Archives - ‘Egypt’


July 29, 2010 | Meaghan, Intern, Egypt, Alwan-Wa-Awtar

My role here has really started to come together over the last few weeks. The summer program has just begun and the days have become extremely busy, the hours fly by. In the morning I teach English for one hour, this is immediately followed by three hours of either violin or drama class. I teach three different classes in each subject, this makes a grand total of around 60 students.

I have an hour break from three until four and then I teach English or violin to any children who come in and are not part of the summer program. The summer program is a two month program designed to give children the opportunity to experience all of the activities that Alwan wa Awtar has to offer. This way they can select their favourite subjects to purse further during the school year.

So far my biggest challenge has been teaching the drama class. Each group consists of ten students. They do not know any English, but I have been charged with the task of both writing, teaching and directing a play…in English. The first few sessions have rendered little progress but I think that in time they will begin to remember their lines. In order for them to understand what the play is about, I drew a storyboard, the play itself is a simplified version of Sleeping Beauty.

My violin students are little prodigies. Well not quite, but I have never taught a group of students so eager to learn. One little boy in particular never seems to want to put it down. Somehow he always knows at exactly what time I arrive in the morning, he will see me approaching the NGO from afar and run out shouting..


That is another thing, the “gh” part of my name is a difficult concept for most of the little ones, so it comes out “Maggy” instead and camanga is the arabic word for violin.

In other news, I’d like to know why on earth Celine Dion is SO famous over here? All the kids ever want me to play, or sing for that matter is the theme from Titanic. What is even more surprising is that they know every single…word.

Anyway, I have to get back to fiddling on the roof/ improving my tan. It is coming along quite nicely for a ginger.

Ta ta!

First days in Mokattam, Cairo

July 29, 2010 | Meaghan, Intern, Egypt, Alwan-Wa-Awtar

Cairo is an extraordinary place, I have never been met with such kindness everywhere I go; I seem to find new friends in every corner of the city.

I live in an area called Mokattam, which is far above the hustle and bustle of the downtown core. It is situated on a hill that overlooks the rest of Cairo. On a clear day you can see the pyramids far off in Giza. They say it is always 2 degrees cooler up here and that the air is fresher. After walking around down below on a sunny afternoon I certainly believe it.

Mokattam is primarily a residential area and only really began expanding a few years ago. I am fortunate because my NGO is located just down the street, literally a 5 minute microbus ride. I have not had to brave the microbus yet because my host dad has been kind enough to drive me for the first few days of work. Although I think I’m almost ready to tackle it on my own.

My host family is amazing; Nashwa and Fadwa, my host sisters are my age, so we have a lot in common. It seems that the best way to make Mama happy is to eat everything she gives me, which can be a real challenge, believe me. Mama only speaks Arabic but Nashwa and Fadwa are fully fluent in both languages. This is awesome because I never have to worry about miscommunication.

The NGO I am placed in is called Alwan wa Awtar and caters to the children living in what is known as the “Earthquake Neighbourhood”. In the early 90’s an earthquake devastated much of Cairo, leaving many homeless. As a result, the government set up housing in Mokattam for families to live in. This of course, explains the sudden population growth in Mokattam during the 90’s. Therefore, the majority of children in this area of Mokattam come from humble beginnings, and prior to the establishment of Alwan wa Awtar, they would entertain themselves by playing on the street. The purpose of this NGO is to keep children off the street and cultivate learning through art and education. They have several volunteers who come in throughout the week and teach classes in everything from music to puppetry.

My first few days have been fairly quiet. I have been told that the kids still have exams for another month and a half, which is why there are very few coming in during the afternoons. This is a little disappointing because I am only here for three months after all, and a month and a half is a long time to be doing what seems like nothing. So far I have not been given any straightforward instructions of what my role is going to be, so I have just started teaching English to the small groups of kids that come in. They also have two violins and I have begun giving lessons to a few students. They are fabulous, and despite the language barrier they seem to be catching on quite quickly!

I am having a swell time, but I hope things pick up soon!

20 chickens and 3 camels

July 29, 2010 | Meaghan, Intern, Egypt, Alwan-Wa-Awtar

Egyptian men are absolutely off the wall insane when it comes to women. They follow me, they hoot, they whistle and they just don’t give up. Microbus drivers will pucker their lips, and send kisses my way via their rear-view mirrors, others will just go for it and propose on the spot. My highest bidder has offered 20 chickens and 3 camels, although I think I could get him to push it up to 50 chickens if I tried hard enough.

