Written by Sameh Fayez, translated by Jana Duman
14 young men from the small town of Kafr Ghatati decide to confront the deprivations their town is suffering from by means of voluntary work as well as simple social and cultural services.
Trash and construction waste piling up under a highway overpass that leads to Cairo’s modern satellite towns – you would never have guessed that this dumpster was practically the entrance to Kafr Ghatati, a 40,000-strong community in the Giza Governorate. 100 yards below the overpass is a one-story building with a sign at the entrance that reads: “This is the home of the Association for Social Development in Kafr Ghatati”. To the left of the building extend the homes of the community.
In the association office, we find its president Badr Zalt, a man in his fifties from one of the oldest families of Kafr Ghatati. He tells the story of the organization, which was founded almost 20 years ago to support the village community. “Then, after the revolution of January 2011, I came across 14 young men who belonged to no particular political party or religious community. They were just out there in the streets, looking for solutions to the problems our community was facing in terms of education, health care and fostering culture.” Yet the young men lacked the financial means to drive their projects forward. This is why Badr Zalt immediately decided to lend his support to the group.
Classes and lectures for more than 90 people The 14 young men between the ages of 20 and 40 have quite diverse educational backgrounds – from a basic high school education to university degrees. What unites them is the belief that they can make a difference in their community. However, Ahmad Bayumy tells us that initially, they didn’t really know where to start: “In 2010, we began to support our small town. We invited youngsters to meetings at the youth center, which is operated by the Ministry for Youth and Sports, to brainstorm solutions to the problems in our community.” Bayumy tells us that at the outset, some mocked the group’s call to action, because its young members were not affiliated with any of the major political parties or the Muslim Brotherhood, which had a very high profile in the village at the time. Nonetheless, more and more youngsters joined the group over time, until a state authority imposed a meeting ban on the group. “At the time, that happened to a lot of groups that championed progress and raised cultural awareness independently from the governing party.” He continues: “After the revolution of January 2011, the state relaxed the restrictions and we resumed out meetings.”
In a three-story building downtown, they run literacy classes, which Bayumy describes as follows: “We started literacy classes and had 90 students right away, in the very first year following the January revolution. We don’t only teach the students reading and writing, we also had experts come in and talk to us about political awareness in the aftermath of the revolution, and also with regard to the presidential and parliamentary elections.”
The Fight Against Hepatitis C and for Health Education
In 2013, the young men began picking up the trash underneath the highway overpass. They started a garden that served as a gathering spot for the people of Kafr Ghatati. Since they barely had any money, they removed the trash with their bare hands and prepared the soil themselves. This was the time they started cooperating with the Association for Social Development. When the association realized how serious the young men were about their endeavor, it provided financial and in-kind support, which made it possible to build an event hall and a soccer field.
In the same year, the association in Kafr Ghatati partnered with the Lifemakers Association, one of Egypt’s major NGOs. The NGO and the group of young men started a joint initiative named Kafr Ghatati 2013, which dedicated itself to improvements at the Kafr Ghatati Middle School. In addition, they organized campaigns for public hygiene and health education, helping detect 25 cases of hepatitis C and arranging for the patients’ treatment.
When the initiative came to a close, the 14 young men joined the Association for Social Development as members and continued to work under its umbrella. Mahmoud Salam used the opportunity to start another initiative with the title Bi-l-Arabi Insan (In Arabic: human being). Its objective is to reach beyond Kafr Ghatati and benefit all villages and towns in the Giza Governorate. To make it happen, Salam wants to mobilize the forces of all politically and religiously unaffiliated young people who simply want to improve life in their communities.
Even though the situation in Cairo has somewhat calmed down since the Revolution of January 25, Bayumy says that things remain difficult for the team of 14: “We had obtained a permit from the Ministry for Housing, Utilities and Urban Communities to use the area underneath the highway overpass way back in 2002. But then, in 2014, police suddenly showed up and wanted to demolish our event hall and the soccer field. They said the premises now belonged to a different state authority that had not granted a permit to our group. Ever since, we have been trying to obtain a permit from this new authority.”
Bayumy is baffled that there would be opposition against a soccer field and a garden: “When we told the government representatives that the place would just be inundated with trash again if we vacated it, one responded, full of conviction: ‘I want the place to be a dumpster. This is none of your business.’” But Bayumy stays optimistic: “This isn’t the first time we encounter problems, and it won’t be the last. But we won’t give up hope.”
The names of ‘the Fourteen’ of Kafr Ghatati: Mahmoud Salam, Hamada Saber Zalat, Said Marouf, Hassan Makkawi, Ashraf Ghadiya, Samir al-Gaiedy, Said Diab, Ahmad Mansour, Muhammad Karam, Khalid Farag, Hamada al-Gallad, Ahmad Bayumy, Ayman Husny und Esam Abdal Fattah.
Developments After the Publication of This Article in Arabic
The publication of this article in Arabic in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Qahira triggered many positive reactions. A lot of people joined forces with the young men’s efforts to improve living conditions in their town beyond the programs of religious organizations and political parties. For example the article generated intense media interest by newspapers who published articles about the young men as well as by TV channels who shot TV reports about the small town. Additionally as a reaction to the article an initiative to found a public library was launched. Contributions by the publishing house Al-Qahira and by readers helped to collect 10.000 books within a few days after the publication of the article. They will form the basis of a number of public libraries in the small town.
This article originally appeared on FuturePerfect.