I am once again blown away by the friendliness of the people of Egypt. Egypt draws an insane number of tourists each year, generating heaps of opportunities and income for locals. So big is the tourism industry, that the government set up a branch within the law enforcement agency called the Tourism Police. They're police officers whose duty it is to specifically provide tourists with safety. That's not to say that Egypt is a dangerous place, but many western tourists are misled into thinking that it is.
Egypt is rich in history and archaeological sites that are overwhelmed with tourists on a daily basis. People from around the world come to see things like the Pyramids at Giza, the Ramses Temple, the Temple of Karnak, and the Egyptian Museum. They come to relax at a shisha bar or perhaps to take a faluka ride down the Nile and ponder the lives of the ancient Pharos. But the true treasure of Egypt is it's current inhabitants.
You can not walk through a city in Egypt without receiving an onslaught of welcome wishes from locals who are eager to shake your hand. Of course, there are still the guys on the streets that talk up a good conversation and then all of a sudden, conveniently own a store nearby and invite you inside "to give you a business card". But the majority of people on the street are content to say, "Hello!", "Welcome to Egypt!", and more than occasionally someone will speak a bit of English and ask our names and where we're from.
Seeing the smiles on peoples' faces and hearing the love in peoples' voices creates a warm feeling of grand contentment despite the constant background of honking horns and clouds of exhaust that never seem to clear. Life here is happy. Even after Tim and I each had sentimental things stolen from our backpacks, while they sat unsafely locked in our hotel room, I can still say that I'm happy to be here.
In a place where happiness seems to dominate, an unfortunate piece of reality hangs around to balance the scale of life: poverty. Gas is the equivalent of $0.60 USD per gallon, which is twice what it was last year. Mandarins are $0.30 per pound, and Tim and I are able to overfill our ever shrinking stomachs for less than a dollar a meal. Prices here are insanely cheap for western standards because that's all that the local people can afford to pay. And in a society where work is hard to find and money is hard to earn, we found a network of volunteers across the country - giving of themselves for the benefit of their community!
We met with the Youth Association for Population and Development. YAPD is an NGO that runs many different volunteer programs in Egypt. Some of their bigger projects include:
Egyptian Volunteer Center
A project that places volunteers within needed roles in the community.
Youth Training Sessions
A project aimed at tackling the unemployment problem through a group of training sessions.
A hotline for abused children.
Health Education Campaign
Education focused on HIV and AIDS awareness.
Over the course of a couple hours in their main office, we met with volunteers and employees. We discussed the best methods to get people involved in improving their communities and why people choose to become volunteers. The motivations of these youth was not money - of course, as volunteers traditionally don't get paid. Their motivation is social networking, making connections, developing their community to have a better society, and establishing a role in their country.
Their whole focus is on getting youth to be active in their communities to influence a positive change in the direction of development. They were established in 1994 and have worked with over 30,000 volunteers, mostly between the ages of 18 and 28. It was fascinating to see so many people involved in developing their communities in a place as difficult as this. The need for the work they do is very apparent, everywhere you look. This is a society of mystery, generosity, kindness, and a huge lack of opportunity.
An example of the need for YAPD's efforts came crashing into reality as crazily as our favorite taxi driver drives through the city. We went out that same night with the hostel guy, Amir, our favorite taxi driver, Farag, and two other guests who were both doctors - one from Lebanon, and the other from Morocco. It started out a good time of relaxing and hanging out, talking about whatever came to our heads. Farag was sitting next to Dr. Morocco and started asking medical questions. Farag, 27, is a wonderful, kind, loving soul and he was very interested in some specific health topics. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to learn this information in school and was asking quite basic questions. Like a good, conservative Muslim, he's waiting for marriage to have sex and was expressing his fear that he might hurt his unborn baby if he had sex with his future wife should she someday become pregnant. Dr. Morocco explained the concept of conception in detail as Farag listened intently, stopping to ask anatomy questions now and again. The parts he didn't understand, Dr. Lebanon tried to explain using a bottle of water, an empty cup, and a straw - the only props available. His peers were joking with him, and very much laughing at his expense because he's never learned the details of reproduction. He was asking questions that were funny, from an educated perspective, but also a bit sad and endearing to see his sincere attempt at learning something he knew nothing about. From the laughter, I got the impression that these topics were not maturely dealt with in this culture, thus really reaffirming for me everything that YAPD does in this country.
This organization is huge and they have an amazing network of volunteers who seemed to be very ambitious and giving for their own benefits and the benefits of their communities. It was refreshing and inspiring to see a young group so involved in positive social change.
Like grant proposals through the hands of USAID, these are the projects of my life!
University for Peace! 2008-2009
Peace Corps! 2005-2007
An obligatory disclaimer: Everything I have written, has been written by me. All of my own views, expressed hereinafter, are my own views. If you needed to read this disclaimer to know these things, you're a silly goose!