Sunday, October 16, 2011

Joining Hands with Egypt – Day 1

The Des Moines Presbytery's Hunger Action Enabler and Social Ministries Task Force Moderator Nancy Lister-Settle writes of her trip to Egypt, October 11-18, 2011.

I've been waiting since February for this visit to our Joining Hands partners in Egypt--those plans were interrupted by the revolution. Last Sunday, when Dave Best and I were preparing to leave, news of violence in Cairo caused a flurry of phone calls and emails from concerned family, friends and PC(USA) staff.
We made the decision to leave on Tuesday as scheduled. We came with the understanding that our itinerary would be adjusted, to avoid areas of high tension. The Joining Hands network here decided in March that it was imperative that they adjust their campaign for 2011 to focus on enabling people to be informed citizens for the upcoming elections. After a three-day workshop for network representatives, each member organization designed a project especially for their own community.
Nancy Lister-Settle is in the back row, standing, second from the right.
David Best is in the center, middle row, seated.
On our first day, Dave and I traveled to Alexandria to hear from partners there about their project. Nada Thabet and Village of Hope work primarily with families of children with disabilities. They designed a program to teach political terminology, how to assess parties and candidates, the electoral process, and understanding political campaigns. They decided to work in primarily in poorer areas of Alexandria because people there were generally less educated and had less access to information. Even though their workshops were promoted to the families they serve, they were open to anyone elegible to vote.
We met with women who had already completed the training; their experience was profound:
"The women are humble, simple people and they were very excited to learn new things!"
"We didn't know political terminology, so we had been easily influenced before--after the training we could think for ourselves."
"We thought our voice and our votes were useless."
"If you see something that isn't going well, you can vote for better representatives who share your concerns."
One woman told us that before she came to the training she knew little about politics, and she wasn't searching to know more. She said the training opened the door and transformed her and the other women she works with.
In addition, the larger association of organizations in Alexandria, all working with the disabled, agreed to all support a candidate or party who put the rights of the disabled in their platform. They are also working with officials to make voting accessible to adults with disabilities.

As our conversation ended I asked the women if they believed that the people who had attended the trainings would all vote. They replied, "No, not all of them. Probably 90%."
Nada and the Village of Hope also created a small, easy to understand booklet as part of their training for political life--these will be available to anyone.
The next morning Dave and I enjoyed a relaxing morning with Nada and her family beside the sea. It was easy to imagine a brighter future for Egypt after talking with our Alexandria partners.

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