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Mona

Though asylum seeking may protect one from the devastating physical consequences of war, the psychological impact is inevitable.

“It is as if I have left the strong, confident Arabic teacher back whom I used to be back in Syria, all I have now is a weak, dependable character, that fears everything and never does anything on its own” says “Mona”, a Syrian woman who came to Egypt after the war circumstances in Syria.

Having an autistic child added much to her suffering; due to her husband’s abandonment of his responsibility towards him, she had to stay up with him all night, fearing her husband would hit him harshly if he cried and woke him up.

Mona failed to express herself and her suffering, she preferred to stay silent and keep it all to herself, she even refused to visit doctors when she got sick.

She only visited a doctor for the first time after two month of nonstop bleeding.

“I thought it was my husband’s right to treat me like this; I used to accept being hit by him instead of my son, I used to accept humiliation and scolding, I used to accept being blamed for delivering an autistic child, I used to accept it all in fear of getting a divorce, but I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Joining “The Friendly Space” support group was a turning point for “Mona”; she realized that an everlasting positive change in her life had to start from within first, then it would work its way out.

Learning to stand up for herself was her key to a new life, she started facing her husband and refusing his bad treatment, she stopped him when he tried to hit her or their son, she told him he had to bear the responsibility of their child with her, and asked him to stay up with him at night at least once a week because she needs some rest and sleep.

When he refused her requests at the beginning, “Mona” threatened him and asked for a divorce.

To her surprise, he immediately retreated, apologized and agreed to all her requests.

“My fear of losing my husband was actually destroying my life not saving it, when I risked everything for the sake of my dignity, I got everything in return.

It only required me some bravery and the courage to say “NO” to lead a totally new life, one which I am actually satisfied with.

Now I have my strong independent personality back and I am not ready to ever give up my rights again.”

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Zeinab

Zeinab, a sister to six brothers, sits proudly in her renovated classroom. “Our school has transformed”.

“The school’s conditions were horrible in the past; we only had one bathroom serving the whole school, we had no courage or mechanism to deliver our complaints and no one was listening to us”.

“My School and I” project, which aims to improve the learning environment in 20 schools in Minya and Beni Suef, was implemented in Zeinab’s school.

She and her colleagues are jubilant about their school’s makeover.

Their words are full of ownership and pride. “Now we have new water faucets, new bathrooms, a complaint box that is frequently checked by the administration and a child protection committee to ensure our safety”.

The project’s best achievement according the sixth grader is the teachers’ new teaching techniques; “I used to be afraid of speaking myself out or asking any questions because the teachers would scold me or even hit me at times, but this has changed”.

No one can do this now as I would immediately report it to the protection committee that would take a firm action against the aggressor.

“We have noticed that our teachers are more patient now and are more open to listen to our discussions and answer our inquiries”.

Zeinab also felt a change in reduced discrimination between girls and boys at the school; “I love to play basketball, Before the project, girls had less privileges and weren’t allowed to play sports in the playground. The project helped the school’s administration and students to overcome this injustice, and now we have the same rights to play sports during activity classes, just like boys”.

After attending the project’s sports days and being involved in different team building activities, she believes that she became a better team player and started cooperating with her colleagues more.

Zeinab dreams to become a doctor and wishes that the school would have a library where she could spend her free time reading and learning.

Viola

Her shiny eyes and mesmerizingsmile reflect her strong personality, which clearly shows when she speaks.

Viola, 11 years old, is the youngest of two brothers, and an active student within her school.

Through My School and I project, Viola’s school went through some restorations which included the school’s buildings maintenance and classrooms’ renovations.

The project also encouraged students to become more environment friendly after transforming part of the playground into a garden.

“The project resulted in major changes for our school and its surroundings. Now that the school wall is higher, we feel safer. Also, the new trees made our school smell pleasant”.

Aiming to cultivate leadership opportunities for girls, extracurricular activities and sports were also introduced to the school.

Activities such as students’ union, camps, and physical Education (P.E.) classes were implemented for the first time.

The project also worked on encouraging girls to join these activities “We play basketball at school.

I would also wish to learn how to play volleyball in the future. Thanks to the project, we now have a variety of games at our school”.

My school and I also initiated a child protection campaign teaching the students about protecting themselves and their bodies from any sexual harassment they could be prone to; “We learned to value ourselves and not to let anyone cross our boundaries.

If anyone tried to harass me, I won’t be scared, I would firmly stop him, shout out loud and immediately report the incident to my mother or one of my teachers who will protect me” explains Viola.

One of the best traits that Viola and the other students acquired during the project’s camps is being cooperative and supporting each other; the camp’s team building activities didn’t only teach the students how to protect their bodies, but also how to empower each other and educate their friends and neighbors on how to protect themselves.

