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Volunteerism, Egypt


Popular tourist spots in Egypt support Millennium Goals through volunteerism

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Hazel Heyer l Special to eTN  Dec 11, 2007

The Millennium Sails arrived on December 8 in Cairo after a 45-day journey starting from the tourist destination of Aswan. The event made a total of eight stops in the governorates on its route. In each stop, the sails were greeted by tourists and locals with music, drama, and fanfare in an attempt to highlight the need to end poverty.

Sailing the Nile celebrates the International Volunteer Day and the spirit of volunteerism without whom Sailing the Nile would not have been possible. Hundreds of volunteers throughout the journey participated in support of the Millennium Development Goals to be met in Upper Egypt.

"Volunteerism in Egypt used to mean either volunteering in the military or giving donations, but I see advancements in its definition as it's become associated with development. All the work that took place within Sailing the Nile for the Millennium Development Goals from Aswan to Cairo was based on volunteer help," said Hesham El Rouby, chairman of the Youth Association and Development.

"It is a times like this when Egypt is experiencing strong economic growth. It is imperative targeted policies are put into place that aim to reduce poverty levels particularly in Upper Egypt, home to approximately two thirds of the country’s 13.6 million living in conditions of extreme poverty," said James Rawley, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Egypt.

Although the incidence of poverty is decreasing overall in Egypt, the number of poor people continues to increase as the population grows. With a total population of over 68 million, Egypt has about 10.7 million impoverished, and 70 per cent of them live in rural areas. Most of the country’s rural poor people live in the north, in Upper Egypt, where there are higher rates of illiteracy and infant mortality, poorer access to safe water and sanitation, and larger numbers of underweight children. Women in general and particularly the women who head 20 per cent of all households, are particularly disadvantaged. About 80 per cent of girls are taken out of school before the age of ten to do farm work.

On its final stop in Cairo, Sailing the Nile also celebrated the International Human Rights Day by bringing together all the partners who worked in the project. The United Nations, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, the Youth Association for Population and Development, Mansour Group, Plan International, EFG Hermes, Vodafone, the local coordinators, volunteer representatives from the governorates, and NGOs.

"By traveling through the governorates of Egypt, Sailing the Nile ensures that the message of the Millennium Development Goals reaches the citizens of all ages, gender, class, and upbringing. The event even goes further than simply spreading the message of the Millennium Development Goals to encouraging citizen participation in activities that reinforce some of the basic principles of the Goals," said Hanaa Helmy, CEO of EFG Hermes Foundation.

The day's events included various youth and children activities, kid’s drawing, the
Japan International Cooperation Agency puppet show emphasizing the Millennium Goals, music and drama from the different governorates. It ended with a concert by young local musicians.

"Sailing the Nile is not just about celebrations; we have to gain from the breakthrough that the celebrations had begun through social youth initiatives and combined community efforts," said Mostafa Barakat, Assiut local coordinator.

"We see the important message the sails carry on the Nile between Aswan and Cairo, and the importance of raising awareness," said Walid Nagy, corporate affairs manager, Mansour Group. He added, “Our aim is to prove local communities can cooperate with each other and with external bodies.”

Dr. Aziza Helmy, Senior Advisor, National Council for Childhood and Motherhood stressed the importance of using arts and music as means of communicating key messages to the community to encourage rejection of untoward attitudes and to educate the public of the development goals. She said, "I lately heard a song written by the children called, Open a Door to the Millennium, Close many in the face of illiteracy."

One of the greatest constraints hindering agricultural growth and self-sufficiency is availability of irrigated land in a country that receives hardly any rainfall. With almost 97 per cent of the population confined to the Nile Valley and Delta and their desert fringes, Egyptians have long been concerned with increasing cropped acreage and reclaiming land for agriculture.

Almost two thirds of the people in Upper Egypt are poor. They depend on agriculture for their livelihood, and agriculture in this area does not provide them with sufficient food security and income. Farmers in this part of the country have very small landholdings, compared to those in Lower Egypt. They cultivate crops that have a low market value and generate limited income. They are unable to finance the higher costs and greater risks of growing non-traditional crops. Small farmers, microenterprises and rural women do not have access to a microfinance system that responds to their needs. Alternative employment opportunities are lacking because of the limited development of small enterprises and microenterprises. Local markets are underdeveloped and marketing infrastructure, such as transport, storage and grading facilities, is poor. Producers’ associations are not well organized.

Khaled Abol Naga, UNICEF Egypt, Goodwill Ambassador, told the story of Meena, the boy he met during his Sailing the Nile visit to Minya. Meena waited at the end of the
line to take a photo with him holding out a cover of a brochure calling against child labor. The boy's picture was on that cover coated in white lime and holding a stone, as he used to work in the quarries. The boy took another picture covered with white lime, only this time he was standing by the Abol Naga, and holding a Sailing the Nile brochure instead of the stone.

Music and arts have been effective means of stressing the Millennium Development Goals used by the local coordinators in each of the eight stops, in relating messages to local communities about how to fight poverty. "Art and media have to take on a big role in explaining to the public their role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals," said Abol Naga.

The commemoration began October 23 in Aswan with a three-day celebration that included various activities in partnership with the local community. At the heart of this Upper Egyptian tourism destination embraced by the waters of the Nile River, the enigmatic but cash-strapped Aswan stepped in to help the destitute in this Nubian enclave.

Development projects which took place in various parts of Upper Egypt particularly in Aswan demonstrated local action and national partnerships between the governmental organizations, NGOs and the United Nations - the very essence of Sailing the Nile based on national development. “Achieving the Goals will help the lives of millions of children and reduce child mortality, extreme poverty, malnutrition, and unhealthy lives. It will also help them receive basic education and clean water,” said Dr. Helmy.

“Though significant advances have been made in Egypt, particularly in the area of maternal health, child mortality and education, poverty rates are in fact increasing and inequality accentuated,” said Dr. Mancourt, UNICEF’s Representative, who also pointed out, “Year 2007 marks the midpoint to 2015 and it is important to check where we stand in relation to these Goals and ensure they remain high on the political agenda.”

In Cairo, some 38.7 million people in 110 countries crowded the streets in conjunction with the launch of this major event. Sailing the Nile accounted for 1.4 million people of those who took to the streets in the capital, in a symbolic expression of their disagreement with conditions of poor living and inequality in a country that ranks tourism as its third largest foreign currency earner. The gap between rich and poor nevertheless widens.

Popular tourist spots in Egypt support Millennium Goals through volunteerism



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