RI Travel Service helps scholars flee Egyptian unrest
Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar Jamie Gajewski was studying Arabic at Alexandria University before the civil unrest in Egypt. Rotary International Travel Service helped her and four other scholars leave the country safely. Photo courtesy Jamie Gajewski
Rotary International Travel Service (RITS) stepped in to help Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar Jamie Gajewski and four other scholars to leave Egypt when civil unrest made it unsafe for them to complete their scholarships there.
Gajewski, from Madison, Wisconsin, USA, was studying Arabic at Alexandria University. Rotarians and Rotaractors in Egypt took good care of her from the minute she arrived in the country five months ago until her safe departure. After widespread street demonstrations erupted on 25 January, her previously safe neighborhood in Alexandria was overrun by military tanks and demonstrators.
"My neighborhood is a labyrinth of dark, narrow streets, and in front of every building there were bands of men and young boys armed with wooden planks, metal rods, knives, and guns, working together to protect their businesses and families from looters," says Gajewski. "Overnight, this safe neighborhood became unstable and dangerous."
Gajewski says that when foreigners were urged to leave the country, Internet and cell phone interruptions made it difficult to get information about evacuations.
"I began receiving worried phone calls from Egyptian and foreign friends from all over the city," she says. "They heard reports of roving gangs armed with guns who were specifically targeting our neighborhood. Seeing as my roommate and I lived on the ground floor, our friends, including Rotaractors I met, began to devise a plan to get us out of our apartment and into a safer area."
Using a landline phone, Gajewski was able to reach her mother, Janet, who contacted RITS. Within 24 hours, RITS secured transportation to the airport, as well as a plane ticket to Kuwait. It also obtained flights out of the country for four other Rotary Scholars.
"It was pretty scary not having reliable communication with anyone. Since the Internet was shut down, all I brought to the airport was a slip of paper with my ticket number written on it," says Gajewski. "Within a few hours, I was in Kuwait and continued on to Germany, Belgium, and finally France. I'm very lucky Rotary was there to pull me out."
Gajewski says the Egyptian Rotarians and Rotaractors she met became close friends. "They were involved in every facet of my life," she says. "I never went a day without a phone call, an e-mail, or a personal visit from someone. It really was comforting to know they were there when things got bad."
She says Rotary has a strong presence in Egypt, and Rotarians are already making efforts to help in affected areas. Club members are also handing out food to families in need.
Gajewski acknowledges that it's unlikely she'll be able to return to Egypt. She is scheduled to finish her scholarship at the University of Granada in Spain.
"I wish I could have said goodbye to my friends the way I would have liked," she says. "I worry about their safety. I hope all Egyptians can achieve their goals peacefully and return the country to stability."