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 Aiya Aboubakr. She 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!
Going to Egypt this spring break, my fellow colleagues and myself took the roles of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors. Our mission: “To galvanize the power of people to reach across cultural differences, form partnerships of mutual interest, and build peace.” Although we did not meet with political officials or mend the country’s laws, we did in fact build peace, mend misunderstandings of cultural differences, and form not just partnerships, but friendships, of mutual interest that will surely be long lasting.
As we traveled through the country, many of the Egyptians we encountered were quick to question our interest in traveling to the country, especially since the media portrays the “danger” that turns foreigners away. Members of the Garbage City community in Muqattam, Cairo, for example were weirdly staring at our large bus for a few minutes at first, then quickly spotting our Egyptian tour guide realized who we were. Upon hearing our mission, however, they were at ease. Not only did they greatly appreciate our efforts, but were provided with a new sense of hope.
Before leaving for the trip, as a group we created several goals. Of course some of us had lower scale goals such as making friends with an Egyptian child at an orphanage or learning a few words of Arabic in order to meet and greet natives. But we also had larger goals, each of which was met by an accomplishment of our smaller goals. Our daily volunteer time at the Sisters of Charity Orphanage, for example, was more than just feeding the children and playing with them for hours a day. It allowed us to gain a first hand experience of some of the social deficits in not just Egypt, but throughout the Muslim World. The major issue of poverty and health was felt within our first day there. Even as we met with Ahmed Ezzat, the lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and heard him speak about the mission of his NGO and their recent cases, we were granted a look into the human rights situation in the country. Traveling through the country, we readily gained knowledge of the economic development. Together with the knowledge of these human development deficits in the region and our passion for change, we came back to the United States ready to provide further support and future hope for change. Given this window to the situation, we know exactly what to address and the most efficient means to do so.
Perhaps the strongest tool we came back with was the development of positive people-to-people connections between us, moreover the greater Middle East and United States. Although we only made a few connections on a small scale, that is how development starts. Such connections have the capacity to grow, clarifying one stereotype at a time. Each of the individuals we met may be able to take back what we gave, be it time, attention, or hope, and return to their greater community bearing the valued message, that we do care and we can help.