Volunteerism in Egypt

Cairo, Egypt

Wael (in the white suit), the other organizers (front row) and some of the many volunteers

Wael told us today that the Egyptian volunteers of the Cairo Meeting have been calling him all weekend to say that they don’t want the spirit of the meeting to end. They got such a charge out of volunteering, they said, that they couldn’t wait to do it again! They’d never done something like it before, never had such an experience, and they didn’t want to wait for next year’s Cairo Meeting to get together again.

Wael had been disappointed at what he saw as a lack of organization in the event, a lack of coordination and communication, and a general lack of professionalism. We saw quite the opposite, and Alex really captured it when she started talking about the leadership she saw displayed over the weekend.

In Europe and the United States, we take values of civic responsibility, volunteerism and leadership for granted. They’re taught to us from the first grade, and throughout our school years we’re pushed by our parents and teachers into all sorts of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. By the time we get to university, they’re skills we take for granted.

In Egypt, on the other hand, most students reach university without ever engaging in volunteer opportunities, let alone leadership opportunities. In Alex’s estimation and mine, the Egyptian volunteers stepped up to the challenge very quickly and efficiently, considering how inexperienced they are! Even better, they loved the experience, and they want to do it again!

I was reminded of Questscope and Ruwwad in Jordan, and the success they’ve had at encouraging civic engagement among refugee populations in Jordan, of 7iber, which has been hugely successful at mobilizing Jordan’s blogosphere to civic involvement on a wide range of issues. It makes me even more disappointed not to have gotten the position I interviewed for at Ashoka Arab World, which is encouraging volunteerism in Egypt and other Arab countries.

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