We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
The following is a guest post from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recipient Rubii Pham. She is currently volunteering with Hands Along the Nile Development Services, Inc. in Egypt. To find an amazing opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations© today!
Cairo is an unforgettable city. From dawn until dusk, the traffic never stops and neither do the people. They work to carve out for themselves a place in this hectic city of 20 million. The recycling school we visited in Mukkatam is the embodiment of that spirit, albeit it being a school in a very non-traditional sense of the word. Like a typical elementary school, there are small children learning multiplication tables and reciting vocabularies in Arabic, but in this place women can also come to learn how to weave and make other arts and crafts as a vocation in order to help them sustain their livelihood. They collect papers from offices and schools from all over the city, then mix them with water and dry them on a wooden screen in order to make sheets of thick, durable paper. With this “recycled” paper, they create beautiful hand made cards, paintings, and small jewelry. The process of producing this paper is not easy, but the women cheerily chatted on while they worked and even invited me to join in to help them make the paper.
There were not enough tables and chairs for every child; some classes were even held outside with only a tarp for a roof. However, what struck me was not the sparse structures and limited of the school but the enthusiasm of the students. In one classroom, the students were learning English, with the simple English words like “watermelon” and “woman” written on the black board. When we passed by to say hi, the children eagerly waved back and excitedly practiced their hellos and how are yous. Their warm hospitality reminds me that the more I travel of the world, the more I realize it is often not the differences in people’s goals that amazes me, but rather the similarities. Whether Egyptians or Americans, we all simply want to learn and to connect with others.
It was important to see that people in underprivileged communities are not completely helpless like they are often portrayed in the media. Even though life is hard, they have means and agencies of their own to help themselves to escape the poverty they were born in to. They have dreams, aspirations, and lives far more complex than any half-hour “slum tour” could ever depict. Cairo has become an unforgettable chapter in my life, for the warm reception and generosity that I’ve received from these strangers that have quickly become friends. This is a trip that I will never forget.