As a former class president in the students’ union, Viola believes this experience had a huge positive impact on her personality and enhanced her leadership skills.

Her love of helping others pushed her towards running for the students union’s presidency this year.

Viola wishes one day that her small village would be safe and totally free from any harassers, and be more empowering to girls, realizing boys and girls are equal.

She also wishes to become a doctor in order to cure the people of her village, as she would hate to see her loved ones suffer.

Khadija

“You are as precious as a star, no one is like you”. Khadija, who is a sixth grader and the Secretary of the school’s student union empowers her colleagues in Minya, Upper Egypt with those words.

Despite her young age, she talks to them about child protection techniques and gender-based violence with confidence and wisdom.

“I learned that my body, especially my private parts, are my own, no one is allowed to violate my privacy and see or touch them.”

Khadija’s strong interest in women’s rights emerged when she joined the activities of “My School and I” project, which aims to cultivate leadership opportunities for girls through extracurricular activities and school participation and raise their awareness on gender and child protection in Beni Suef, Minya and Assiut.

The project’s events included working in groups and brainstorming different methods of stopping violence against women.

Khadija recounts “the activities’ facilitators talked to us about women’s rights, and raised our awareness on different violations that women are subject to.

We now know that violence is not only limited to physical violence like hitting and harassment, violence can be psychological too.

Being called names, shaming and labeling women, and refusing to publicly call a woman’s name in public and calling her by her husband’s name instead, are all types of psychological violence that women are subject to, and we must firmly resist and refuse”.

Khadija’s interest in her position as the students’ union president is driven from her love of helping others.

She likes to help her colleagues learn how to protect themselves from any violence, she also coordinates with the protection committee at school to ensure all the students are safe and secure.

Together with other members of the union, they took the initiative of involving the students in the process of transforming part of the playground into a garden, and asked the school’s principle to arrange for a “going green” class once a week, where all the students could practice gardening to beautify their school.

Khadija hopes to play an active role in protecting women rights so that she could one day witness her society free from violence against women.

The project is funded by Dubai Cares and implemented by CARE International in Egypt and targets 15,000 primary students (50% girls, ages 6-12) in 20 schools.

Additionally, it targets over 600 stake-holders such as teachers, social workers, board of trustees members, members of child protection committee, supervisors from the Ministry of Education, school administration members, Physical Education teachers, female leaders and school maintenance team members.

Ali – My School and I

On the Western bank of the River Nile, resides 12 year-old “Aly” with his four siblings in Minya governorate.

Unlike most students his age, Aly is impressed with the developed standard of his school and the improvements it has witnessed since the beginning of “My School and I” project; “In our school you hear no cursing, you see no sexual harassment or gender based violence, girls are just equal to boys.”

Aly believes external maintenance was all that was missing for his school to be perfect; “The buildings were very old and dull; we wished they could look better and we approached our principle, and she promised she would consider our request but had no funds.”

“My School and I” project started working on the dream of Aly and his colleagues; painting the school’s façade, equipping it with the needed tools, and maintaining its facilities, the school totally transformed.

The project’s activities are not limited to this; it also aims at fostering a safe environment for its students, and educating them about protecting their bodies from any harassment they could be subject to.

In addition, the project works on improving the students’ leadership skills through including them in extracurricular activities, and improving their reading and writing abilities through readability classes.

Aly speaks about his favorite learning method which was newly introduced by the project in his school; the study groups.

The method depends on dividing the students into mixed groups of both weak students and top achievers; this stimulates the weak students to improve and gives the top achievers an opportunity to help their colleagues, creating a motivational and cooperative atmosphere among the students.

In these study groups Aly has helped three of his colleagues improve their reading and writing skills.

As a pro-active student and a member in the school’s student union, Aly decided to take an action towards achieving his colleagues’ will of introducing new sports activities at school.

He took the initiative and delivered their will to the school’s administration, and together they started working on arranging football tournaments and introducing new sports such as volley ball, which qualified him to become the sports secretary at the students’ union.

According to Aly, the best thing about working in the school’s student union is working on improvements and witnessing people’s satisfaction afterwards;

“I am overjoyed when I hear people complimenting our school and its achievements, it’s the perks of being part of the students’ union. I love my school and I wish the whole city is as developed and beautiful as it is.”

Sarah

Sarah is a member in “El-Nour” group in Nidah village, Ikhmim, Sohag.

She is a student in a technical secondary school and the middle daughter in a family of 8 members.

Sarah is a beautiful girl, but she suffers from stuttering which made her introvert and reluctant to interact with people around.

She hardly pursues her education and tends to avoid participating with her colleagues in any activity or outing.

