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A journey from loneliness and distress to hope and strength, Reem tells her story

In 2017, Reem Mohamed, a (33) Syrian woman, fled with her husband and two children as war engulfed her countryReem is a young Syrian woman, married with two children, who have been living in Egypt since then. Reem is originally from Damascus countryside,  had to move to the capital, Damascus, when her village was declared a war zone. “Although we thought that the capital would be a safer place for us, we lived very hard times. The economic conditions were very bad. No life, no electricity, no safety, and the capital was under attack all the time,” she says.

At that time, Reem and her husband realized that it was about time to flee the country. “We have already lost our home, our business and we left with nothing,” Reem explains. The family left everything behind: their families, friends and country. “We had some savings; so we took our passports and left the same night,” she adds.

The trip to Cairo was not without risks. They lack food and water during their trip which lasted for hours. “Travelling in such terrible conditions and with two children – a 3-years-old son and a six-month-old daughter was a nightmare,” she says.

The family headed to Alexandria to join their relatives there. Her husband tried to start a food processing business. But the business failed and he lost most of his capital. He had to work as an employee in another business.

Adapting to her new life is another challenge for Reem. Badi Ahwa” (I want to buy coffee) is a simple expression that was not understood by Egyptians”! “People did not understand what I was trying to say,” Reem says. She explains that she never thought that the difference of dialects would be a problem when she decided to move to Egypt. “I know that I am in a better situation than other Syrians who live in isolated camps elsewhere. Here, we live among Egyptians and as part of society. However, the integration is still not that easy. The difference in dialects, cultures, and even in food is obvious.” she underlines.

At the beginning, I used to take care of my house and children only. I used to spend days alone, with no one even knocking at my door,”  she adds.

Reem could not easily adapt to her new life or integrate into a new country. But when she joined a Whatsapp group in her neighbourhood, she was introduced to a CARE Friendly Space. Located in Agami, Alexandria, CARE Friendly Space is a safe place for women created in neighbourhoods where the majority of residents are Syrian refugees.

This place offered Reem an opportunity to network with other refugee women from different countries, including Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Eritrea as well as Egyptians. Activities such as sewing, drawing, cooking, psychological support or even just information sessions about the legal status of refugees, their rights and duties in their new host community were organized.

“This place allowed me to communicate again with people like me, speaking the same language, dialect and with similar stories. I felt home again,” she says. “I learnt to draw, sew and make string art. I displayed my artwork in exhibitions and sold some of my work. But it all stopped with the pandemic,” she adds.

Then, came the COVID-19 pandemic

With the outbreak of the pandemic, Reem, like many other families, went through a difficult time. There was little income and nowhere to go. Even the Friendly Space that she used to consider as her only recreational and learning centre closed its doors during the lockdown. She could no longer connect with her peers.

Podcast Training

Our team at CARE Egypt understood the feelings of loneliness and the profound depression of these women during the lockdown.   Hence, we created “Lametna” (Our Gathering), a new podcast as a way for female refugees to reconnect.

Season 1 episodes focused on opening a safe space to express their feelings and offering psychological support. Then, twenty Syrian and non-Syrian women refugees volunteered to train in program hosting.

Reem was one of the participants. She hosted a program that she named “Nasij Al-Hekayat” (Weaving Tales). “I had the opportunity to speak about everything: my memories, me being a bride in my house back in Syria nine years ago, about refugees who drowned at sea, about success and failure, my artwork and many other topics,” she explains.

In six months, we podcasted 100 episodes. We reached 7707 listeners from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, the USA and Iraq.

Reem left Syria with her 3-year-old son and 6 months-old baby. Four years on, Reem still gets scared when hearing an airplane passing by. The war memories are still vivid in her mind. However, she is full of hope that one day all the hard times would be gone and maybe one day they will go back to their country so that the children meet their grandparents, uncles and aunts for the first time in years.

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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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A Great Story Behind

KL is a 17 year old Syrian adolescent who moved to Cairo after the war took place in Syria.

As all Syrians who were forced to leave their homes, remembers the exact date in which he left his home on 13 November, 2012.

