Helping a shantytown help itself
Volunteers paint the new schoolhouse, financed by Rotarian Mamdouh Badr el Dein to provide literacy and vocational training classes.Photo courtesy of the Rotary Club of Cairo-Zamalek, Egypt.
Egyptian Rotarians have joined forces with a local charity to help families in a Cairo shantytown become self-sufficient. The project, partly financed by a US$9,335 Rotary Foundation Matching Grant, provides residents of the poverty-stricken Establ Antar community with vocational training and other educational opportunities.
The idea for the effort came from a group of young Egyptians who had been working with the Sohbet Kheir Organization to provide free meals to families in the shantytown. Though they realized the importance of short-term nutrition, they determined that Establ Antar’s residents needed skills to support themselves. The group presented a plan to the Rotary Club of Cairo-Zamalek, which obtained support from the Rotary Club of Berlin-Nord, Germany, and the project was born.
Establ Antar is a community of tiny, one-room homes made of wooden boards and cloth, clustered around the historic Antar citadel. There is no plumbing; water is delivered by donkey cart. “The conditions are quite desperate,” says Sohbet Kheir Organization project leader Yasmina Abou Youssef, whose father, Mohamed Abou Youssef, is a member of the Cairo-Zamalek club. “Rotary provided assistance, and now we are making a big difference.”
So far, more than 280 people — mostly women and children — have enrolled in courses offered through the project. Children receive instruction in literacy, English, art, sports, and moral development, and adults take classes in literacy and handicrafts. Project leaders are looking for wholesalers and shops to regularly sell the students’ creations, and someone has already purchased 1,500 bracelets. In the future, the effort may provide computer courses and a Montessori school for children.
Meanwhile, community members are being trained to spread messages door to door about health, hygiene, crime, and environmental issues. They’re also involved in implementing the overall project, giving them a sense of ownership. “That is something very unique,” says Youssef. “This is a one-of-a-kind project in Egypt.”
This article appears in the April issue of Rotary World.