Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Hearts of gold

Egypt’s ongoing economic crisis has had disproportionate impacts on the country’s poor, but people are adapting and finding new ways to help others, as Ameera Fouad finds out

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“So long as the three problems of the age — the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night — are not solved...” — Victor Hugo

Remember the slogan “eish, horreya, adala igtemaeya, karama insaneya” (bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity) which echoed in the world’s ears during Egypt’s 25 January Revolution? Its first word reminds us of what is necessary for all of us to survive: bread. Remember why the French Revolution took place — wasn’t it also because of the need for bread?
“Let them eat cake,” qu’ils mangent de la brioche, was probably not said by Marie Antoinette, queen-consort of king Louis XVI of France, before the revolution, however deeply engraved it has become in the minds of people worldwide. The queen was supposed to have said this on hearing that the citizens of France were starving, unwittingly revealing just how remote she was from the lives and struggles of the poor.
Bread, a symbol of poverty and the main food of the poor, has been the emblem of revolutions throughout history. Whether it’s Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution, or the Egyptian revolution two years ago, it seems that basic human nourishment and what people need to survive will always remain the same.
However, with revolutions come political instability and economic crisis. The currency is failing, prices are rising, companies are downsizing, there are fewer jobs available and every sector seems to be failing. If the rich are becoming less rich, the poor must also be getting poorer.
Who can turn a blind eye to the poor, or pass poor children sleeping in the streets? Who can drive through traffic lights and not be aware of the children selling flowers, handkerchiefs, car accessories and so on to passing motorists? How many times have you passed by a public hospital and seen people crowded around outside in despair? Or seen families eating whatever they can find, or children looking for shelter under tents, or old men unable to walk and unable to buy wheelchairs?
How many times have you closed your car windows in their faces, or walked away, or looked the other way? How many times have you tried to help? Here in Egypt, like many countries of the Arab Spring, the economic crisis has sadly meant that the country’s poor are becoming poorer.
However, the revolution has also led to greater social awareness, and the same young people who called for bread, freedom and social justice two years ago are now trying to do what the government has failed to do.
Campaigns led by ordinary people are aiming to improve the lives of the poor and downtrodden, among them campaigns such as loemah haneya tekafy meya (a joyful morsel is enough for a hundred eaters), al-mahroum (the deprived) and “hamelt al-Batateen” (blanket collection), all examples of what Egyptians are doing to help their fellow citizens and how innovative ideas are helping to restore people’s smiles.
It is not just about giving charity to the poor. The idea behind loemah haneya, for example, is simple, and it can be implemented in our daily lives. In Alexandria, passers-by in Port Said Street were astounded to see boxes appearing on the pavements with the words loemah haneya tekafy meya written on them, and below these in smaller print the words “bonne appetite”.
“We put plates of food inside the boxes for any hungry passers-by. The boxes are open to everyone to take whatever he or she chooses, and we don’t force anyone to contribute food,” said Hanan Farid, a 45-year-old housewife, who came up with the idea. When ventures involving any kind of social solidarity are started, people immediately want to get involved, she said, enthusiastically giving up their time and effort to help others.
During the project’s first week, Farid received generous offers of food from many Alexandria neighbourhoods, with people also coming from all over the city to benefit from the free food. “Now the idea should be expanded to neighbourhoods all over Egypt. In this way, nobody will ever go hungry,” she said, adding that what is needed in Egypt is simply ideas that can spur people’s natural generosity.
The Million Blanket Campaign launched last December is another example of such initiatives, this time aiming to ensure people are able to keep warm. This idea has since been emulated by other civil society based campaigns, with Alashanek ya Baladi (for your sake, my country), a sustainable development association in Egyptian universities, raising funds to help buy blankets for the poor in places such as Al-Haramein in Alexandria and managing to distribute some 200 blankets in poorer areas across the city. Some people have dismissed such youth-based campaigns, but in fact they are going on outside the media spotlight all around us.
Another idea, this time aiming to put the smiles back on the faces of poorer children, has been developed by Hend Moawad in her campaign The Deprived. In this scheme, people are not asked to raise funds or donate money. Instead, they are simply asked to buy children’s meals from fast-food restaurants, or buy quality goods from supermarkets, to give to poor children.
“Deprived people often dream of things they are not able to get. For this reason, our idea is to help them get what they may be dreaming of,” Moawad explained. It could be something cheap, but having a special meaning for children, such as a Disney toy or a children’s story, or a kids’ meal, she said. Such things can make all the difference, Moawad added.
Despite the economic turmoil and political instability, it seems that Egyptians will continue to have hearts of gold, if the current expansion of such schemes is anything to go by. Such acts of goodness can touch the hearts and minds of millions.

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