When KL moved to Cairo, he was only 14 years old.

As he moved with his family and without his father, KL began to earn his family’s living by working in parking lots, supermarkets, grocery stores and hairdressers.

“I had to work, though I faced many problems to find a job, Some days I returned home with 2 pounds and this was all I succeeded to get”

In 2015, His mother saw an announcement on Facebook for an “Interactive Theatre” asking for volunteers by CARE in a CSO near their house.

“Though I was a little bit not sure that this is a true training, I gave myself a chance to have something new!”, He added “I felt at the beginning that I do not belong neither to the place nor participants and that I am a stranger as I always feel”.

But this feeling has been dramatically changed after the third session of the training.

“This spirit I have felt in the group brought back the same feeling I used to have with my friends back in Syria”.

During the first stage of the training in which the trainer helped the participants to get closer to their personalities and memories, many hurtful memories were passing in KL’s mind.

KL remembered the sexual harassment incident he faced when he was 8 years old. As he described, a man took him in a hidden place and forced him with a knife to take off his clothes.

KL mentioned that the perpetrator threatened him that he will be killed if he told anybody about what happened.

That was not the only memory that crossed his mind, KL also remembered his two close friends who died in front of his eyes in Syria.

“I became accustomed to scenes of blood and murder, I need help!”

After some sessions and getting involved in acting, KL’s character has completely changed, He became more optimistic about his future.

His smile began to appear for the first time since he came to Egypt as he mentioned.

He found new friends and his talents appeared. Moreover, He became a defendant for the cause of the project and combating Sexual and Gender Based Violence.

“I became more close to problems that Syrians face and I feel I have a role in changing my community”.

The interactive theatre training has helped him overcome his inner pain and awful incidents he faced in his life.

KL, as per the trainer’s evaluation, has a great potential in acting and in interactive theatre.

The trainer and his colleagues always encourage him before and after the performance.

The young man’s scenes are met with loud applause from the audience every time he conducted theatre performances.

“I have retrieved my dreams and I have a role model, our theatre trainer”.

KL offers help in many scenes in case of absence of his colleagues. He has been a co-trainer for a new theatre group for women in the same project.

Moreover, he was recruited as a theatre trainers in a Syrian local NGO working in Egypt. KL’s dream is coming true.

He described the “Interactive Theatre” training as a turning point in his life and apparently it will be.

NB: KL is not the real name of the young man as per her request due to the sensitivity of the incident he faced

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Nesma Ramadan from marginalized divorced woman to successful entrepreneur

Once married ten years ago, Nesma was a
housewife. After a three-month marriage, Nesma
got divorced. Since that time, she did not have
anyone to support her financially. Her father
passed away. Her brother helps but he still needs
to meet the needs of his children. “Even the
EGP 300 divorced pension I used to receive was
stopped due to some employee’s mistake,” she
explains. “We used to argue a lot. He slapped me
many times. When it was all over, I felt very down.
Yet, I had to do something with my life”, she says.
Nesma, now living with her mother, in Dayrout
El-Sherif village, Assiut governorate, started with
a grocery store; however, it did not work out well.
“It was not lucrative enough. Moreover, when my
mother got sick, I had to leave everything for her,”
she says. “But how can we live with my mother’s
four-hundred EGP pension?”
At that time, the project facilitators were reaching
out to local communities in the targeted villages
of both Assiut and Beni Suef. When the facilitator
reached out to her, Nesma did not have income
at all. “I like sewing a lot. Since I was a little girl, I
remember that I loved watching my aunt sewing.
I even learnt it at school but it was not enough.
I dreamt to have my own income. I did not want
to be a burden on my brother anymore. I want to
generate my own income just like he does”, she
underlines.
Marwa Hussein, Agriculture and Natural
Resources Program Director says, “We believe
that development of Upper Egypt is highly
intertwined with women empowerment. For
this reason, CARE, Egypt works on promoting
income-generating activities to create selfsustained
businesses for women. Women in rural areas still are not actively participating in
economic activities. Lately, with CARE efforts,
women are more engaged in income-generating
activities which has led to better positioning for
women in household decision-making and better
livelihoods for their families.”
The association provided training to accepted
applicants. Nesma received a training on sewing
before handing her a sewing machine. “I started
with sewing two bed sheets. I paid EGP 200 for
the fabrics and the association gave me the
sewing machine worth of EGP 1000”, she says.
“I sold the bed sheets, then made more and more.
I started selling to my sister and neighbors. One
of my neighbors took me to the school where
she works to sell my products to her colleagues.”
Since then, Nesma expanded the network of
her clients and went to several exhibitions to
display her products. “I can earn up to EGP 1000
per month. I am now more experienced when
it comes to buying fabrics and bargaining with
traders”, she adds.
“I dream of expanding my business, building-up a
good reputation around the neighboring villages
and maybe start marketing my products online to
penetrate new markets”, Nesma says.

