The Arab Spring

Sarah Page, an Active Citizen from Wales, visited Egypt to experience a country reborn. Here she gives a vivid account of her life changing experience of a country changing and its welcoming communities.

Myself and five other members of the Ambassadors for Change group recently visited our partners in Egypt on a reciprocal exchange after welcoming them to Wales in March with an aim of learning about their organisation; the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women (ADEW), to visit the range of communities they work with and see the positive changes made so that we could begin to build and add value to our projects here in Cardiff.

The main question that led our conversations was obviously the Revolution. They told us how it was called the Camel Uprising, because a camel has a long memory and may be passive, but will eventually come back with a vengeance, just like Egyptians in Tahir Square.

As interesting and important as all of the accounts of the uprising were, it is more important to know how the country worked together to restore normal life and what they can achieve on a larger scale across the country when the citizens work together like this.  

I think my favourite comment was from our Egyptian colleague, Manal’s 5 year old daughter, when she proudly puffed her chest out and told us how she went to Tahir with her mummy to help in the clean up.

If I met you whilst sipping a freshly made hibiscus juice then we would have time to discuss the endless activities and ideas from the week but alas until that time comes you’ll have to be satisfied with the highlights… although I can send you the recipe for hibiscus juice if you ask!

Rare Breed

On our first day we met 12 of the 42 female Judges in Egypt; of Cairo Economic Court. These stylish and impressively intelligent women are a rare breed in comparison to the 12,000 male judges they have.

These women deal with around 50 cases a week as well as a range of other duties of office, alongside the family and other commitments all us working women know about.

It was the court’s President, name, who told of how having a daughter and wanting her to achieve her goals meant he as a man had to stand up and implement change, which is why he helped to establish the first application process for women to become judges in 2007.

Of the 174 applicants that year, these were the 12 women who passed the rigorous examination and interview process, proving that they were at the top of their game.

We were given a rare opportunity to view the court through their eyes, effortlessly becoming a part of their laughter and camaraderie as we posed for photos whilst touring their chambers.

I’d love to see this laid back peep through the keyhole in Cardiff Magistrates court, but doubt that’s going to happen just yet as only 6.6% of judges in Wales are women.

As the UK aren’t doing so great at getting women into powerful roles either it is time to change this together through the Women Making a Difference (WMAD’s) Women into Public Life Course and advice from these judges who also act as pioneers for female empowerment in Egypt. 

Future Prospects

ADEW took us to one of the marginalised communities that they rolled out the Active Citizens programme with. This was both humbling and welcoming in a number of ways. We met Om Nada and her 15 year old daughter Sarah, who I instantly felt a soft spot for given the namesake.

She squeezed the 10 of us visitors into her living room and along with some of her own Active Citizens told us how she helped to train around 30 people on the AC programme in this same space, whilst I had flashbacks of how we complained about the heating in some of the free meeting rooms we had on offer during our training!

Whilst my thoughts of back home were filled with the lack of job stability and Tory spending cuts these women were out there making changes and showing their future generations how little by little this can be done.

As we spent two days whittling down our Social Action Project ideas, ensuring that every woman had her voice, the women in this community were forging ahead spending their precious funds on street lighting in their township, which previously spent every evening in darkness.

Young Sarah at 15 had taught herself enough English (on top of schoolwork) to tell me how she dreamed of being a heart surgeon one day and her positive outlook on life was infectious.

We were shown how ADEW’s literacy programme taught these women how to read and write using practical examples and giving them knowledge about their legal rights. One action our group is taking forward is to help translate these study guides from Arabic to English to help Sarah and her many peers with their studies. One thing I know is that we need to encourage a marginalised 15 year old to achieve her dreams, for we never know when we might just need that heart surgeon!

You are in our hearts

The most inspiring part of the week goes to Dr. Maazouza and Mr. Atef and the high achievers at the Cognitive Centre in Alexandria, an NGO which helps children to overcome their disabilities through education, creativity and engagement in society.

We were given a presentation on how they implemented the AC training to 120 young people with special education needs and then introduced us to a young blind girl with the most eloquent English who told us how the centre had supported her, enabling her to study English in the UK on a British Council sponsorship.

She then introduced us to her colleagues in their choir, whose folk songs of how we should never forget Egypt and keep them in our hearts reduced even the most stoic of us Brits to tears.

Yes, even I who didn’t even cry in Bambi was gulping down air to avoid a torrent!

They touched our hearts and instilled in us how important it is to come together as a community and support others to achieve their full potential.

This is the message of citizenship that the Active Citizens programme aims to convey, that we do locally can affect someone else globally and the overseas exchange visit has been pivotal to this ideal.