I went to get a foul sandwich today from the foul man down the road. While wrapping my lunch he started jeering at the ice cream man sitting in his shop a few feet away. The ice cream man replied and they started getting into a heated conversation that ended with both of them beckoning to me and smiling far too sweetly. I was completely oblivious and quite confused at this point, especially when my friend started laughing. It turns out that the foul man had said that I liked his foul WAAAY more than I liked the other storekeepers ice cream, who was quite certain that I enjoyed his ice cream MORE than the other man’s bean paste. Then they started arguing over which one of them I was in love with.

Life is difficult sometimes, but the truth is I just really love food.

Nevertheless, the harassment can be a bit overwhelming at times. It hasn’t really bothered me yet, but the one thing that does trouble me is the atmosphere it creates for the women who live here. Many of the teenage girls I teach explain that they are afraid to walk alone in many parts of the city, or even in their own neighbourhood for that matter. It really limits their freedom and ability to do what they wish. One girl loves football but cannot even play the sport at the club because it is considered to be a man’s game; they harass her to no end.

There are many teenagers who come into Alwan wa Awtar just so they can be around members of the opposite sex. The library is their refuge and the only reason that many of them partake in the field trips is so they can all be together. This is the only circumstance under which their parents allow them to mingle.

Many of the schools here are separated according to sex, so they do not even have the opportunity to work alongside each other. How are they ever going to learn to respect one another if they can’t even witness what the other is capable of achieving? Many young men are just are not given an opportunity to develop respect and admiration for their female schoolmates and friends. They are only ever able to view them from afar, creating frustration that eventually transforms into the hoots and hollers that you hear on the street.

I have hope however, because the children and youth that I see coming in everyday do respect one another and are eager to work as a team. When my drama students performed their play last week, they all cheered and high fived each other afterward, boys and girls. On the stage everyone is equal; it does not matter if you are male or female, short or tall. Throughout the process they helped each other with their lines and I would even see them practicing outside after each rehearsal. It is this kind of group cohesion that the NGO strives to create and I am sure that in time, these kids will grow up and initiate positive change within their society.

Départ difficile

July 28, 2010 | Éliane, stagiaire, Égypte, AWA

Je dois dire que je me sens comme si mon dernier mois de stage n’a jamais existé. Tout est arrivé tellement vite. Même au début du mois, je me sentais comme si je devais déjà faire mes adieux à plusieurs personnes.

Depuis le début de mon stage, on m’avait dit que pour mon troisième mois, je changerais de famille. Durant la première semaine de juillet, j’ai emménagé avec ma nouvelle famille qui est complètement différente de ma première famille d’accueil. Mon expérience avec cette famille a été tellement différente qu’avec la première. Au début, je me demandais s’il était souhaitable que je change de famille aussi tard durant mon stage car je devrais m’adapter à une autre famille et, en quelque sorte, recommencer à zéro. Toutefois, je me suis adaptée très rapidement à ma nouvelle famille et je crois qu’avoir eu une expérience dans deux familles est très bénéfique pour moi. En effet, ils ont un style de vie complètement différent de ma première famille. En effet, ils sont un couple plus âgé et ils ont cinq enfants dont quatre demeurent encore à la maison et qui sont tous à peu près de mon âge. Je partage une chambre avec mes deux sœurs et je crois qu’avoir des frères et sœurs de mon âge à vraiment facilité mon intégration à la famille. Je pouvais aussi me déplacer plus librement comme j’étais pratiquement au centre-ville. Je pouvais même marcher à mon travail et à plusieurs magasins, cafés et restaurants ce qui simplifie beaucoup les choses.

De plus, durant le troisième mois de mon stage, j’étais assez occupée au travail, mais je me sentais parfaitement à l’aise. Mes collègues étaient devenues des amies et je les voyais souvent à l’extérieur des heures de travail. Je continuais de donner des cours d’anglais mais seulement à deux groupes, ce que je trouvais plus facile car cela me permet de faire plus de visite dans d’autres organismes. J’ai beaucoup appris sur le fonctionnement des différentes ONG et sur leur travail au sein de la communauté. Je peux dire que j’ai une idée beaucoup plus claire de se qu’implique le développement international. Je crois que toutes ces expériences, m’ont permis d’apprendre à me connaître, surtout en ce qui à trait à mes forces et mes faiblesses. J’ai une meilleure idée de se que je peux faire, mais j’ai aussi eu la chance de voir ce que je peux accomplir si je me pousse à sortir de ma zone de confort.

