The political events that ricocheted across the Middle East and north Africa in 2011 radically changed life for thousands. In Egypt, at the one year anniversary, the situation is still far from settled and Christian Aid partners are still responding to the urgent needs there.
The effects of the political, social and economic changes in Egypt have been keenly felt. Many families lost loved ones in the uprising, while whole communities lost their livelihoods, and families were left unable to pay for rent, school fees, medicines or food.
Then, as the buds of the Arab Spring emerged in Libya, our partners saw new and urgent challenges as an estimated 1.5 million Egyptian citizens living and working in Libya, fled home to Egypt.
Many of those returning faced rising unemployment, violence and insecurity. Families, reliant on vital remittances sent by their loved ones in Libya were suddenly without income. Those returning were traumatised by the violence they had seen.
Under this backdrop, our partners worked with the ACT Alliance to offer psycho-social support and give people back their livelihoods and pride, adapting decades of development experience to support newly vulnerable communities.
Bringing work home
One of our partners' cash-for-work schemes.
Our partners the Coptic Evangelical Organisation for Social Services (CEOSS) and Coptic Orthodox Church Bless responded with innovative cash-for-work projects.
Employing people for 10-15 days on projects identified by the communities, they could generate a small income, complete vital community work and reach the most vulnerable.
Typically work included tree planting, fixing street lights, school and hospital renovation, building pit latrines and cleaning water reservoirs.
A sense of community
Cash-for-work is not a long-term solution but does provide short-term income and helps people to take pride in their community. For many it was their only source of income. In some areas, more than 95% of materials were donated by the local community and businesses.
In the village of Harres, CEOSS paid the community to transform an open, polluted and hazardous canal into a source of clean, safe water for the fields. A local engineer volunteered and a water company contributed machinery and concrete pipes.
`As we approached this small farming village, it was a picture of simplicity. The street was a wide, dirt street with good pavements and lamp posts painted in the national colours. There were young, green trees with careful brickwork around them for protection,' explains Phoebe Aranki-Stoves, Christian Aid programme manager for Egypt.
`The street was calm but vibrantly alive with chickens and people. As I stepped out of the car, a family sat outside their house peeling corn. I was there to hear from local people who had designed, implemented and benefited from the programme.
`They started with a series of photographs. I didn’t know the place in the pictures; dirty with rubbish piled high on a narrow street, no footpath, completely unlit. An open irrigation canal, thick with sewage, debris and a dead animal, stretched past a row of houses close to their front doors.
`The street had no people, no trees and no chickens. Suddenly, I asked to go back a photo - the brightly coloured house I had seen outside was in the picture - this was the same place!
`Crucially, families could use the front of their homes again. One woman told us, “This is the first time that we are able to safely prepare and store our harvest at our house. Getting the corn here has taken less than half the time and half the effort.”'
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In this podcast Phoebe Aranki-Stoves talks about how Christian Aid partners responded to the social and economic challenges following the popular uprisings.
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The long term
Without doubt, deep scars will remain: children lost parents and young people are unemployed. However, our partners’ counselling and cash-for work programmes are providing a path through very troubled times.
Christian Aid and our partners will continue to serve these and other communities to support them as they navigate and shape the changing Egyptian landscape ahead.
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