Education in the Making
By Didi Anandarama
We were visiting “Elswhere Park” that didn’t have this name yet and was only bare soil at the banks of the River Nile. After two years it is a wonderful park, now open for visitors and overnight camping. Jules and Nassr with the help of locals from Baharwa village made it a relaxing oasis for friends to escape from the big city of Cairo on weekends and get some fresh air and peace of mind. Baharwa is two kilometers from Al Ayat city in Giza district and about an hour South from the edge of Cairo. On your way you pass Memphis and the Saqqara pyramids. This small village of less than a thousand settled Bedouines and farmers has barely electricity, no running water, and it makes you feel like you are a hundred years back in time. The families work their fields, tend their animals and fish in the Nile and use its water to make tea.
We asked the fishermen what was their immediate need in the village and they said they didn’t have a school. They need a school! I came to Egypt with the idea of starting a school and found support from Lesley and Raquel and many others. We kept this idea alive over the years, made great plans and it looked like this was the moment to start planting a seed of a school. Jules and Nassr generously offered their park for our initial and informal and idealistic start as we had almost nothing at hand except our great ideas for education.
We built a small brick hut and started the school with 30 kids in the year (and spirit) of the revolution 2011. It was fun and exciting for the kids to come to a place with lots of nice educational materials, and books that we had collected. They enjoyed learning English and creative activities. This little hut-school was temporary and soon we got a piece of land to build our Nile River School. It is still small and modest but with the possibility to expand to at least the second floor. Thanks goes to our friends from near and far who helped generously. Now we have a wonderful little kindergarten and children’s center for all children with a big classroom, outdoor classroom space, toilets for adults and children, an office and kitchen and a big garden in front of the Nile River. (We shall not mention all the troubles we went through … just one: Nile River pirates took all of our doors and windows one time and another time all the tiles and sinks and bathroom things. But the good end of these events was that we got everything back by our excellent village security!)
We had a preliminary opening in June 2012 with Laura and Risa and their friends from BISC (British International School Cairo) who took up our school as their community project and helped us so much with fundraising and with donations of school materials.
The village children helped with building and carrying things. About 70 children ages 3 to 15 come to the school during the week. In the mornings we have the small children for kindergarten, in the afternoon two groups of girls and boys. All love the colourful, clean tiled classroom. For the first time ever they got to do puzzles and after months they are still enjoying it. They also like colouring, drawing and looking at our wonderful collection of children’s books. Some children come as early as 5am and just want to spend the whole day and evening here. Several girls and boys stopped schooling so our school is a good opportunity for them for further learning. Recently the young women formed a group and want to come to learn to read and write Arabic and a bit of English and catch up with some creative activities as well.
All in all our presence for one y ear in the village has inspired the whole village for learning. The kids who entered first grade in the public school got praise for knowing the English alphabet and were asked to write words on the blackboard. The good learners are an inspiration to others and the younger ones.
A young girl from the village helps with the kindergarten. We arranged for her to get a cataract operation. She herself is a learner and teacher as we all are and we encourage all children and grownups to be learners and teachers to others at the same time.
In a story many labourers are building a mosque. A Sufi passing by asks some what they are doing. One answers, ‘I am laying bricks.’ Another says, ‘I am plastering the wall.’ Another one answers, ‘I am building a grand mosque.’ In the same spirit when asked what we are doing, we can say that we are working on real education in Egypt.
We welcome sister LFTs (trained fulltime volunteers) to stay with us and blend with our flow. General volunteers need to be fully self-sufficient and can take accommodation at Elswhere Park and help at the school or the park with ongoing activities or start new sustainable community initiatives. Visitors can also stay in tents or in the building at Elswhere Park for a short or longer visit.
We welcome donations and are happy to receive any kind of educational or other material items that we use at the school or the village. Our present needs are a fence and gate for safety, tables, chairs, shade for outdoors and regular teacher and running costs support.
Thank you very much.