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Khadra Mostafa selling homemade soap for her neighbors

What could EGP100/ a day do for a family of seven members? Khadra Mostafa, a married woman living with her husband and five children in Dayrout El-Sherif village, Assiut governorate. The oldest girl is 16 years old is getting married soon, and the youngest is a 5-year-old boy. Large families tied with small income are a main feature of local communities. Khadra’s family speaks for the status quo of thousands of poor families in Upper Egypt. Her husband, Sherif works as a baker. He has been moving from one working place to another. Khadra and Sherif used to fight all the time about money. This has quickly turned into violent discussions. Endless discussions triggered silence. Khadra in dire need for money has stopped asking her husband for money not even for her diabetes medication. She ended up going into a coma. The family remained with zero income for long time.Amal Bokra/ Hope for Tomorrow association made an announcement about the EU sub-grants. Khadra submitted an application. She has always loved soap trading. Before getting married, she used to sell and buy ready-made soap. But she could not make soap at home. “I did not know how to make it. No one taught me”, she explains. First, her husband refused the home-based business. He could not stand the idea of people constantly visiting the house day and night. Things changed overnight! One day, her husband left his job for over a month. “Suddenly, he stopped pouring his anger on me: he realized that I can make money on my own. We don’t argue about expenses anymore”, she said.
Zaynahom, head of Amal Bokra association explains that the grant covers the largest portion of the capital needed for the business while the applicant pays the rest to ensure her seriousness about launching the business. In addition to the grant, Khadra received a 3-day training at the association premises to gain the necessary skills for soap making. At the beginning, it was not easy: “I spoiled two mixes and kept crying all day. At the end, I was able to fix them. They were all sold out”, she explains. “Today, I gain EGP 800/ month. I pay the house rent. I spend the rest on food and education of my children and save some money for my daughter’s wedding”, Khadra adds.This small business has just unleashed her mind to think about bigger dreams. She is now dreaming of expanding her business and buying a new house. “What would happen to my children if I die? I do not want to leave them on the street. We need to have our own house”, she highlights. Howaida Nagy, Project Manager at CARE explains: “CARE is keen on providing women participants with capacity-building trainings as we will not contemplate with providing money to participants. Our goal is to offer sustainable interventions to the target groups that would have impactful sights on their livelihoods for years to come.”

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Youth champion community-based monitoring in Assiut and Beni-Suef