After the participation of Sarah’s mother in a saving group, she tried to persuade her to join them to interact with people and get out of her introversion, yet all these attempts were unsuccessful.

That’s when Sarah’s mother decided to let her father convince her with the aim of saving some money to buy for herself accessories’ making supplies and tools in which she is interested.

Sarah hardly got convinced of participating in the saving group, at the beginning she refused to attend the sessions, and if she ever attends, she doesn’t speak or interact with her colleagues.

However, after few weeks, the members of the group started to talk to her and go to her house to ask about her if she ever didn’t attend a session.

As a result, Sarah began to feel comfortable with them, interact with them and attend the weekly sessions.

Few months later, the saving group started Financial Literacy training which made Sarah meet up with her group several times a week, and her participation started to be noticeable and effective in the group.

As a result, her facilitator asked her to participate in Tamkeen project that is being implemented by Association for Rural Women in Nidah village and aims at raising the girls’ awareness on the political participation.

At the beginning, Sarah refused due to her fear of people whom might make fun of her stuttering whenever she speaks.

Nevertheless, Sarah’s facilitator insisted on trying to convince her, and indeed, Sarah’s group members talked to her and persuaded her that she’s a strong girl and capable of participating in the project and surpass others.

After her participation in Tamkeen project that lasted for 6 months and attending the whole sessions and topics on political participation, the saving group started Social Empowerment training, which had a magical effect on Sarah!!

She became more confident in herself and started to express herself; her shyness of her stuttering and her sufferings in the interaction with people, “I used to be In’am* when I used to be shy of myself and hide from people, but now I became Fayza*, I want to remain Fayza and I never want to be In’am anymore”, said Sarah.

Since then, Sarah tended to be more active and more confident in herself.

She also tended to regularly attend the group’s meetings whom have had a favor in the great changes occurred to her life.

Moreover, she thought of investing in her only hobby “accessories making” through getting a loan from the saving group to buy the needed tools and start her work that will be marketed among her new friends and colleagues.

Indeed, Sarah got a loan of LE 300 and bought the needed tools to start-up her accessories business.

Then she made the first quantity and sold them to her friends and network, she managed to pay the loan’s installments on time and made a good profit margin through which she made another quantity and successfully sold them.

Consequently, Sarah thought of expanding her business and selling her accessories to school and university students.

Sarah knew how to start; making and selling accessories was a successful idea which has expanded and made Sarah invest more time and money in it by making big quantities and selling them in different places inside her village and outside it.

Moreover, through her cousin whom was a student in Sohag University, she managed to sell her accessories to the female students in the university. Now, Sarah’s big dream is to open a shop for making and selling accessories.

“The Saving Project drew my life and changed me from someone hides from people to someone deals with everyone around”, says Sarah.

Shahira

Passion is all what you see in their eyes, which are carefully following her hands and face, moving together in harmony.

You immediately sense the love and tenderness she has to them, to an extent which would make you question if they are only her students not her kids.

Well known for a beautiful smile which is always preserved on her face, “Shahira”, who succeeded in transforming the lives of her students, is definitely a source of pride to all her village.

“Shahira” is not only one of “The Readability Project” instructors, but one of its organizers too.

She was able to attract the students of her village to the classes, after a long period of aversion to them, due to their fear from being viewed as unintelligent or lazy if they joined the readability classes. Besides her work as a teacher, Shahira supervises the project and gives a hand to other teachers whenever they need help.

“Since CARE started the project, I have been very excited about it. I attended all the preparatory training sessions to be able to apply all what I learnt with the kids.

I do my best to encourage the kids and make them love the classes, so I try to introduce different learning activities to the classes instead of the old tough methods of teaching.

Parents’ role in the educational process is crucial; that is why I teach them “the readability class curriculum”, so they could help their children with their studies, which definitely gives us better results.”

Shahira’s simple methods of teaching, and her innate experience as a mother in dealing with kids helped her succeed in gaining the love and trust of her students.

She started by working on improving their self-confidence, through asking them very simple questions and rewarding them when they answer correctly.

She also organized an exhibition to display the new methods of teaching so that all the teachers could benefit.

The effort Shahira’s students exert now in learning, and their persistence to improve and achieve better results, is the best proof she is an exceptional teacher and role model, who planted a seed of good that would soon ripe and have its positive impact on everyone; because “Confucius” once said it; if your plan is for one hundred years, educate children.”

Sondos

In Minya, like many conservative rural areas, girls are usually not allowed to play or take part in schools’ activities.

Sondos, an 11 years old girl, attending one of the beneficiary schools of “My School and I” project, had a different experience.

Sondos saw everything in her school changing throughout the past period.

