Inspired by the spirit of Tahrir, the youth are seizing the initiative to create a better nation. By Lamia Hassan
(Egypt Today Magazine, May 2011)
For the 18 days of the revolution, it was like the country was on hold. Business ground to a halt, people feared for the stability of the country and their own personal security. On the positive side, neighbors came together to protect their communities, while those in Tahrir Square organized a fully functioning community of their own.
After the revolution, charity organizations went back to work on projects aimed at helping the affected families around the country. But what Egypt needs now more than ever is not just charity work, but an organized and solid plan to help the country move forward. The end of the Mubarak era has been like a wake-up call for society, and as the country hits “restart,” young people are stepping up with ideas, projects and reforms to help build a new Egypt — trying to harness a positive energy has not seen in at least 30 years. Egypt Today looks at two initiatives already in the works.
After playing a vital role in the revolution, many of the youth wanted to continue having a role in rebuilding the country. Three friends in their mid to late twenties — Mohamed Aboul Naga, Mohamed El- Beltagy and Yehia El Shazly — decided to launch an initiative under the name Ebda’ Beh Nafsak (Start By Changing Yourself). The idea behind it is that everyone in the country should start doing something to change themselves and others around them to create a better country.
“The idea of the initiative came about when I was on my neighborhood watch with my two partners on February 25. Everyday the newspapers wrote about really depressing things, and about looting and crimes,” says Aboul Naga. “So we thought of trying to do something positive that would inspire some hope in people, especially because everything was still unstable and chaotic then.”
Aboul Naga says that as a start, they decided that their first project would be simple one that could be done instantly and would help improve people’s behavior. Finding a problem to address was easy: They just looked at the streets and the tangle of vehicles trying to weave through double-parked cars.
The solution? They created a sticker that reads “This is rude. The country is changing and you are still double parking.”
The team — at that time there were only five people onboard — went out into Zamalek and started putting the stickers develon any car they found double-parked, to see how people would react. Aboul Naga recalls, “People actually liked the sticker.”
The group’s sticker soon became popular, especially in Zamalek. When people saw it on cars, even those who double-parked, thought it was a good and funny idea. “I was with a friend in Zamalek and we saw the sticker on a car on 26th of July Street,” says Zamalek resident Sara Mostafa. “We did not really know what it was exactly and we were really curious. When I heard about the idea, I thought it is a really good one to start changing people’s manners and behavior.”
Within three weeks, the group of Ebda’ Beh Nafsak volunteers had swelled to 100 people. Today, the initiative has five committees, including public relations, media marketing, human resources, fundraising and research, which meet at least once or twice a week to come up with new ideas.
After the success of the relatively simple sticker project, the group decided to take on a more complicated social awareness project. The members coordinated with schools in slum areas to gather residents from these neighborhoods to talk about improving social manners.
“We thought it was important to go and talk to the people there and inform them of what their rights are, and raise awareness of issues such as the role of women and girls and how they should be treated, and so on,” says Aboul Nag”We decided that our projects would not involve politics or religion, but we really think that by raising social awareness issues, we will help shape future generations.”
So far, the group’s activities are focused solely in Cairo, with plans to expand their reach to communities outside of the capital. Aboul Naga says they first wanted to start in Cairo to establish themselves and gain more members before branching out.
The members of the group are increasing on a daily basis, many of whom are working on the neighborhood project. While many of the proposed future projects are dedicated development and social awareness, a waste management project is also under discussion. At the moment, the Ebda’ Beh Nafsak campaign has been able to self-fund their efforts, but the founders say they are also looking at large-scale projects that will have to involve fundraising. The group can be reached on the Facebook group ebda2 benafsak or via email at ebda2benafsakgroup@ groups.facebook.com.
While it may not be the youth that launched the company called One, youth are at the core of its work. Founded by Bayan Waleed, who is involved in creative media and education projects, and Egyptian filmmaker Adam Ali, who wants to create a medium for youth to build their projects, One is working on an initiative for the youth called Onestival, due to launch in the beginning of May.
Waleed and Ali believe in the importance of engaging the youth in building the country and giving them space to be creative, innovative and implement their projects. “The first and main objective of the project is to have everything under one umbrella, and its second objective is to have everyone around the world communicate through art,” says Waleed. “Through this we would like to show how the youth in Egypt are creative, innovative and up to date.”
The youth will create a short video where they talk about their ideas, then upload them to the internet so people around the world can share their ideas and find ways to implement them. “We will also be posting good ideas by people who are not even part of the project, like Osama El-Baz’s development project, so people can learn from them,” Waleed adds.
Waleed says that they will also be presenting talks to people in universities, clubs, cultural and youth centers. They will also have an online archive for their debates for people to access them.
One’s founders have attracted some major organizations to support this youth project. Among them is Taking ITGlobal — one of the largest online platforms for youth to exchange ideas. “We also have Yalla Start-Up, which reaches out to entrepreneurs and finance their projects,” Waleed adds, “and also Kelmetna and Teen Stuff magazines, and many more are joining.”
One offers more than just an online clearinghouse for good ideas. Onestival also includes a seven-stage competition with a focus on building Egypt. The seven stages start with I Build, followed by I Achieve, I Develop, I Inspire, I Lead, I Conquer and finish with I Mentor. Each stage will feature a separate competition, with the I Build contest set to be announced on May 4. The later stages will be rolled out every two weeks. One will put the winners of each competition in contact with other foundations, private sponsors and NGOs that will help take the idea a step closer to the actual implementation.
“When you reach the full growth of your project,” Waleed says, “you help others make their project [happen] too.”et