Establishing an NPO from scratch in Egypt was very challenging for me. After the revolution, quite like most Egyptians, I was inspired, hopeful and ready to discover an untapped sector: young people. I saw a need for a different and alternative education that had to be fulfilled. Still, while I recognized Egyptian youth as an enormous potential, I was met with my first challenge – parents.
Most of the young people that I’ve met were really interested in joining my project titled “The self-discovery initiative”. However, most of their parents were not familiar with this kind of education. In Egypt, it is often the case that people become very skeptical of anything new and unusual. As a result, breaking the status quo was the first obstacles I had to overcome.
Yet the challenges did not end there. Next I was faced with government bureaucracies. True, after the revolution some structural changes had been taking place. Even so, civil society organizations in Egypt were still being restricted by local authorities. As a social entrepreneur starting an NGO in Egypt, I had to prove that my organization was undoubtedly apolitical as well as assure the local authorities that it would operate in accordance to their rules.
Yet one thing I’ve learned when dealing with the Egyptian government is that as much as public officials may seem obnoxious, they are humans after all. It is our responsibility to have the understanding to accept this fact and then start doing it.
One day I was sent to a government office to have paper work signed. An old woman was seated at the desk and as soon as we met, she began to tell me about her health problems. I thought to myself “why should I care about all of that, I just need to get my papers signed”. Listening to her problems, I started to share some health tips and recommended a healthy diet for her. The woman smiled and responded saying that she wished she had a son like me. Against my expectations, she turned out to be a really nice person.
My story has taught me that people will respond to your proposed change in different ways. Some will want you to step in and spark change, others will always resist that change and then there are people who will help you even when you least expect them to.
Program director of Cairo institute of liberal Arts and Sciences