Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Changing the world with a smile

A team of smile-makers is touring Egypt and spreading the smiling habit among ordinary people, writes Omneya Yousry

Al-Ahram Weekly

“Smiling is something that is understood by everyone, regardless of culture, race or religion. Some cross-cultural studies have proven that smiling is a mean of communication throughout the world. Smiling denotes pleasure, sociability, happiness or amusement,” said 28-year-old Asmaa Al-Basel who has founded Egypt’s “smile-zone” campaign along with her sister, 21-year-old Esraa.

The two sisters wanted to reach out to ordinary people and to spread happiness throughout Egypt.

“My sister and I were able to create a team of positive young people who decided to help us spread hope in Egypt’s streets simply by making people smile,” added Asmaa. “We were inspired by a wonderful video in a programme called ‘Mish Impossible’ (Not Impossible) on YouTube by a guy called Ramez Youssef. He simply went around the streets making people laugh,” she said.

“Immediately, my sister and I thought that we could take it further and start spreading the smile culture throughout Egypt,” she continued.

Asmaa and Esraa are two sisters who believe they can change the world with a smile. They used their Facebook accounts to create a fan page for their campaign in order to reach out to people, and this has now become the main way that others can reach them. However, they also meet with their supporters physically, as well as on social media.

“We usually choose a cosy place where we can all gather to create a cheerful atmosphere in which to make the ‘smiley sticks’ and other stuff we give to people in the streets. We don’t have a certain location but we do have a big team of volunteers who do administrative work and help us organise events. We have a wonderful team of photographers as well,” Asmaa said.

Despite the country’s present difficult situation, the smile-zone team believes that there are other people who are willing to join them. “All details about locations, dates, times and so on are available on Facebook. Just put a smile on your face and attend our events,” she continued. The campaign targets people from all social levels and from all ages, religions and nationalities. In fact, it is keen to have as many people as possible from different backgrounds.  

Smile-zone campaigners believe that everybody needs a smile. And anyone who believes in their dream and how important a smile can be is more than welcome to join them. “We have a couple of foreigners who join us to spread smiles at our events. No rules or mandatory procedures are necessary – all you have to do is stick to the campaign’s T-shirts as a dress code that has the logo on it. Then you will be easily recognised by others,” Asmaa explained.

The campaign is not affiliated to any other initiatives or any political or religious backgrounds. “We don’t even need a sponsor because we don’t have a product to market. We believe our idea is more powerful than any product. We simply go around the streets giving people flowers, candies, smiley sticks and so on, and in return we only want to see them smiling,” she said.

The campaign started early in 2013 and since then it has carried out nine events in Cairo. The last one was in the Ard Al-Golf district in Heliopolis, and it took place after events in Al-Korba, Maadi, the Sheraton buildings, at Ain Shams University, the German University, Makram Ebeid Street and Zamalek. The campaigners usually hit the streets once a month.

The campaign has also taken on ambassadors in various governorates outside Cairo, including Assiut, Qena, Suez, Zagazig, Al-Mehalla Al-Kobra, Alexandria and Ismalia. These are able to lead successful events in the areas where they live and to document them by posting pictures on the campaign’s Web pages. The overall philosophy of the campaign is that a picture of a smile is worth a thousand words.

World Smile Day is celebrated on the first Friday in October every year, though this event is not yet well-known in Egypt.

This being so, Asmaa was worried that her idea might not be well-received in the country. “Surprisingly, the reaction towards the first event was very positive, as if people were waiting for this to happen,” she said. “I cannot forget one situation when an old man stopped in the street when we gave him a flower and kept singing to us, expressing how happy he was,” she recalled.

The campaign has received very positive feedback about how it has changed people’s lives. The idea is to remember to smile no matter how tough things can be. So far, there have been no bad experiences, which Asmaa attributes to the campaign’s choice of venues. “Our first priority is our team’s safety and for people to appreciate our objectives,” she said.

“Anyone can be a smile-maker, and yes, you can change the world with a smile no matter what. Aspire to see planet Earth as one big smiley face. Our future plan is to make the smile-zone campaign go international, but we are still not sure when we can execute this. Hopefully, in the near future,” she said.

“We want societies to embrace each other by spreading positivity and tolerance everywhere. We believe that anyone needs a smile, no matter how rich or less fortunate they are. If you help someone to smile, they will go back home and smile to their entire family. That’s why smiling is so contagious.”

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