Enfin, ce troisième mois de stage, m’a vraiment permis de faire le point sur mon expérience à Minia. J’ai tellement appris des gens que j’ai rencontrés en Égypte. La générosité des gens est probablement l’un des aspects qui m’a le plus marqué. Les gens sont toujours prêts à tout vous donner et à tout faire pour que l’on soit plus confortable. Même si mon style de vie en Égypte ne ressemble pas vraiment à celui que j’ai au Canada et que j’ai eu un peu de difficulté à m’habituer à mon nouveau style de vie. Je me suis attachée tellement rapidement aux gens de Minia. Que se soit à mon travail ou dans mes familles d’accueil, j’ai rencontré des gens vraiment incroyables qui m’ont réellement marqués. Mon retour à la sera un peu difficile je crois, mais je sais que je serai de retour un jour à Minia.

Working with AWA

July 23, 2010 | Éliane, stagiaire, Égypte, AWA

Le secteur du développement international est incroyablement vaste et complexe. Dans mes études, j’ai pu toucher à plusieurs enjeux lié au développement international. Toutefois, c’est la question de la condition féminine qui a le plus attirée mon intérêt. C’est donc pourquoi, dans mon processus de choix de mon quatrième stage, j’ai souhaité travailler pour une association qui travaille principalement avec les femmes.

Avant d’arriver à Minia, j’avais une description plutôt générale de l’organisme pour lequel j’allais travailler et de mes tâches. Je savais seulement qu’Arab Women Alliance (AWA) était un organisme qui offre un soutien aux femmes qui veulent lancer leur propre entreprise.

Ce n’est qu’en arrivant à Minia que j’ai appris que je travaillerais au sein d’AWA dans la branche de Women Technical Support Unit (WTSU). Cet organisme aide les femmes à lancer leur propre entreprise surtout dans les métiers artisanaux. Je travaille avec 4 autres jeunes femmes et la plupart sont de mon âge. Dès les premiers jours, ma superviseure m’avait déjà fait un plan de mes tâches pour le premier mois. Durant mon stage, mon travail consistera surtout d’enseigner l’anglais et de participer à différentes formations dans des villages et dans des associations à Minia.

Je dois avouer que je ne sentais pas qualifiée pour enseigner quoi que se soit. Je suis arrivée à Minia avec l’impression que j’avais tout à apprendre alors lorsque l’on m’a demandé ce que je pouvais enseigner, j’ai eu un peu de difficulté à répondre. Au début, je me sentais donc un peu mal à l’aise face à l’idée d’enseigner l’anglais car j’ai l’impression de manquer d’expérience et de qualification. Toutefois, une fois mes cours commencés, je me suis aperçue que les gens ne veulent pas vraiment apprendre la grammaire. Ils veulent seulement pouvoir avoir une conversation avec quelqu’un et pouvoir se pratiquer avec une personne qui parle la langue. En effet, ce qui les intéressait principalement, était la bonne prononciation des mots. De plus, j’avais une collègue qui m’aidait à traduire ce qui m’aidait beaucoup.

J’ai également eu la chance de visiter et de participer à différentes formations dans des villages. J’ai énormément appréciée ces séances de formation car j’ai pu voir les bénéfices de tels services pour les femmes et les communautés en milieux rural. En effet, les femmes de ces villages n’ont souvent pas accès à certaines informations pour prendre soin de leurs enfants et de leur famille. De plus, elles sont souvent dans des conditions très précaires et elles arrivent difficilement à subvenir à leurs besoins. J’ai pu voir que les communautés et, particulièrement les femmes, apprécient ces services qui les aident de manière concrète. Ces visites m’ont aussi permis de voire et de comprendre la réalité des gens dans les communautés rurales.

J’ai eu beaucoup de chance car je travaillais avec une jeune femme qui était impliquée dans toutes sortes de projets, de comités et d’association. Elle m’a donc présenté à tous ses contacts et j’ai pu assister à plusieurs conférences, notamment sur la participation des femmes dans la sphère politique. J’ai eu la chance de rencontrer des femmes impressionnantes qui ont fait un travail remarquable pour améliorer la condition des femmes à Minia.

