Columbia College | Columbia Engineering

Cairo, Egypt - Hands Along the Nile Development Services

The traffic, the dust, the crowds—at first glance, Cairo can be an overwhelming experience, but over the course of our week there, such a sense gave way to one of comfortable familiarity.

In the mornings, we volunteered at the Sisters of Charity Orphanage in Muqattam, or Garbage City, caring for infants and toddlers.  Most of our interaction consisted of playing with the kids—who quickly latched on to the personalized attention we offered—but also involved feeding them and assisting the staff with tasks such as laundry.  Despite our short time there, saying goodbye was a difficult task—besides the kids, who we’d bonded with, the nuns also asked us to stay for just another day.

In the meantime, the afternoons and evenings flew by in a rapid succession of meetings and discussions with NGOs and college students. We learned about rule of law projects from the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression, women’s rights from Gihan Abou Zeid, a wonderful activist who became a mother figure in the span of thirty minutes, and about sustainable recycling practices from two HANDS partner NGOs, Spirit of Youth, a recycling school for young boys in Muqattam, and the Association for the Protection of the Environment, a recyclable crafts school for girls.  In turn, our meetings with fellow college students provided an opportunity for us to not only discuss respective cultural perceptions but to make friends—one evening of coffee with one group of students turned into successive dinners and then a farewell gathering.

Although the days were long and exhausting (taking pictures of group members sleeping on the bus became a favorite pastime), when we look back on our trip, the aspect that stands out to us are the individual Cairenes we made connections with and the warmth with which they welcomed us into their lives, thus making the city, if only for a few days, home.

Christine Choi
Trip Leader Spring 2012