Tackling poverty Egyptian style

I recently read this comment by Ahmed Kamaly, economics professor,  American University of Cairo : “There has been ‘no trickle down’ to the bottom of society from the economic prosperity the upper class is revelling in.” Such a sweeping comment just begs to be challenged!

The bottom of society has to be found around Istabl Antar, a Cairene slum community of 800,000 squatters in the centre of Cairo – not the only candidate in Cairo, but certainly up there with the worst of them. So I went there, and met with Yasmina Abou Youssef to talk about an NGO called Tawasol.  The Youssef’s own a chain of hotels putting them firmly in the Egyptian upper class.

Families in this area live in tiny, one-room homes. Employment comes from casual labour carrying heavy lumps of marble in the nearby factory or begging. Earnings from the children are essential to a family’s survival – from working in the sweat shops, carpet-making shops or begging from a very young age.  Until two years ago there was no school there, only a public one at the bottom of the hill with broken windows and a black painted wall with a frame masquerading as a blackboard – until last summer that is.  Now Istabl Antar has a school,  the public school has windows, doors and blackboards,  and small shops and enterprises are setting up using micro-finance.   None of this is through a factory relocating, or help from the government.  All of it comes from the NGO Tawasol.

The school was set up using funds from the Cairo branch of the Egyptian Rotarians, and a Matching Grant from Rotary Club of Berlin-Nord, Germany.  Yasmina’s father is a member of the Cairo-Zamalek.   Coming from the wealthiest strata, and by using their connections with other wealthy Egyptians, Yasmina has been able to raise large amounts of money and attract volunteers.  Substantive philanthropic assistance like this is replicated by many Egyptian families.

I accept that it may not be quite what the professor at AUC was quantifying when he made his statement, but it is wealthy families directly assisting the poor,  it is effective and it is sustainable.

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