Whoever said travelling is expensive? Angy Essam enjoyed a whole new way to go
The “Safarni” workshop (Help Me Travel) is a pioneering and creative project that aims at literally uplifting children in Ard Al-Lewa, one of Cairo’s most densely populated districts. Started in September 2012, it works on increasing the cultural awareness of children with no financial abilities through travelling.
The founder of Safarni, Raphaelle Ayach, 27, a French social documentary filmmaker, explained that the Safarni workshop is held twice a month from inside a non-conventional classroom in Artellewa Gallery in the heart of Ard Al-Lewa. The workshop takes a small group of children (aged 8-16) through the experience of travelling, from boarding a plane to reaching their destination and back on the plane, ultimately to a safe landing in Cairo. “It is a magical journey that conveys the children’s innocent dreams to an exciting reality,” said Ayach.
The idea came to Ayach while she was living in Spain and decided to study the Arabic language. She has always loved Arabic culture. “I began to watch only Arabic movies and I made many new Arab friends,” said Ayach. She became emotionally attached to the Arab culture.
Ayach explained that at that time she had become so sensitive to the pervasive racism and stereotyping on both cultural sides, the Arab and European cultures. “I realised that many of the people that had such negative opinions about the other had usually never sat down with the other to listen to him and hear his story,” said Ayach. Ayach explained that when you love someone you will defend him to the end, no matter what he does. “That’s why blood bonds are vital. Emotional connections and friendship work that way. Feelings are stronger than anything.
“Safarni tries to create a framework for that feeling and emotional connections to happen. That’s what we are all about,” said Ayach.
Ayach explained that in a Safarni day with a lot of excitement, the children start off by playing a variation of pin the tail on the donkey, where one of the children is blindfolded and has a pin and the others have to lead him or her to pinning the right location of the country they are about to visit on a map. This exercise, besides allowing the children to learn the location of the country, also teaches them valuable lessons such as teamwork, trust and alternative communication. Next, the facilitators give the group a quiz on the country and teach them some simple words to be able to communicate with the visitors from that country.
The children come in with passports and boarding passes. They board the imaginary plane, and when they come out of the plane they find themselves in another country. Real friends from that country wait for them. “It wouldn’t be a Safarni day if they didn’t meet people from the country. The whole point of getting to know the country is for the kids to make connections with humans. We want them to realise that the abstract name of a country is not just a word they hear. It has humans that have cultures,” said Ayach. With these friends they discover the sites of this new country, taste their food, dance their dances, watch their cartoons, play their games and speak their language. At the end of a long and beautiful day they take the imaginary plane back home to Egypt after an amazing three-hour trip. Ayach explained that the children did a lot of interesting activities. They played Brazilian capoeira, sang Italian songs, danced Bollywood and ate Dutch pancakes. “The activities depend on the country, each day a different country, and the list goes on,’’ said Ayach.
Safarni children have travelled to Colombia, France, Italy, India, Brazil, Spain, Germany and the Ivory Coast, while many other countries are waiting for them. The children during the Safarni journey are always excited and full of energy from start to finish. Ayach said that Safarni’s main target is the children and that without the Safarni experience they would have little, or no contact with the world outside their neighbourhood. “Safarni helps to build bridges across cultures, to be able to understand each other more,” said Ayach. Travelling gives children experience and teaches them general knowledge they would otherwise probably not get in their homes.
The Safarni team is currently just Ayach and her co-facilitator and good friend Tony Sedki, 26, a chemist and social researcher. However, they are trying to get more volunteers to come as active observers and eventually take up facilitating themselves, to train and maintain the sustainability of the project. They are currently working on launching a crowd funding campaign and training more facilitators to run the programme. “If anybody wants to join Safarni as a volunteer,” said Ayach, “they can fill out the link for volunteers posted on our Facebook page. We are always looking for support.”