Today is the first day of our tour through Plan projects in Africa. We are grateful and honoured to be able to show Canada the wonderful work that this organization is doing.
We were picked up promptly at our guest house at 9:30 this morning and greeted kindly by Ahmed, Mohamed, and Youmna. During our drive to our first destination, Youmna translated as Mohamed told us of the success that each project has had. We were impressed to hear about the progress that they have made in Egypt.
The population of Cairo alone is 20 million and with so many people, countries like Egypt must rely on outside foreign aid. What draws us to Plan even more is how they not only offer a solution, but make sure that it is sustainable. Before deciding to ride for Plan, (formerly Foster Parent's Plan) we had always thought of them as strictly helping one child at a time. This is not the case. When a person sponsors a child, they are actually sponsoring projects most needed in the community. Whether it be clean water, a playground or a school. They look for where the aid is needed most and provide it. In the case of Egypt we visited 5 destinations.
Our fist stop was a youth community center. What used to be a polluted pool of water surrounded by garbage and full of disease is now a clean tiled playground where children can safely play football and ping pong while interacting with other children in the community. Inside, there are computers, a gymnasium and a hall for community celebrations. It truly is a success story.
Our next stop was located in the poorest neighbourhood of Cairo. The streets were made of dirt, littered with garbage and the buildings were falling down. But as we approached the school, we were greeted by smiling, playful children who definitely give hope for the future. Plan has built the only school in the neighbourhood. A refuge that tries to keep children from dropping out by creating a positive environment. Plan has provided computers, cassette recorders, school desks and a playground as well as training programs for teachers. They also act as a liason between families and the school board, and educate the community about children's rights.
This city is gigantic and many of the children never get out of their neighbourhood. The school offers them a chance through field trips to see other parts of Cairo. It can be a real inspiration for them. The head minister of the school was so proud and we were so very grateful to them for letting us visit. Plus we were treated to a stanza of his beautiful poetry. The students were extremely excited to see us and I must say that I think that we disrupted their exams. Everyone wanted to shake our hands and say hello and our spirits were lifted by meeting them. When it was time to leave, all of the children ran down the street following our van, but we had to move on to our next destination.
The CBR – The Community Based Rehabilitation Project is a project that truly touches our heart.
Up until 5 years ago, children with disabilities were shunned by their community. Mothers were struggling with heartbreak and little hope. But the CBR changed all that. Plan started this program and now the people have learned to sustain it for themselves. Plan taught the board members how to write proposals to obtain funding, and with the help of the government, the community and Plan, they will be expanding throughout the country.
At this building, mothers can drop in with their baby's and toddlers anytime to work on motor skills and speech therapy. As they grow older, they move to a group where 3 days a week, they play games, sports and work on crafts. Because of this project, they are now accepted into the community and are able to help out at home. They are even taught trades.
Last year one child went to the Special Olympics and won gold, something to be very proud of.
The older children play games and we were allowed to watch them play a game of bowling. You could tell by their smiles and laughter that they were having a wonderful time. By playing these games they are learning important skills without even knowing it.
Next we moved on to see some houses and communities that Plan has helped. They have provided plumbing, clean running water and toilets to an area where they used to have to travel great distances just to have a drink of water. Now they have a legal sanitation system. We met a family that gave us pastries and they were so proud of their child who is sponsored by a man from Holland. We reiterate again, this sponsorship is for the community, but the child has the added bonus of being able to correspond with his sponsor.
Our final stop was a business set up through Plan's micro-finance programs. Struggling families can apply for a loan to start their own business and Plan gives them 24 months at a very low interest rate to pay that back. People who otherwise would never be able to finance a project themselves are now given the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Once they have paid off their debt, Plan takes that money and refinances another entrepreneur.
The project we visited today was a furniture making business. These craftsman were friendly and proud of their family business. They take their beautiful hand made furniture to the market and sell it to tourists. So the next time you are haggling over a few dollars, remember, many of these crafts are hand made over 15 days by talented and hard working families. We know we will think of it next time.
Our trip today was an incredible experience, we are so lucky as Canadians to have all of the opportunities that we have. People face enormous problems in this world and by doing our own small part, we are hoping that we can at least bring awareness to more people about how much help is actually needed.
We have all heard the rumours that Aid money never gets to where it is supposed to go, but today we saw first hand, the difference that Plan is making in a community that would otherwise have little hope.
Many thanks to Plan and everyone involved who sacrificed their holiday today to bring around to these destinations. The hospitality that we were shown today will stay with us.
We will be online again, on the 11th to give and update of our Nile cruise and Riders meeting. Unfortunately we have to leave our Dahab Guesthouse and go back to the tourist trappings of the Cataract Resort where the internet costs $13 per hour. Here we have wireless for free and we have made good friends with Mohamed and Amir at the front desk. We will miss this place, but we know that we are going to meet amazing people along the way.