Un élément que j’ai trouvé particulièrement intéressant, est le fait que mon organisation, qui a comme but d’aider les femmes, offre également beaucoup de services aux hommes. En effet, beaucoup des formations telles que les cours d’anglais et d’informatiques sont ouvertes aux hommes. L’idée est, bien sûr, que le développement ne peut pas se faire sans la participation des hommes et qu’il ne faut pas laisser de côté les hommes si on souhaite obtenir une société juste et plus égalitaire.

En somme, je dois dire que j’ai été très surprise de voir à quel point la société civile a une place importante dans la société égyptienne. La quantité d’organisation et d’association qui œuvre dans le développement est assez impressionnante. Il semble y avoir une véritable volonté d’améliorer la condition des gens et particulièrement des plus démunis. Ce qui manque dans la grande majorité des cas, se sont les fonds pour pouvoir aider suffisamment les gens.

Découverte d’une nouvelle culture

July 23, 2010 | Éliane, stagiaire, Égypte, AWA

Bonjour, je me présente. Mon nom est Éliane et je suis étudiante en quatrième année en Développement international et mondialisation à l’Université d’Ottawa. Le développement international est évidemment un domaine qui m’intéresse beaucoup et je suis entièrement satisfaite de mon programme. Toutefois, la fin de mon bac approchant, je trouvais que je manquais d’expérience sur le terrain. En effet, je suis toujours incertaine quant à mon choix précis de carrière et je trouvais nécessaire d’acquérir plus d’expérience sur le terrain afin de mieux comprendre le développement international.

J’ai toujours eu un intérêt particulier pour la région du Maghreb et du Moyen-Orient. L’Égypte m’a donc paru comme un choix idéal pour faire mon stage et connaître une nouvelle culture. Je dois admettre que même si j’avais déjà passée deux semaines en Égypte en 2005, je connaissais vraiment très peu de la culture du pays et je ne savais pas exactement à quoi m’attendre. De plus, la ville de Minia, où j’allais passer mon séjour, est située en Haute-Égypte qui est beaucoup plus conservatrice que la Basse-Égypte qui est principalement composée du Caire et d’Alexandrie.

Minia est une ville d’environ 4 millions d’habitants en Haute-Égypte. En arrivant, au Caire, les gens nous me disait à quel point Minia était une petite ville et ils étaient tous surpris que j’allais y passer trois mois. Au début, je trouvais très surprenant qu’une ville de 4 millions d’habitant puisse être considérée comme une petite ville tranquille. Pourtant, après une semaine ou deux, j’ai compris que cette ville était effectivement très tranquille et petite. En effet, la ville est beaucoup moins achalandée que le Caire et il y a beaucoup moins de circulation sur les routes. Le coût de la vie est aussi beaucoup moins élevé. Les gens sont plus détendus et passe généralement plus de temps avec leur famille. Il est aussi vrai qu’il y a moins d’activités qu’au Caire et qu’on fait rapidement le tour des activités de Minia. Pourtant, je n’ai jusqu’à présent jamais eu le temps de m’ennuyer. Les gens sont incroyablement sympathiques et m’invite tout le temps dans leurs maisons et à faire des activités avec eux. Il y a, en Égypte, cette fascination avec les étrangers qui est assez particulier

En arrivant à Minia, comme je l’ai dit, je n’avais qu’une idée assez vague de la culture. Un élément qui ressort particulièrement dans les médias et dans l’esprit des gens lorsqu’on pense à la région du Maghreb et du Moyen-Orient, est le rôle de la femme dans la société. J’avais donc hâte de pouvoir apprendre à connaître cet aspect de la culture et le vivre d’une certaine manière. Toutefois, je dois mentionner qu’en Égypte, il y a cette fascination avec les étrangers qui est assez particulière et les gens sont très curieux et veulent leur parler. Mon expérience n’est donc pas seulement définie par le fait que je sois une femme, mais surtout, une femme étrangère.

Je peux dire que durant mon premier mois, m’adapter à la culture a été un peu difficile. En effet, je me suis retrouvée dans un pays où je ne connaissais pas la langue ou la culture, et où la place des femmes est très différente qu’au Canada. Je me suis donc sentie comme si je perdrais une grande partie de mon indépendance. En effet, je restais dans une famille d’accueil qui demeure dans un quartier très pauvre et populaire de la ville. Il était donc très risqué pour moi de sortir seule. Ma famille ne me laissait pas prendre de taxi seule et je devais être de retour à la maison avant 22h30.

