m excited to learn new things. It helped me teach my children at home. That was hard for me before, because it didn’t know how to read and write.”
In February of 2016, Ruwwad finished its third year. Jamal looks back: “We now have 139 young men and women working with us, from Ezbet Khairallah and the surrounding areas, such as Dar as-Salam and Masr al-Qadima. In addition, more than 500 children come to us each month.” The young volunteers also launched a new literacy campaign, ‘Nataallam’ (We are learning) with 85, mostly female, participants.
What makes Ruwwad special, according to Jamal, is the fact that locals are deeply involved with the organization, regardless of their educational background or religious affiliation. He adds: “The hallmark of our work is that we work with all children, teens and parents, and their religion is irrelevant to us.”