The focus of my volunteerism is with those who currently experience oppressive marginalization in the inhospitable host country of Egypt, who in 1951 made reservations to refugee rights chartered by the UNHCR Refugee Convention, also known as the Geneva Convention.
El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Centre was founded in 2006 in Ain Shams, a neighborhood in the outskirts of Cairo known for its African migrant population, by a group of committed Darfurian community leaders in order to address challenges within the refugee population in Cairo, with a focus on refugees from Darfur. The mission statement of the El-Wafaa Centre is to alleviate suffering of vulnerable refugee communities in urban areas.
Egypt’s reservations to the UN’s Refugee Convention withhold national responsibility with regard to refugees within their country accessing public relief and humanitarian assistance. There are no refugee camps in Egypt. African peoples seeking asylum in Egypt continue to be unjustly marginalized based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc.
Initiated in July 2006 by local community within the African forced migrant population of Cairo, El-Wafaa Centre was physically founded in September 2006, with the assistance of Student Action for Refugees (STAR), a student-run organization at the American University of Cairo. Then president of STAR, Jennifer Renquist, now a foreign officer with USAID, organized the orientation of new students at El-Wafaa Centre, as well as the donation of books and stationeries to the center’s library, remaining a principal need.
I was introduced to this world in 2007 as a young student of literature and language at the American University of Cairo, after volunteering for STAR as an outreach English teacher. I soon met the director of the Refugee Culture Centre, named “El-Wafaa” (The Fulfillment in English) after teaching an intermediate level English course to an incredibly diverse class of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees from all over Africa.
The director of El-Wafaa, Abdel Rahman Siddiq Hashim, is from Darfur, Sudan, educated at a Sudanese university in English. He is a respected and humble community leader, known by many Cairo-based African refugees as “Teacher”. Abdel Rahman’s activism was far-reaching and all-inclusive, welcoming students into the education center, also serving as a cultural and community resource center, without discriminating ethnicity, religion or politics.
During my initial ten-month stay in Cairo, I became deeply involved in the refugee community beyond the interests of Student Action for Refugees (who soon abandoned and undermined local leadership), including organizing independent classes through the El-Wafaa community, running a food bank and managing library resources. Since then, I have poured over the role of the international community as a last vestige of light for the urban refugees of Cairo. In 2010, I returned to Cairo through a fully funded research endeavor with support from a Peace Studies consortium at the University of Calgary, where from I graduated the same year with a B.A. in the Social Sciences.
Highlights from the 2010 research period in Egypt include directly funding the El-Wafaa Executive Director’s return trip to Sudan to register El-Wafaa in Sudan, as well as with a Darfuri NGO network, to assess the situation of refugees returning home to respective countries of origin after living in Egypt as a refugee. Other successes included a film screening and discussion evening on related issues at the inner city Sudanese-led NGO Tadamon, offering charitable funding to vulnerable women-in-need, engaging Sudanese youth students in a music and culture recording project, and personally meeting and attending a course with Barbara Harrell-Bond, founder of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, the world’s first institution for the study of refugees.
Through my studies, research, and experiences in activism and fundraising since 2007 to the present, I have concluded that it is truly up to international civil society activists to help community leaders foster educational and cultural activities in their communities. UNHCR and local NGOs in the region have proven insufficient, whether as seen in the outcry of the Mustafa Mahmoud demonstration in 2005, or the current state of life for refugees during the unstable political turmoil in Cairo, today.
Their is a great need to support those who appreciate and enable the sustainable establishment of human rights organizations in Egypt providing proper services to any and all people, with a focus on African refugees.
The target demographic of El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Center is any and all residents and migrants of Egypt seeking a safe and inclusive community resource center that specializes in language education services. The target communities are refugees and asylum seekers from African countries who seek to transition from Egypt to resettle in a more hospitable country, or move back home after losing many years of their lives to impoverishment, lack of education and opportunity for employment. Such social challenges are due to many causes, including misinformation and a serious deficiency of awareness regarding the nature of life in potential resettlement countries, as well as in returning to often conflict-ridden countries of origin.
Currently, the El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Center and its concomitant community initiatives are in dire need to generate sustainable activism (both local as well as international) to support the immensely wide gaps unfulfilled by the UNHCR, NGO, and academic, as well as faith-based service providers in Cairo.
On behalf of an international network to support the community vision El-Wafaa, led by the volunteerism of PhD student and Fulbright scholar based in New York City, Thomas Leddy-Cecere and myself, a freelance journalist and human rights advocate currently based in the city of Calgary in western Canada, we petition support.
