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A brief but rewarding volunteer experience with the SCDP in Cairo

Drew and Catherine tell us about their time volunteering at the Sudanese Community Development Project.

The Sudanese Community Development Project (SCDP) was originally established in 2001, with its main aim being to educate the refugee child population in the Sudanese Community of Ain Shams, Cairo.

Civil war has ravaged Sudan for more than 30 years and many Sudanese travel overland into Egypt in an attempt to gain assistance from the United Nations.  Although Egypt opens its borders for the Sudanese to enter, they are unable to provide financial assistance to the refugees due to their own rapidly growing population.  It can take years for the United Nations to investigate and process each individual’s claim for refugee status and during this time they have no access to support for housing, education or healthcare.

After hearing about the SCDP through the staff at Oasis, we were able to set up a volunteer opportunity prior to our Cairo to Capetown Overland trip. This is our account of the experience.

The busy city of CairoCairo is nothing if not dynamic.  With more than the population of Australia and seemingly all of them driving, riding or walking, ‘peaceful’ would certainly not be the first word that springs to mind about this place, particularly when half of that population seem to be beeping their horn in unison.

Surviving several ‘mildly challenging’ road crossings to the metro, we make our way to Ain Shams and are surprised by the Metro’s efficiency and even cleanliness, not to mention the ridiculously cheap price of 1 Egyptian Pound (about 10 British Pence and about a 20th the price of an equivalent Tube journey in London).  The rubbish strewn railway tracks at Ain Shams quickly bring us back to reality and we are met by a smiling Sudanese man who by way of gesture, walking and motorbike guides us to the apartment block where the SCDP School is currently located.  The school previously ran in a much larger space with an outdoor area, but due to diminishing funding and increasing costs, they were forced to relocate to two cramped residential apartment buildings with a total of about 8 bedroom sized rooms and no outdoor space.  They do their best to cram 300 students in and as a result they sit shoulder to shoulder and sometimes knees to chest.  In other words there definitely isn’t enough room to swing one of Cairo’s many cats in these classrooms.

It quickly becomes clear that a more suitable space is high on the wish-list of this organisation.  This is confirmed by their manager Samuel, but he reveals that there are more pressing worries at hand.  Whilst a modest amount of funding is received from the UNHCR each year, more substantial funding from a Canadian donor had recently dried up and keeping the school open at all was becoming increasingly challenging. Aside from relocating, the school also had to cease providing a small breakfast which for some students was their main source of sustenance.  Indeed as we saw later, many of the students had such little energy through lack of sustenance that keeping awake in class was often a losing battle for them.

In the classroom we are greeted by a perfectly uniform ‘good morning tea-cha’ and 30 beaming smiles.  Over the week we are able to visit all the classes (and are happy to oblige in high fiving every single student!), help the students with their English, share some information about ourselves and our country and learn more about the students. We learn to expect the unexpected from their questions; an 8 year old boy puts up his hand and asks, “how do aeroplanes work?”  We answer as best as we can, rapidly exhausting our aviation knowledge by mumbling a few words such as ‘wings’, ‘propeller’, ‘engine’, hoping to move onto the next question. “But how does the engine work to actually make the plane fly?” He continues in earnest.  “Are the buses in Australia made of wood?” another girl wants to know.  We hand it back to their capable teachers for those questions.

As much fun as we and the students have, we are well aware that our presence is not going to be of any sustainable benefit to them in the long term. They have excellent teachers and willing students, but what they really need is money.  We had been able to do a small amount of fundraising for this purpose and turned our ‘leaving London’ pub crawl into a bit of a fundraiser, using a combination of a small cover charge and optional quiz questions at each pub to collect donations.  With this we are able to provide the school with a small amount of cash which will fund two teachers for a month and also purchase various teaching materials, which are immediately put to use.  We had also done a bit of research into more substantial funding options and came across a grant from the Australian Embassy in Cairo which looked suitable.  Most of our time at SCDP is spent working in conjunction with Samuel to produce an application that will give them the best possible chance of obtaining this grant.

The SCDP love having volunteers for any amount of time.  Not only is it stimulating for the kids and useful for their English skills, if the volunteers can contribute anything in the way of donations, however small, the school will benefit greatly.  Furthermore, if those volunteers can then tell others what they’ve seen and encourage more people to volunteer or donate (or both!) then the kids will benefit all the more.  And volunteering with them is a rewarding experience in return.  You will spend time with some inspirational teachers, some irresistibly cheeky kids and see a sobering yet interesting side of Cairo, worlds away from any touts and any other Westerners.

Thanks Drew and Catherine!

Contact us if you would like to know more about SCDP or see our Projects We Support webpage.

Take a look at our trips to Egypt

Posted in Africa, All Blogs, Middle East.

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