“our classrooms are more colorful and clean, our teachers are now more dedicated in their explanation and are using more interactive methods.

Also, the school’s environment became a safer one especially for girls”.

Sondos narrates to us how the teachers used to severely hit the students even for minor mistakes, believing this is the best way to raise and educate a child.

Consequently, students were very scared of the teachers and couldn’t communicate with them, which hindered the educational process.

After attending several training sessions held by the project, the teachers started realizing the fatal mistake they have been committing, and learnt that hitting doesn’t only harm the children, but is also a punishable crime by law.

“I can’t believe hitting is finally prohibited in our school, it was a nightmare that created boundaries between us and our teachers” says Sondos.

The project also trained the school’s teachers on new teaching methods and improved the school’s learning facilities, which eased up the learning process for the students and made it more interesting to them.

The readability classes which are starting at the beginning of this academic year aim to improve the reading and writing skills of the students.

Sondos works in the school’s student union, which was initiated by the project to grant the students opportunities to acquire leadership skills.

The project encouraged girls to join the union too, which gradually removed the barriers between girls and boys at school and achieved equality among them.

Sondos really loves her renovated school, however she wishes one day her school would have a music room with a piano; she has been dreaming of learning the piano for a long time, and who knows maybe one day she would grow to become a famous pianist.

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Wedad Nouman

“I’m tired”, she said even before introducing herself to us, It came from her heart and her exhausted features asserted it.

Time has had its toll on her wrinkled face and she looked 100 years old.

Her name is Wedad Nouman, from Tatalia Village, Assiut Governorate.

Wedad leant on the table before her, so as to sit quietly in her chair. Her tired body landed, which gives you the feeling – sitting before her – that the whole world came to rest, especially after the long sigh she uttered.

Down in her heart, there was a lot of pain reflected in her pitch dark clothes, as if she lost a dear one.

Wedad is certainly tired, but her success story is an example to be followed.

Her husband travelled to Iraq at the end of the 1990s and she didn’t hear from him again.

She didn’t know if he was alive or dead, let alone that of course he didn’t send her any money.

This went on for a very long time; for 18 whole years. A lonely woman who – all of a sudden – found herself bearing the responsibility of ten children.

A lot of women around the world are responsible for raising only one child, but she had to care for ten children.

She had every right to put emphasis on her words when she said “I’m tired”. “I pray God that no one sees what I have seen in my days”, said Wedad.

“He came back suddenly as he left suddenly, but he came with a dusty face, messy hair and a beard hanging on his chest.

He looked like a captive in a war won by no one. He looked as if he came all the way from Iraq on foot.

He came back after he has fallen sick, he came back with empty hands for his children, whom he abandoned and returned to find them grown men”.

When her husband left, Wedad did not give up.

She was keen to make her children continue with their education, but also to find them jobs during their schooling and in the summer vacation, so that they provide a source of income, no matter how little.

The girls were no exception, for she educated all of them.

She took part in money pools a long time ago, five years ago.

In the beginning, she participated with five names and got 2,000 pounds.

She took another 2,000 EGP loan and bought a small calf. She cared for it as she cared for her children.

The calf gave birth to two babies. She was so happy with them and took good care of them till they grew up.

She sold one for 12,500 pounds and the other for 8,000 pounds. This was a big wealth for this woman, who cared not only for her children, but for her grandchildren too.

She used this money in renting a small plot of land, to plant and provide food for the calf that produces milk, butter and cheese, that she sells to her neighbors, providing her with another source of income. Her children have grown and became men.

She said with relief, “My son takes care of the crops”. She wished.

she had someone to carry all her burdens. “I’m tired, I’m tired of my heavy burdens.

Even after I helped my daughters get married, I still care for them and their children, hence I’m responsible for my children and my grandchildren”.

As if it’s a chain of endless responsibilities, a chain that shackles her and burdens the exhausted old woman.

“Some people feel for me and others say why is she playing the man? Even when my husband came back from Iraq, he objected to my work”.

But the wise woman, who bore all these responsibilities and overcame all these hardships, managed to tame her husband who came back after long years.

She confronted him calmly and asked him why is he indignant. “I never asked you what happened in Iraq.

You came back sick and I took care of you. I never uttered a word”. “He backed and felt thankful for this faithful woman who waited for him all these long years.

Bit by bit he changed his opinion. When we asked her if he helped her she said “Help? He’s too old and can’t go around like the old days. If he supports himself that would be enough for me.”

“It is not shameful to work, but it is shameful to beg”, she concluded.

“This is what God destined for me”, She is content with all that she experienced and all that she achieved.

She still gives abundantly to her children and grandchildren, in spite of the hard lines time put on her face.