Currently, the 2013-2014 budget for El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Centre to thrive in Cairo requires 1,280 USD (center rent, office supplies, external programs). Membership fees from refugee communities in Cairo seeking services are not adequate. International networks with preexisting solidarity groups in the U.S. and Canada are integral to the sustainability and overall maintenance of the El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Centre.
Related issues raised by the refugee community in Cairo include accessing micro-credit loans, contacting UNHCR, overcoming crises in housing and basic needs, among other areas of recurrent concern.
Anyone can learn more. If interested, please correspond with mind to the pressing need for immediate action. I would very much like to start a meaningful dialogue on this issue on behalf of an extended engagement with the urban refugee communities of Cairo.
This blog was originally published at VolunteerCenter.com on July 29, 2013
- Please contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org for a free informational brochure if interested in learning more about my initiative with refugees in Cairo, Egypt
|With the Executive Director of El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Center, Mr. Abdel Rahman Siddiq of Darfur, Sudan|
|Walking Away into the Bright Lights of Cairo|
|Partnership with the Bangladeshi Community|
|Global Youth in Cairo Apartment|
|With Student and Singer from Kordofan|
|Twilight of Peace|
|With Student at St. Andrews Church in Cairo|
|A Creative Student at Arba Wa Nos Centre|
|Night Cafe with the Bere People of Sudan|
|American University in Cairo, Old Campus|
|Abdel Rahman Siddiq, the Teacher|
|In Honour of Community|
|El-Wafaa Refugee Culture Center Logo|
|With favourite tea-seller, Julia|
|With student from Central African Republic at Tadamon Centre|
|Sudanese Teacher Registers Students at the El-Wafaa Refugee Center|
|Cultural Heritage of Sudan|
|The Quintessential Meeting Ground, the Sudanese Restaurant|
I go from a behaved freedom to absolute nonsense
Without friends yet steeped in family love,
I publicly play and proclaim the monetary divide
In my rich eyes which disguise the poverty
line’s frozen glare
In Canadian expatriate stench, painstaking
To be fugitive without mind
to the loosed volley
Cracking against the one shield fortress of Mattapoisett
One place of rest made into settlement with guns
and stolen disaster
Ripped from the bosom of Europe’s scheming
Now massacring the playful
artistry of our own inborn life
On this impossible continent
Freely taken from a gamble and faith
In blond-headed angels
Whose divinity was parted
by the bald imprisoned hallucinations
Driving out demons with Masonic symbology
Over the infinite sands of civilization,
breathed and created out of time
In the sun’s ravishing corner of a universe,
un-tempted and forever at a loss
Between the child’s two eyes
On death and the holocaust of our forsaken government
Laughing at the trees’ roots
When stretched to the bottom of India’s or Africa’s wells
Ousting up the belief in life as a drunken tragedy
Yet, be not humorless
nor without comic sophistry
In the dance and song
Come alive by the sexual majesty
In theatre’s delicate ways,
To present the creative being
as one with truth’s bold and upheld music
Reflecting back in the caged mirror
A creator anew
This poem was featured in my most recent self-published chapbook, Act or Confront
Musical explorations within continuous evolutionary creativity. Discovering new world fusion - instrumental, improvised music.
"For global community awareness" Vi An said at the TedxYYC event this summer to a packed house of 1500+ audience members, plus a streaming webcast to the entire world, before beginning a ten-minute set with co-creators Bijan Maysamie on Persian Santur, and Matt Hanson on xaphoon and percussion.
The debut concert of the ContinuuMusic trio is intended as a gift to the community. Often performing for charities and private events, ContinuuMusic has raised thousands of dollars for Ten Thousand Villages, Children's Health and Education in Iran, among other meaningful initiatives.
Inspired by their invitation to perform for TedxYYC at the grandest concert hall in Western Canada, ContinuuMusic is looking to sustain their creative efforts well into the future. Vi An is a professional artist of over 18+ years, an award-winning (Betty Mitchell) theatre composer with the Green Fools Theatre and recording artist with over 15 albums and hundreds of collaborative tracks worldwide. Bijan Maysamie is steeped in the classical tradition of Persian music. Originally from Tehran, Bijan is now venturing into fusion music for the first time, and is enthused as ever, at the helm of organzing this debut concert. Matt Hanson is a multi-instrumentalist, whose artistry draws deeply from a musical family with roots in Mediterranean and American intercultural tradition.