Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt works

Mai Samih discovers how initiatives have been changing the lives of the residents of Misr Al-Qadima

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Not far from the busy streets of central Cairo are the areas of Ezbet Kheirallah and Al-Mahgar in the Misr Al-Qadima (Old Cairo) district. Built on a hillside, the houses in these areas are built of mudbricks and hay, the only roads are narrow and unpaved, and residents often have to move up and down the hillside on which they live by using the district’s sometimes dilapidated stairs.
There are few local healthcare facilities, no nearby schools and there is no sanitation system to help provide a decent life for local residents. As a result, the area needs a lot of help before its residents can lead better lives, and one initiative that is trying to do just that is being run by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a development agency funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The CRS has been working on trying to help change the lives of people living in the Ezbet Kheirallah and Dar Al-Salam areas of Misr Al-Qadima through its Egypt Works initiative.
The CRS project provides temporary jobs for residents, providing them with opportunities to help develop their homes in the process. It has been working with the Al-Nour organisation to build a clinic and carpet factory in the area, and with the heads of the district and the Dar Basmatek organisation it has helped build a playground in Al-Mahgar. The project has also helped to provide some 11,000 job opportunities to local people, and these not only help support families financially but also help train them for the future. Other places that the CRS has worked in include, Tulun, Sayeda Zeinab, Imam Al-Shafei, Motamadiya, Qebaa, Abu Suleiman, Suef, Amiriya, Zaheriya, Hagar Al-Nawatiya, Abis, Maamoura and Mandara.
Britton Buckner, the head of the Egypt Works project at the CRS, explains that “nearly two years ago USAID issued a call for proposals for projects that would respond to the economic situation in Egypt after the revolution. Today, our projects and several others are making a lot of improvements in the lives of people. Our projects focus on community improvement and on developing the ideas of community members, particularly in informal areas of Cairo, Alexandria and Assiut. Instead of working through contractors, we work with community members themselves, which means that the projects are very cost effective, and all of the inputs go into the hands of workers from the community.”
“Examples of the projects run under the programme include clinics, workshops and playgrounds. We are helping in the plastering of houses. The projects include jobs for about 30 to 40 people, giving them the opportunity to earn money and support their families. We also partner with the private sector to create long-term job opportunities,” bridging the gap between people looking for permanent jobs and companies in need of employees by teaching skills. As a result, the projects are both relief work and part of a long-term development programme.
In most cases, the CRS project tries not to leave skilled workers without permanent job opportunities. “We have offered job opportunities to 4,500 people. There are three ways that we promote permanent jobs. The first is we offer coaching to people on how to use their income for a long-term initiative. We have instances where people have created permanent job opportunities by buying an oven, for example. The second is where people can be integrated into a permanent job after participating in a temporary one through our partnerships with the private sector. The third is learning skills like plastering and getting connected to contractors to sustain these skills,” she said.  
Mohamed Al-Khougi, 32, a supervisor who has been working in the community renovation project in Ezbet Kheirallah for 19 days and is working for the first time with CRS, said, “I was told by the district chairman that there were jobs to renovate buildings like this community building, a hospital and a sports ground. The latter is particularly important, as in this area if the young men don’t have anything to do they may be tempted to resort to drugs.”
“I was told about the jobs by the supervisor, and I found that we were going to benefit from them so I came to work here immediately. My job is to clean up the area we are working in,” said Mohamed Said, 25, a worker in the community building renovation group who has been working in the area since the beginning of the project.
Mustafa Ahmed, 32, an electrician also working on the project, said that before the project started conditions in the area could be tough. “I was living here without work, but I started working when the project started. We hope that this opportunity will last.”
Fayza Mahmoud, 39, a mother of two who was selling products at her door to support her family and is now working on the project, agreed. “I used to earn around LE10 per day, which was not enough to support my family, and when I was told that there were jobs on this project I joined it straight away.”
Mushira Said, a widow and the mother of three who is a supervisor on the hospital renovation project also in Ezbet Kheirallah, gave an account of how she and her neighbours were faring. “They are renovating the hospital, as the nearest hospital is at present 30 minutes away. I was in charge of hiring the female workers in the project. People here face a tough time making a living, and the going gets tougher as prices go up. A lot of the women working here have been able to send their children to government schools because of the money they have earned from working on this project. Before the project started, they could not have afforded to do so.”
Mohamed Wahid, 36, also a supervisor, gave details of the sports ground project in Al-Mahgar that he supervises. “We are working on two projects, a sports field for adults and a playground for children, as well as a community building. The project started a couple of months ago. There are around 50 workers, including people with disabilities. This place used to be a vast rubbish dump, but now we have cleaned it up.
“There is a huge difference between what this place was before the project and what it is now. The hillside here was black because of the fires people used to start to burn the rubbish here. Women and children were not able to walk freely here at night or during the day.”
Another project supervisor who spoke under condition of anonymity said that while the project had been useful, “what we need here is for the roads to be paved. We need jobs, and we want a decent life. We pay for the rubbish to be taken away, but nothing is done. We need services, as no trucks come here to carry rubbish away, and we have to send the children to the ring road to get rid of it, which is very dangerous for them.”
“We have been obliged to deprive our daughters of their education because it is too dangerous to send them to school as the schools are too far and those who don’t have brothers to take them to school could be in danger of being kidnapped,” commented one female worker who would not give her name.
In commenting on the project, Buckner said that the CRS had been working in Egypt since 1956 to provide relief for local people, and it had also worked on agricultural projects and on providing sanitation, education, micro-finance, livelihoods, education for refugees and job opportunities. In the present project, “we are cooperating with the governorate of Cairo and the Arab Contractors Company to train over 300 residents of the Ezbet Kheirallah area in plastering,” helping to give skills that can be translated into sustainable livelihoods. “These trainees are now plastering new homes near the ring road,” she said.
Buckner said that the project had encountered various problems, but that these had not been insurmountable. “The communities we are working in are very informal, so there is sometimes not a lot of structure or systems in place, which makes working a bit challenging in terms of logistics and accomplishing our targets.” For example, some community members are not used to punctuality, and they may not have developed patience. For this reason, the project had had to spend some time working on worker behaviour and mentality.
The project is supposed to end soon, but all is not lost for the inhabitants of the poor areas. “We have approached other agencies and organisations, hoping that they will continue the good work of this programme, and we are hopeful that we will find additional funding to continue. This month, we are setting up literacy classes, and we are improving water supplies and sanitation in an impoverished community in Tal Al-Aareb. We are also hoping to improve a market place in Dar Al-Salam,” Buckner said.
For the residents of the communities targeted by the project, the areas’ problems can be summarised in a nutshell. “The government should give young people opportunities to work, as there are none here. When the young men are given opportunities to work, they take them. We need television sets that we can use to show children educational programmes that will help raise their awareness instead of their learning the wrong values. We need educational classes, human development classes and cultural lectures,” Al-Khougi commented.
“I call on the authorities to provide permanent jobs for residents as soon as this project is finished, as otherwise there is a danger that people may start sitting in cafes again waiting for the next set of temporary jobs.”
“People here are working in high spirits and are meeting their financial needs, but what will become of them when these jobs end,” asked Ahmed.
“We want this project to last longer so that we can make a decent living. It is a very good project, and it can make a difference in our country. The government should pay more attention to the people living here, as we are desperate and live day by day,” Mahmoud said.
“The government should work to get the youth off the streets. They have the capacity to work, but there are no opportunities. We need more of these projects, as there are also many women in need of such opportunities,” Said added.

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