De manière générale, il est mal vu à Minia qu’une jeune fille sorte seule tard le soir, mais comme je suis étrangère ici et que j’attire beaucoup l’attention, je dois faire preuve de prudence. En effet, il est assez commun que les jeunes filles reçoivent des commentaires de jeunes hommes, mais étant étrangère, j’attire encore davantage les regards. Ma famille et mes amis, pour me protéger et pour que je me sente à l’aise, ne me laisse pas vraiment sortir seule. Bien que je comprenne leurs inquiétudes et les valeurs qui les poussent à me protéger ainsi, j’ai trouvé difficile de perdre mon indépendance. Il est assez communs ici que les femmes doivent être accompagnée d’un homme de leur famille pour sortir tard le soir ou pour voyager. La culture a évidement beaucoup à voire avec cela. En arrivant en Égypte, je devais donc m’attendre à voire mes libertés se restreindre.

En somme, mes premières impressions en ce qui a trait à la place de la femme, sont grandement influencées par ma propre expérience à Minia. Je dois donc être prudente car mon expérience est bien sûr très différente de celle des femmes égyptiennes. Je dois m’assurer de mettre mes expériences en perspectives et m’assurer de ne pas évaluer chaque situation par rapport à mes valeurs en tant que Canadienne. En effet, je dois mettre de côté ma vision occidentale pour tenter de mieux comprendre la culture et les relations de genre en Égypte.

Minia, Closing Remarks

July 21, 2010 | Mikayla, Intern, Egypt, Tanweer Foundation for Education and Development

As the final week of my internship approaches I can’t help thinking how much I have changed. I often think of my first few weeks in Minia, Egypt, and recall the horror I felt that I would be spending three months in a city where “women can’t do anything!”

Since then I have learned that in Minia, women can do many things. Women are definitely marginalized and do not enjoy the same freedom as men, but they have learned to live in this situation and are fighting for a more egalitarian society. The women of Minia have taught me how to transform this “less than ideal” situation into an amazing experience. I have learned how to live in such a society and how to make long, lasting relationships with both men and women.

It makes me laugh thinking how fast the time has gone by. Though there have been ups and downs, I have learned so much from my internship in Minia and am very sad at the thought of leaving. I have built a new family and a new life, one that I will miss dearly. Last night my friends threw me a surprise party in homer of my stay. It was touching to see how many people came to say goodbye and to hear their kind words and wishes.

I keep wondering about how I will feel when I return to Canada. It will be strange returning to my “normal” life, my “normal” family, my “normal” friends, and my “normal” work. What is “normal” in Canada is not longer what I consider normal, after finally adapting to the Egyptian idea of the word. I think finding a job will be one of the hardest tasks for me. I have been so satisfied and happy with my work at the Tanweer Foundation that I cannot imagine ever finding a comparable job in Canada. Throughout these three months I have actually felt like I have made a positive contribution to society. I love my coworkers, and I am always happy to wake up in the morning to go to work. I feel like it will be very hard to find such amazing (paying) employment in Canada.

It is a surprise to me how much I have changed since arriving in Minia. Before coming I must admit that I considered myself to be an extremely adaptable, versatile person. I have both traveled and worked abroad and I figured this would be a “walk in the park”. Wrong. During my first week my bravado collapsed - all I could think about was how badly I wanted to come home. But I stayed, and am a better person for it. I feel like I had to re-learn how to be adaptable. I am far more patient now, and am (I think, and hope) more humble. I have learned some Arabic and a lot about Egyptian culture. I have made amazing friends and have been fortunate to work in an incredible NGO.

I think that this experience has been one of the most worthwhile of my University career. Not only has it provided me with practical experience and learning within my field, it has changed me for the better. It was nothing close to my initial expectations; it was much better than I could have possible imagined!

Tanweer Foundation for Education and Development

July 15, 2010 | Mikayla, Intern, Egypt, Tanweer Foundation for Education and Development

As this is my first “real” field experience, I was a little unsure what to expect. As was the case for many of my fellow students, my job description was minimal and it was hard to discern the exact nature of my NGO from its website. I was able to ascertain that my organization worked with children, especially young girls, but beyond this I was completely in the dark.

