Lozah

Meeting “Abu Treika” in an Aswan Youth Centre

As the taxi was speeding down the incredibly bumpy alley, I looked around me trying to picture the youth centre that would eventually appear among all this rubble. 1 flat tire later, we finally made it to the centre, which was really just a very run-down 2-story building. I stepped into the centre to be enthusiastically greeted by a group of girls and women, and the director of the centre Hagg Sayed. They proceeded to tell me about the work they’d been doing to get girls more involved in centre activities, and to get women more involved in centre governance. All this was done as part of an initiative that I was charged with documenting as part of my job. This project was implemented by the Future Association for Development and Consumer & Environmental Protection, a local NGO in Aswan, and targeted 23 youth centres across Aswan governorate. Their goal was to open up this traditionally male-dominated space to be more inclusive of girls/women.

According to my guide – a woman from the NGO who was kind enough to take me around to the centres – there is no other form of recreation for these kids other than to play on the streets. These youth centres offer children a much-needed safe space to just be kids, a place where they can run around and play and engage in constructive activities. But these centres have long been non-inclusive of girls, largely due to societal perceptions. The idea of the youth centre as a place unsuitable for girls is deeply entrenched in the community (and probably across the country) and many parents were worried about their daughters’ reputations if they were to become involved in centre activities.

That’s why prior to implementing the initiative itself, it was important to first build trust with the local community. The NGO conducted extensive interviews, focus groups, and public seminars to try to change the community’s perception of the centres as a male-only space that is unsafe for girls.

According to some of girls I talked to, their parents’ fears that rumours would begin to spread about their daughters actually materialized. In reaction, some of the girls stopped coming to the centre, and others were prevented by their parents. But the NGO persisted in talking to the girls and their families and managed to convince a few to pay no attention to the rumours. For anybody who knows Egyptian culture, you will understand that persuading families to ignore rumours about their children is no small feat, for saving face is very important. Eventually, these few girls that continued to attend managed to encourage other girls and their families to follow. Gradually, opinions and perceptions changed.

The next step was to get the girls involved in sports. Now here was a revolutionary idea. They started them off with more “girl-friendly” sports like table-tennis. But eventually challenged them to take on soccer, karate, and even weight-lifting. When the girls started to participate in these more “male-oriented” sports, they were mocked mercilessly by their male colleagues. My guide was telling me all this when she yelled out “hey, Abu Trieka, come here”.  (Abu Treika is the name of one of the most well-known and admired Egyptian soccer players in Egypt). I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see a teenage boy or something, and instead saw a shy 12-year old girl. “Your name is Abu Treika?”, I asked her, smiling. The guide told me that the boys had given her that nickname after she scored a killer goal during one of the soccer matches. The girl beamed with pride as she told me she could beat any guy at the centre.

Today girls are credited with winning numerous trophies in soccer, weight-lifting, and table tennis among others. Furthermore, the once sceptical male members of the centre today attend all the girls’ tournaments, enthusiastically cheering them from the sidelines.

Talking to the girls, it was impossible not to notice how proud they were. Two of them volunteered to sing a song they had just learned the week before about the beauty of Aswan. Another insisted on displaying her weight-lifting skills and proudly carried weight after weight in the tiny broken-down gym. They took me on a tour of the centre  and showed me their library and some of the arts and crafts they had created and displayed on the centre’s walls.

To see firsthand the changes that have occurred in these communities was truly inspiring. This isn’t to say that eveyrthing is now perfect there. Keep in mind that these are some of the poorest villages in Aswan, some of the poorest in Egypt. These villages face a whole host of problems related to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, lack of healthcare, lack of clean water, pollution, and other problems that are common to most Egyptian villages. These children are deprived of a lot of things and so many of their rights are violated. But this initiative has managed to make things a little bit better by fulfilling a very important right: at least now, these girls aren’t deprived of their right to a childhood.

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P.S. The above-mentioned NGO is NOT a foreign organization. It is 100% Egyptian and 100% Aswani.

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August 8, 2009 - Posted by | Development, Egyptian Affairs, Portraits of Egypt

2 Comments »

  1. […] Aswan that are participating in an initiative encouraging girls and women to utilise traditionally male-dominated spaces: As the taxi was speeding down the incredibly bumpy alley, I looked around me trying to picture […]

    Pingback by Global Voices Online » Blogging About Poverty And Development In The Arab World | August 30, 2009 | Reply

  2. […] an Aswan Youth Centre Posted by storypress under World | Tags: World | Leave a Comment  As the taxi was speeding down the incredibly bumpy alley, I looked around me trying to picture the y…I stepped into the centre to be enthusiastically greeted by a group of girls and women, and the […]

    Pingback by Meeting “Abu Treika” in an Aswan Youth Centre « storypress | August 31, 2009 | Reply


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