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 Ryan Rivera. He recently returned from 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!
It was Wednesday afternoon when our group had planned a meeting at the US Embassy in Cairo with the English Conversation Club. This group was a group of Egyptians from all levels of English proficiency who met regularly to practice their verbal skills while discussing various topics and issues. This group was college aged and older, and mostly male, but still held a wide range of opinions and beliefs.
This was the first time I had been to a US Embassy abroad and I was extremely taken aback by the level of security and the immensity of the building. Many of the other embassies were converted, classical Egyptian building and did not carry the same air of intimidation that I felt from the US embassy. Before we could reach the library of the embassy we had to pass through three levels of security, and were pretty much not allowed to bring anything into the building. As I passed through this maze of walls, security check points, and military guards, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of impression this gave to people about America as a country and Americans as a people, especially if they have never had an interaction with either of the two. At least during this brief conversation that we were about to engage in, I hoped to show a different, more personable side of the American people than what may be conveyed from our embassy.
There were probably about twenty Egyptians who had come to the meeting to converse and discuss comparisons between Egypt and America, as well as the direction of the post-revolution country in all regards: politically, socially, and religiously. We told them about our time volunteering at the Sisters of Charity Orphanage in Mukattam, a facility which helps the Zeballeen, a primarily Coptic Christian, garbage collecting community. This sparked a brief discussion about the immense separation between Egypt’s rich and poor, and how opportunities are not as available for low income families as they are in America. We also discussed the recent discovery of the New York Police Department’s surveillance of Muslims, including the monitoring of Columbia University student groups. This topic inspired a mutual frustration and disgust at such measures, where both we as non-Muslim Americans and the Muslim Egyptians, could agree that this governmental action was completely out of line and uncalled for, supporting post 9/11 racism and Islamophobia. We briefly touched on the ethnic groups of Egypt in comparison to the diversity of America. But our conversations didn’t focus entirely on such weighted political issues. As the discussion progressed, we broke off into smaller groups to have more intimate discussions. The group I was with focused on Egyptian universities and higher education, allowing me to discuss my experience as a Biology major at Columbia in relation to their experiences.
Overall, from this single experience and many other’s like it, I have seen glimpses of the Middle East, a view which is not shadowed or influenced by the terrorism of 9/11 or the revolutions of the Arab Spring. I hope to go back to the US and share this discussion, giving them an alternative view of the Arab people as I have been introduced to.