Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1408, (6 - 12 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Swap smoking with charity

Mai Samih finds out about a life-changing initiative helping smokers to give up smoking while also benefiting the wider community

Swap smoking with charity

Many smokers who want to quit smoking may employ the services of NGOs that only help them to stop smoking but do nothing more. However, now one initiative has appeared that not only helps smokers to stop smoking, but also guides them into doing good deeds for the wider community with the money they used to spend on cigarettes. 

The campaign is called Badelha fil-Kheir (exchange it for good deeds), and Salma Ibrahim, a therapist and one of its founders, explained to Al-Ahram Weekly how it worked and its relationship to the Egyptian Alliance for Abolishing Non-Communicable Diseases, a larger project with which she is also associated.  

“We started two years ago with an online campaign called Ermiha wa doss aleyha [throw it away and step on it]. The idea was that young people who had just quit smoking would take selfies while holding a sign showing the number of days they had stopped and then post them online,” she said.

“These posts were very popular, and many people would share and follow them. More than 3,000 smokers quit because of the campaign, and the website is still operating,” she added. 

“We were working on reducing the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung diseases in Egypt at the time, and because Egypt contributes to all these diseases we decided to fight smoking by continuing the initiative. We started Badelha fil-Kheir in Ramadan 2018 to help people stop smoking and to use the money they used to spend on smoking for charity, including by doing things for their personal benefit,” she explained.

People are generally aware that smoking is not good for health but preaching about its disadvantages does not necessarily give them the impetus to stop. “We thought of the idea of Badelha fil-Kheir as a result. The holy month of Ramadan is all about good deeds, and many people want to do charitable deeds like distributing Ramadan food boxes, providing meals for the poor, or funding orphans. We wanted to link these initiatives to stopping smoking through our campaign,” she added.

Swap smoking with charity

The name is derived from the description of Ramadan as the Shahr Al-Kheir, or the month of good deeds, and the initiative’s team play a consultative role rather than directly raising funds. “We do not ask for donations. We have a group of volunteers who do charitable deeds, and those who wish to participate are always welcome. But even if a person chooses to volunteer in other foundations as a result of stopping smoking, we have still achieved our aims,” she said.

The ages of the volunteers range from adults to schoolchildren. The majority, however, are university students, many from governorates like Tanta, Mahalla and Gharbiya. The volunteers also team up with the Medical School Youth Association that has members in many governorates. Thus far, there is a core group of 35 volunteers, but numbers are increasing all the time. 

“Our experts who help people quit smoking include psychological guides or mentors who are either graduates in medical fields or professional life coaches. Most of the work we do is in assisting people through applications like WhatsApp, where our experts can share their expertise and give professional advice,” she said.

She gave examples of some of the skills they use. “Not everyone is the same, and people have different needs. Smokers have different characteristics. While one person may only smoke, another may see himself as an addict. There is a different method for dealing with each, and not everyone can be treated using the same method. Our job is to find the appropriate method to help a person to stop smoking,” she said.

A married couple, for example, both members of which used to smoke, included a wife who wanted to stop smoking, but didn’t know where to start, and a husband who would not listen to advice. The group intervened by focusing on the husband’s motivation, and giving detailed information on stopping to the wife. In the end she managed to convince her husband to stop as well. 

“The most important thing is to give the person the information he needs, and in the end he will find the strength to stop. All you need is to encourage him,” Ibrahim said.

Swap smoking with charity

MOBILISING WILLPOWER: The initiative aims to wake up the latent willpower of smokers to kick the habit, adding to this by campaigning to raise people’s awareness of the dangers of smoking.

“Many of our volunteers are former smokers, and they are well-qualified to help others quit,” Ibrahim noted. “We talk to people and ask them how they want us to help them quit, with professionals supervised by Wael Safwat, a specialist in smoking therapy, adding their expertise.” 

The group also works with the Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo, visiting it twice a week and organising seminars there about how to quit smoking that are open to anyone to attend. “Many people have reacted very positively to these seminars, including many of the staff. We have also been able to work with the parents of the sick children,” she said.

Other groups the initiative works with include the Al-Ahly Club, where a Ramadan tournament was started by talking to the young people there. The club’s administration encouraged the holding of anti-smoking seminars, which eventually helped many members to stop smoking.

“One of the campaigns we organised was called Badelha bi-Riyadah (swap smoking with sport), since sport can help make former smokers feel better when they long for a cigarette. We organised a Ramadan tournament at the club in which there were two teams, one made up of former smokers and one made up of anti-smoking therapists. It was a great success,” Ibrahim said.

On 31 May this year, World No-Tobacco Day, the group organised a Ramadan Iftar meal for more than 200 orphans from different orphanages in Cairo and a Sohour meal for those who had quit smoking. Events were also held honouring others who had worked with the group, including the Al-Ahly Club and the Children’s Cancer Hospital. The Zamalek Sporting Club was honoured for banning smoking inside the Club, and there are further plans to cooperate with it more in future.

Badelha fil-Kheir also measures the amounts of carbon monoxide, a dangerous gas found in the blood of smokers, in the blood and the condition of the arteries of people who smoke. “This had a positive effect since people who find their arteries are aged 40 when they are only 30 as a result of smoking are encouraged to quit,” Ibrahim said.

She added that the group’s job would be made a lot easier when the government gets more serious about implementing the existing laws against smoking. “What we need is for there to be an absolute ban on smoking in places like hospitals. Although there are already laws that ban smoking, they are not implemented in a serious way. You can find hospitals today where people smoke. The laws should be implemented in such a way as to stop this,” she said. 

Maha Mohamed, a mother of two who has benefited from the work of the group, said she felt that Badelha fil-Kheir was a unique initiative that could help to improve public health enormously in Egypt. “I would like to see everyone support it so that Egypt has the least number of smokers in the world,” she said. 

Ibrahim said the group now aims to continue conducting its campaigns with such an aim in mind and to cooperate further with other NGOs and other institutions. “Our idea is to make Egypt a cleaner, healthier society. We started with clubs and hospitals, and in the near future we plan to go into schools as well, helping students and teachers to quit. Children need to understand from an early age that smoking and secondary smoking are both dangerous. They shouldn’t wait until they start to smoke. They should learn this even before they are exposed to smoking,” she said.

“I would like to see smoking decrease in our society and people become more aware of its dangers. Even today, some people think that electronic cigarettes are not harmful, while in fact the opposite is true. In the past, people sometimes used to die of malaria, but today they often die of preventable diseases like heart disease or cancer that can be caused by smoking. With more awareness, these diseases can also decrease in Egypt as they have in other societies worldwide,” Ibrahim concluded.

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