A recent survey by The American University in Cairo (AUC) found that AUC students that are involved in community outreach activities display a pattern of characteristics. These common attributes include being Egyptian Muslim females who have attended a high school located in a less privileged rural governorate and who have graduated from an Egyptian public school system. They tend to exhibit more religiosity than their peers, speak more Arabic than English in social circumstances, and show greater commitment to civic service as well as pride in the University.
The survey was conducted by undergraduate students in AUC’s Department of Sociology, Anthropology, Psychology and Egyptology, and published in the 2013 Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice. The survey, which was conducted both online and in print, included 518 undergraduate and graduate students. It sought to draw a profile of student volunteers at AUC. “The majority of previous research has focused on formal service learning opportunities, whereas there has been very little inquiry that offers insight on voluntary initiatives on campus,” said Mona Amer, assistant professor of psychology. "Our research was mostly exploratory in nature," said Nadia Haddara, an AUC psychology graduate and lead author of the survey. "Although we had some idea of what we expected our results to be, we also had many variables that were expected to have some impact on community service participation, but to what degree and in which direction was not yet certain." In Egypt, student volunteerism has the potential to significantly impact community development efforts. To gauge the effect of this, the study aimed to explore the characteristics and determine the characteristics and predictors of volunteering at a private university in order to gain a deeper understanding of civic engagement in this context and discuss how results may be applied to community practice in Egypt and the Middle East. The second aim of the study was to examine the extent to which attachment to the local community was associated with greater commitment to civic engagement. A third goal was to look at attachment on a smaller scale, namely loyalty, pride and sense of affiliation to the University. The final purpose was to explore the relationship between voluntary community service and psychological well-being, specifically depression, anxiety and stress. The survey has shown that levels of depression did not differ between volunteers and non-volunteers, although anxiety was higher among those who volunteer. “One of the proposed hypotheses as to why respondents seem to suffer from higher levels of anxiety is that youth who are involved in these community outreach projects tend to be exposed to harsher realities, thereby intensifying their sense of anxiety,” suggested Amer. “An opposite effect is often seen amongst people of older generations, where civic engagement tends to bring about a sense of serenity and accomplishment, especially in cases where community service substitutes for work in the retired elders. It is also suggested that balancing academic and volunteering commitments tends to induce more anxiety among these students.” According to Amer, one of the most interesting findings of the survey was the fact that most of those who engaged in community outreach came from rural or less affluent areas in Egypt. “Global research suggests that residents of a particular area are more likely to feel attached to it,” she said. “What’s interesting here is that Cairenes didn’t seem to have that deep connection with their community. Also, community outreach is an essential component of foreign high-school diplomas, yet the profile suggests that those most likely to participate in civic engagement projects are holders of the Egyptian thanawiya amma degree.” Most notably, the survey revealed that 19 percent of all respondents took part in community outreach activities –– a remarkable difference from the national average of 2.3 percent. “This means that a rather significant portion of Egyptian students at AUC have the tendency to take part in civic engagement initiatives,” said Amer. “This should motivate us to try and discover what is encouraging students to make these positive contributions, and use our findings to motivate others to follow in their footsteps.”