Offering students the opportunity to enrich their University experience, three new student clubs at The American University in Cairo (AUC) have been launched this semester: Heya (She): The Women’s Initiative; Khatwa (Step) and 3alRaseef (On the Sidewalk). Heya was incubated last spring by AUC Developers Inc. club, which offered its members training and technical assistance. This semester, Heya has been launched as an autonomous club. “Our aim is to empower women by providing them with the tools needed for them to realize their full potential,” said Heba Hesham, economics major, who co-founded the club with Yara El-Razaz.
The women-centered club launched several projects last semester, including the Heya Meen? (Who is She?) campaign, which involved members asking students around campus about their perceptions of Egyptian women. Male and female respondents wrote their answers on the back of campaign T-shirts, and responses were classified according to gender. The two groups of responses were then displayed in a cloud map on International Women’s Day.
Heya also held an open dialogue about the best and worst places to be a woman, focusing on a cross-cultural analysis of womanhood in different parts of the world. The discussion tackled laws, culture and norms with relation to education, marriage and divorce. “The cross-cultural dialogue about the status of women in different parts of the world allowed students to exchange ideas and formulate an understanding of other cultural perceptions,” said Hesham.
Off campus, the club has embarked on the Amalna (Our Hope) project, where members mentor and work closely with female orphans, engaging with them in interactive activities. “The problem with volunteer work in Egypt is that it is not personal enough and lacks consistency,” said Hesham. “Because this is an ongoing project, we chose committed participants who are willing to be fully engaged in such a long-term initiative.”
This year, the club will hold an exhibition on sexual harassment that was held by HarassMap and Darb 1718 last summer. It will also prepare a health awareness curriculum for women in Shubra El-Kheima, with the help of several community-based nongovernmental organizations. In addition, club members will work on improving the English-language skills of female students at Al-Azhar University. “Better language skills will translate into better scores and better job opportunities later on,” said Hesham.
Khatwa, another community-service club, is adopting a scientific approach to benefit a wide pool of beneficiaries. “Khatwa is a science-based club in the sense that we depend on community psychology in planning our activities,” said Mohamed Alaa, president of the club, which is the first franchise of an NGO that carries the same name. “The focus of our work will be the underprivileged area of Ain El Sira, where we will establish a certified educational center for inhabitants there.”
According to Alaa, the planning phase will be superseded by a period of research, through which the needs of the beneficiaries will be collected and closely examined. “What makes our club special is that we’re trying to create a model rather than change everything with our own hands,” he explained. “Our focus is on quality rather than quantity.”
Khatwa is also launching a campaign titled Aslo Arabi (It’s Originally Arabic), which attempts to place community-service work in a cultural context that highlights the contributions of Arabs throughout history.
Directing its development efforts toward street children, 3alRaseef will hold a series of campaigns and events to raise awareness on the plight of this marginalized group. “We want to create awareness about the miserable life of street children and change people’s negative perceptions about them,” said Amina Abdul-Zaher, head of the club’s public relations committee. “We also want to improve the life of those children by offering them shelter and education, and protecting them from abuse.”
Club members pay weekly visits to street children to talk to them and understand their problems in order to come up with realistic, feasible solutions. “As AUCians, we are not isolated from the wider community,” said Abdul-Zaher. “We want to mingle with people and understand their problems to turn our education into service.”
In addition to the new clubs, the University’s established clubs are continuing with their programs and initiative. Alashanek Ya Balady (AYB) and the Help Club are resuming their community-service activities in the areas Ain El Sira and Misr Al Qadimah, respectively. “For children, we are carrying on with our weekly education and entertainment sessions at Al Fustat Park in Misr Al Qadimah, and for adults, we are continuing to offer computer-literacy workshops and technical training programs,” said Nayyera Abdel-Hadi, biology junior and president of AYB, which was founded in 2002.
Resala AUC, a franchise club of the nongovernmental organization Resala, is launching this year a house-repair campaign in El Deweiqa area. “We collect donations to make necessary repairs to houses, such as fixing ceilings, walls and doors,” explained Ali Abdel-Latif, vice president of Resala AUC. El Deweiqa has been the focus of the club’s activities for the past few years, with members visiting the area on a biweekly basis to teach children Arabic, English and mathematics.