Before I go any further into details about my organization I must briefly digress. I have been studying international development for four years now and to be honest, I was bored with the subject. Learning about projects, initiatives and failed international paradigms of development in the classroom had lost its appeal. I considered this internship as a way of renewing my interest in development. After four years of theory, I was ready for something a little more practical. I turned out to be very lucky. My organization showed me exactly what I needed and has helped re-invent my attitude towards development, NGOs, and civil society in general.

My first day on the job was a wonderful surprise. My boss, Mr. Magdy Aziz, seemed like a very nice man and my direct supervisor, Ms. Mariam Adly, was very kind. We discussed the work of the organization and the kind of duties that I would be performing. My tasks were to include the following:

 -Research of donor organizations

-Conduct site visits to Tanweer’s local projects

-Teach English

I was very happy with this list of responsibilities, particularly with the site visits. Visiting the field and seeing how NGO programming affects recipients was one of my major motivations for participating in a summer internship. I was thrilled that this was listed as a major component of my work day!

Tanweer is an organization dedicated to promoting the awareness of children’s rights. Right now it is engaged in two large projects, the “Children’s Citizenship Project” and the “Activating Girl’s Right to Participate in Sports Project”. The citizenship project operates in five schools in Minia, four of which are located in the poor villages of Damisher and Zahora. This program teaches children about their rights, according to the “International Convention on the Rights of the Child” and Egypt’s “Child Law”. Children are explained their rights according to these documents, and asked to express their understanding and interpretation of these rights using arts and crafts and other creative means. During these sessions children discuss the rights to which they feel entitled as well as their general feelings and comments on each law.

The program also incorporates parents and teachers through separate awareness meetings. In these meetings parents are instructed on the rights of their children and the responsibilities they owe their children as parents. Teaches are trained on how to incorporate human rights into their curriculum and how to encourage the respect of human rights in the class room. I believe that this is a very effective approach in the advocacy and activism of human rights. Without such additions to the program, children would have a much harder time applying their newfound knowledge within their daily lives. Lessons on children’s rights seem less valuable if it is left to a small child to go home and tell his / her parents that he /she is entitled to be free from abuse. Parents need to be included in the learning process in order for real change to be made. This integrated approach implemented by Tanweer helps spread the message and application of children’s rights in the most relevant locations, the school and the home.

I have now conducted several site visits to these schools and have been amazed at what I see. My fist impression is that this program is a great way to occupy the time of the children. The program consists of large groups of children making crafts together in a safe environment. All the equipment necessary is provided by Tanweer as well as snacks for the children and teachers. The” Children’s Rights Advocacy Project” is a fun place for kids to be and it is very obvious that the children love being there. My more important observation is the fact that the children really seem to be absorbing the lessons taught. In one meeting attended by my supervisor Mariam, all the children made a pact to stop hitting their sisters, brothers, and younger friends. Whether this pact was completely followed through with I don’t know yet, but it is clear that the children are starting to incorporate the lessons of this program into their thoughts and lives.

One very interesting case was a boy named Ahmed. For him, abuse is a necessary part of raising children. In his mind it is absolutely necessary to hit children in order to instil discipline and build character. The values promulgated by human rights studies are completely contradictory to his vision of childhood. It is children like Ahmed who are in most need of programs like the one offered by Tanweer. When a child believes that abuse, or any other breach of children’s rights, is normal they will practice these behaviours when they themselves have children. This creates a cycle where the mistreatment of children is normal within society. Therefore, Tanweer is not only helping to educate Minia’s children, it is helping to create a new generation of parents who are more sensitive to human rights. Ahmed is still a member of the program, and is always avid to hear what the instructor has to say. Tanweer will continue to help teach him, and every other child in his class, the benefits and merits of children’s rights.

The “Activating Girl’s Right to Participate in Sports Project” operates in 30 schools in and around Minia. It is sponsored by both Nike and the Ashoka Fellowship Foundation. The project organizes volleyball and football training for young girls. This project is very relevant to Upper Egyptian society where girls are not encouraged to play sports or join sports teams. There is a deficit of physical activities in which girls can participate, which proliferates this tendency. This project has been well received, to such an extent that Tanweer has been able to organize large tournaments across schools. As football, in particular, is such a popular sport in Egyptian society, young girls are very happy to be given a chance to learn and play the sport.