210 young men and women have been engaged in monitoring the performance of local grassroots organizations in Beni-Suef and Assiut during Hayat Kareema project period (2016- 2019). The community-based monitoring model is designed to build trust between CARE and local grassroots associations on one side and between project’s participants and associations on the other side.As part of the Governance Programming Framework, CARE introduces social accountability tools for the first time in Egypt. Partners are fully engaged in ensuring transparency, access to information and compliance to all forms of community-based monitoring mechanisms. “The model offers a space to citizens to help improve local development processes in the most impoverished areas of Egypt”, Dr. Refaat Abdel-Kerim, Governance and Civil Society Advisor at CARE Egypt says. Youth described how impactful it was on their characters, lives and improving the project’s final deliverables. Mohamed Farag-Allah, coordinator at Hayat Kareema project, explains: “I learnt a lot through this experience. I learnt about procurement, tenders, filing systems. I have better communication skills”. Trainings included communications, accountability concepts, report writing, conflict resolution, field monitoring, input tracking, and public hearing management. Despite signing contracts between CARE and grassroots associations clearly stating that the community-based monitoring mechanism is an essential part of the project. Yet, associations had a difficulty cooperating with young graduates playing the role of monitors at the beginning. Directors of associations are used to receive inspections from government entities not youth. That is a precedent of its kind.
“It is not easy for associations to receive a bunch of fresh graduates coming to spotlight mistakes and expose them to the community and CARE, or at least this how they thought we are coming for. However, when we explained that we are here to help, provide technical support and improve their performance, they started to cooperate gladly”, Ahmed Mohamed, former facilitator at the project says. Monitoring incorporated meeting with project’s participants, discussions with association’s team and documentation review. When bugs surfaced, the monitoring team starts discussing with the team at the association the means of adjustments. Then, the whole thing is reported back to CARE. If the association does not make the necessary amendment. A public hearing session is organized. “Associations lack the experience and technical knowledge. Some of them do not own a laptop. Others do not know how to write reports”, Ahmed underlines. Said Hefny, director of Ayadi El-Kheir association at Beni Soliman village, Beni Suef previously described young graduates as “a bunch of kids inspecting the association’s work”. He quickly changed his perspective when he realized the true objective of social accountability. “They –the youth- became our contact point with the community. At some point, they redirected our attention to more unprivileged areas in the village. They transferred best practices from one association to the other”, he explains. So far, 18 public hearings sessions were held with the main purpose of providing a platform of interaction and dialogue between grassroots beneficiaries, local CSOs, local authorities and local business community. Most CSOs applied the required amendments.

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Machinery increase yields, value-added agriculture products

Agriculture in Egypt lacks machinery and equipment to improve the production process. Aware of such an issue, the EU- funded project, Hayat Kareema, accepted proposals of local CDAs and cooperatives for buying machinery that meet the needs of farmers’ communities.In Beni Suef, farmers suffer from high prices of rents, inaccessibility and poor quality of available machinery. For this reason, Ahmed Gomaa, director of the cooperative of El-Zaitoun village presented two proposals worth of one million EGP to CARE, through Hayat Kareema project, to provide tractors, a corn silage machine, a plough and a trailer. “Our role is to provide services to farmers. We already provide seeds and fertilizers, however, the cooperative is opt to optimize its role by providing machinery at affordable prices for farmers in El-Zaitoun village”, Ahmed says. “Up to the present moment, 1000 out of 1700 registered farmers have benefitted from the two tractors”, he adds. Flipping is important to preparing lands for the next cultivation season and helps increase yields by the end of the season. “Suppliers used to exploit farmers as they offered their tractors at high prices in El-Zaitoun. They know that farmers have no other option”, Ahmed explains. The cooperative offers tractors at lower prices, 500 EGP instead of 700 EGP as offered in the market. View the lower prices offered by cooperatives, in turn, suppliers decreased prices too. Nasser Hussein, a farmer in El-Zaitoun village praises the quality of the cooperative’s tractor, leading to an increase of his yield; and
highlights the importance of accessibility to machinery for improving agriculture production. “My wheat yield increased from 3.5 tons to 5 tons last season. Having a high-quality tractor next door- at the cooperative- is definitely a good idea. Previously, we used to search for tractors in surrounding villages. It was difficult to find one on the spot. We had to wait for a week till we get it to the village”, Nasser Hussein, a farmer in El-Zaitoun village says. Filtering and packaging is another example of introducing machinery in agriculture sector. Beni Suef governorate produces vegetables and fruits allocated for exportation.

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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.

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TODAY.. CARE IS TURNING 72 YEARS OF IT’S GLOBAL OPERATIONS AND 63 IN EGYPT

Today, CARE is turning 72 years of it’s global operations and work globally “Defending Dignity, Fighting Poverty”.
while CARE International in Egypt turned 63 today as we have proudly been in Egypt since 1954.

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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.