What an amazing experience it was being in Egypt for two weeks! I can hardly believe the opportunity and gift given to me to come in contact with such courageous people — change-making entrepreneurs, advocates for the disabled, and rising leaders in communities.
The professional and cultural exchange was made possible through the Professional Fellowship Program administered by Hands Along the Nile Development Services (HANDS) based in Arlington, VA, their partner organization CEOSS based in Cairo, and funded by the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
It all started with Amal Youssef, a fellow in the program from Egypt, who spent three weeks with EWI last October. You can read about her experience in the blog, Women’s Empowerment, a Cross-Cultural Vision. The program aims to strengthen the leadership capacity and professional skills of professionals from Egypt and Tunisia engaged with organizations and institutions dedicated to promoting the economic empowerment of women and build bridges between similar organizations and professionals in the US.
Then it was my turn to go to Egypt.
I hadn’t anticipated how much it would move and inspire me. Our days were filled with field visits to Egyptian NGOS, dialogues about particular development initiatives, broader institutional challenges, and how each organization is addressing such critical needs of people and their communities.
Organizations That Were Super Inspiring
Think and Do Development Association
“Some think but do not do. Some do without thinking.” This is what inspired the Think and Do Development Association to be different, to not only change the way people think, but to act in innovative ways to address high unemployment among poor and marginalized communities in Cairo. One of the core programs is vocational, life skills, and awareness training. We met several women who had completed skills training courses in hairdressing, sewing, and accessory making. Each spoke about how the program gave them opportunities they never dreamed of, how they felt more confident by attending the life skills courses, and how they were now growing their small businesses out of their homes.
APE – Association for the Protection of the Environment
If you can imagine an oasis in the midst of a garbage village, then that place is APE. For several generations garbage collector families, or zabbaleen, have made the garbage village their home and work and way of life. APE has created innovative ways to support their way of life with income generating programs that also support the environment and their health which are impressive. One such program that supports the empowerment of women is skills training in rug weaving, patchwork, and recycled paper items, which are making their way to international markets.
Tourist and Cultural Sights
Of course we saw the Pyramids of Giza, historic sites and churches in Coptic Quarter in Old Cairo, historically important mosques and monuments in Islamic Cairo, and went to the Egyptian Museum to see King Tutankhamun’s tomb treasures, including his infamous gold mask (but no photos were allowed in the museum). We also went to Khan el-Khalili, a major bazaar where we started our shopping adventures.
With Much Gratitude
Thank you Alma Couverthie (Casa de Maryland), Kate McMahon (Ten Thousand Villages Alexandria), Linda Mastandrea (Attorney, Disability Rights Advocate, Chicago), Hani White (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center, Philadelphia), and Herman Nyamunga (The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, Philadelphia) for being delightful companions on this trip. I could not have asked for a better cohort! You opened my world to the powerful work you are all doing in immigrant rights and opportunities, advocacy for the disabled, and advancing sustainable livelihoods worldwide.
Thank you Jennifer Cate, Executive Director of HANDS for being our guiding star, Amir Roshdy and Nabil Ezzat at CEOSS for the making logistical magic everywhere, all CEOSS staff for their generosity and insight, and the US Department of State Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs for making this a spectacular cultural and professional experience.
A huge thank you to Marga Fripp for your boundless support in enabling me the extraordinary experience of going to Egypt! It was both professionally rewarding and personally meaningful and I come back with renewed determination.
My Take Away
The resilience and beauty of the Egyptian people has forever changed me. They are courageous in their approach to human rights, inclusion, participation and access as a foundation for working with marginalized people in such impoverished areas. Their hope and determination are deeply moving. And they are succeeding. Change is happening. Perceptions are being altered. Lives are being transformed.
It is this inspiration that I return with, that in my corner of the world, we too have great work ahead. EWI exists to give women a chance, where ideas come alive and flourish. Women have a right to be empowered and participate fully in their lives and in their communities. Their micro-enterprises become so much more…they pave the way to access, inclusion, and participation. Change happens and lives are transformed. Empowerment matters. It is here where my work begins again.
Written by Mary Louise Marino, Director of Programs & Operations, EWI