My site visits to the participating schools have been amazing. Many of the girls play very well, and those who don’t love to play despite their skill level. The level of energy is very high in every practice, and all the girls seem to love the activity. As I am not a football officiendo I cannot comment on the training itself, but I do know that high level coaches are used and that the program is monitored by experts in the field of physical education.

I think the true merits of the program lie in its role as a vessel for gender empowerment. This program is helping to break the stereotypes associated with girls in terms of sports, fitness, and society in general. Also, it is helping to integrate girls into an important sub-culture of Egyptian society – the culture of football.

Tanweer is a very unique organization. Its projects are diverse and organized in such a way to be self sustaining and to provide benefits across many areas of development. Tanweer is a secular organization, and does not discriminate or apply favouritism toward any religion. In the vision of Tanweer people are people. Everyone is entitled to the benefits of development, human rights, and to a happy life. This is the spirit which Tanweer brings towards each of its many projects, and this is the spirit with which I want to enter my future career in the realm of development.

First Impressions of Gender in Egypt

June 25, 2010 | Mikayla, Intern, Egypt, Tanweer Foundation for Education and Development

So I have been a little slow writing my first blog, but I feel that where my thoughts are now are much more conducive to blog sharing than they were a month ago.

I have been in Minia, Egypt for a little under two months now. Minia is a “small” city (5 million people) located in Upper Egypt. Before coming it was very hard imagining what life in such a city would be resemble. Whenever my family or friends asked me about Minia, I never had any kind of satisfactory response. Even faithful Google and Wikipedia  did not really provide the details I was looking for.

When May 6th, my departure date, rolled around I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t anxious. I was just completely without expectations. As I landed in Cairo and saw the pyramids from my window, I became a little more excited, but I was still very unsure of what to imagine. As I underwent orientation I learned that the city for which I was destined is much more conservative than Cairo, and that my host family did not speak English. My fears mounted, but I was ready to face whatever Minia had to offer.

The first month was wonderful but difficult. I did not experience the initial period of jubilation about being in a new country. The first couple of weeks were the hardest, and worst of my experience. I contemplated coming home. However, looking back on those weeks, and on the entirety of my placement, I have come to appreciate the difficult beginnings and love Egyptian people, society, and culture.

The largest factor that made the first weeks trying was the gender gap that exists within Upper Egyptian society. There are many formal and unspoken rules that govern the lives of women. Of course, as a guest in the city I was / am subject to those rules as well. My first impression was that these rules existed because Egypt is an Islamic country. I was living with a very conservative Muslim family, and I believed that my bad experiences were largely related to my host father’s traditional views on women. I must stress that this was a heavily biased, superficial analysis.

I have now lived in Egypt for about seven weeks and have lived with both a Muslim and Christian family. (Note: the second religion in Egypt is Coptic, an orthodox form of Christianity. About 10% of Egyptians follow this religion) I have been exposed to the experiences of many women - poor, rich, Muslim, Christian, young and old - and am starting to see that all women share the burden of inequality. I don’t want to speculate on the roots of this problem within this blog posting. What I want to focus on is that there is a collective experience for women in Egypt, and that this must be addressed by a collective solution.

I have spoken to many women about their views on inequality in Egypt. Some attribute it to religion. Some attribute it to a specific religion. Views on gender and religion vary from woman to woman. However, what remains constant is the desire to make changes to the “Egyptian” attitude towards women.

Before I go any further I would like to assure readers that Egyptian society is not radically prejudice towards women. In fact there are some women who do not even believe that gender inequality exists in Egypt, though they represent a minority. However, there is an ingrained mentality that prevents women from participating in the same activities as men, that keeps many women in the home, and that govern the interactions between men and women.

Women have begun to “fight back” and are starting to make progress at creating a more egalitarian society. For the first time in Cairo a women won a lawsuit against a man’s vulgar actions and gestures towards her on the streets. Women are beginning to become more involved in politics and represent a strong presence in Egypt’s prominent civil society. Many steps have been taken, but many more must be achieved before all (or even most) women are able to take full control of their own destiny.

What I find most interesting and complex about this situation is that it demonstrates how subtle gender inequality can manifest. Egypt is not an example of a country where women are generally treated as second class citizens (Note: this depends largely on the region. The further into Upper Egypt one travels the more extreme the inequality between women and men becomes). However it is a rampant problem, and one that urgently needs to be addressed. This has created a conundrum - since the problem is not “as bad as other countries” or “so extreme” it has not become a public priority. This is an element of gender inequality I had not often considered in my development studies. How do you increase the urgency of gender issues when women are in a “mediocre” situation?

My musings on this problem have taken me down many trains of thought. I have tried to pool my own knowledge and experiences with those of as many women as possible. The question remains unanswered.

In the End…

April 15, 2010 | Madison, Intern, Egypt, Care Egypt

I got back to Canada just over a week ago and though I was wrapped up in the excitement of returning home, this past week has given me some perspective and I’m going to miss Egypt, begad (really). I had a great time. I learned so much about the country, I got to see so many historical sites, I participated in cultural traditions and events, I gained practical experience in the development field, and, most importantly, I learned more about myself and what I want to pursue in the future.


I had a love/hate relationship with Egypt. I really enjoyed my job and the people I worked with, I had the privilege to live with a kind and engaging host family, and the food was delicious. On the other hand, the culture shock of living in Egypt affected me more than I thought it would.  When I first arrived in Egypt, there were things that stunned me right away – the traffic, the horns, the dense population, to name a few. Though these things bothered me at first, they didn’t really shock or surprise me. I had read all about Egypt before leaving and I was prepared for these differences and after a few weeks I got used to them. Yet I still felt uneasy and I couldn’t figure out why. That’s when my sister told me that I was having culture shock and I realized I had understood culture shock all wrong.


I realized that culture shock doesn’t mean that the culture literally has to shock you (though it may certainly do so), it just means you have difficulty adjusting to the cultural differences. Looking back, this was the first time I had travelled outside of North America (Canada and the US) and I really couldn’t have chosen a country more drastically different from my own as my first international travel experience. It was like going from zero to sixty in a second. Though I enjoyed many things about Egypt, I realized that my personality simply did not mesh with the culture. To make it even harder, I was working on women’s rights in a country with a culture that flies in the face of such practices. I guess I just always felt I had to put on a front and I couldn’t truly be me. I couldn’t wear the things I wanted, I couldn’t always say what I was thinking or feeling and I never felt completely comfortable. Over time, I began to feel more and more comfortable as I learned the rules, boundaries and social conventions of the culture and in the end I definitely felt like I was beginning to adjust. Nevertheless, I would argue that three months still wasn’t enough time to fully adjust because once you’re starting to feel comfortable, it’s time to leave.


Despite all of this, I still do not think I would want to live in Egypt on a permanent basis. Even though I was adjusting to the culture, it still didn’t mesh with my personality and it’s not how I would want to live my life. However, this made my experience all the more valuable. I spent a lot of time while I was in Egypt exploring my strengths and weaknesses, what I liked and disliked, and wondering about where I truly wanted to go in the future. My internship made me all the more passionate about development issues and I’m now certain that I want to dedicate my life to working on these problems. The internship also gave me the opportunity to realize that I want to focus on human rights and I now plan to pursue this field at the graduate level. I feel that field of human rights encompasses so many development issues, and there is a critical need to uphold and fight for these rights in developing countries – to give a voice to people who have none.


So, after three months and all that I have learned from Egypt, I only hope that I was able to contribute something back. The truth is, I really did take more from it than I could ever give back, but I hope to work the rest of my life towards that end. Even though it was difficult and sometimes even depressing, this internship has shattered my illusions (in a good way) and has allowed me to build a more solid base of practical experience in development to go along with the theoretical education I have received at the University of Ottawa.


I would like to finish my last blog post by listing the things I will miss most about Egypt:

1.      The Islamic prayer call five times a day. I found it both beautiful and helpful – I always knew what time it was!

2.      The food (and the tea – mmmm). Even though I found the culture difficult to adjust to, the food could not have suited my palate more.

3.      The passion and compassion of Egyptian people. They are not afraid to share their emotions and they are incredibly warm and welcoming, yet very forward. Though this was sometimes strange and unnerving in comparison to Canadian mannerisms, I appreciated the openness of the society.

4.      The desert. I was lucky enough to take some weekend trips to some of the different deserts within Egypt and I can only describe them as nature’s Disneyland.

5.      Last, but not least, I will miss the Arabic language. I hope to continue learning Arabic here in Canada because it is truly a beautiful language.


So, to all those who allowed me to take advantage of this opportunity, I cannot thank you enough, and to anyone reading this blog trying to decide whether or not to do an internship in the future, I encourage you to do so. I am sure you will find it as rewarding as I have!