Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Volunteering in Cairo

I spent this morning downtown at the embassy. There was a seminar about employment opportunities for the "trailing" (i.e., non-foreign service officer) spouse, and four wives had been invited to share their experiences here at Mission Cairo. One works within the mission, one works on the economy, one has delved deep into study of the Arabic language, and one occupies some of her time with volunteer work. Guess which wife was me. That's right, I gave a very short (maybe 5 minutes) presentation about volunteer opportunities here in Cairo. The response seemed fairly good, although most of the people there were interested specifically in paid work. [Update: I just got an email from someone interested in going to the orphanage, so it was a successful morning!] I decided to present the same information here, basically because I can (even though a lot of it has been presented in earlier posts). At least I think I can. I didn't write anything down before the presentation this morning; I just thought through what I wanted to say over the last day or so, then winged it during the actual presentation. So maybe I should say that here, I'm going to present something similar to what I said this morning ... plus a few other details I forgot to mention.

I've been here in Cairo now for around 15 months. Since it's our first tour, I did a lot of research about Egypt and what it's like to live here. Two things really jumped out at me right from the start. The first was how much Egypt has to offer us--there's a large mission and expat community to make the adjustment easier, there are a ton of cultural opportunities, and of course there are the antiquities and the amazing opportunity to live near them and see them in person. The other thing that jumped out at me was the overwhelming need.

Soon after I arrived, I started looking for ways that I could help meet the needs that are so abundant here. In the last year, I've started volunteering in two organizations. The first is the Baby Wash program, which is a part of Caritas, a Catholic charity. A group of English-speaking ladies goes once a week; each individual lady usually gets to go around once a month. Egyptian mothers bring their babies in, and we bathe the babies. While we have the babies undressed, we give them a quick once-over to see if there are any obvious medical problems. If there are, we send them to the on-site clinic. We also can see if the babies are being cared for--bathed properly, diapers changed often enough, that kind of thing. Most of the mothers are doing a great job with their babies, but some need a little instruction, and we provide that. We also give them things like diaper rash cream if it's needed.

The other charity where I'm involved is Mother Teresa's orphanage in Mokattum, in the area known as Garbage City. This is also a Catholic ministry. Some of the kids live in the orphanage; others come for daycare because their parents both have to work, and the kids are too little to go to work with their moms. The sisters who run the orphanage hire a few local girls to help care for the kids, but the bottom line is that there are too many kids and not enough workers. So volunteers go in and play with the kids and help feed them and change their diapers and in general take care of them. They need help in the morning and afternoon six days a week, and they need whatever help they can get. The only thing I would recommend is that if you go, take your own disposable wipes because what they use ... well. Just take them.

As you can see, my "thing" is working with babies. If that's not your thing, there are still plenty of opportunities for you. If you like working with children, there are refugee children who need to be taught an entire English curriculum. If you like working with adults, there are refugees who need to learn English. There are opportunities to work with deaf people. There are charities in need of administrative assistance. If your thing isn't people at all, but you're an animal lover, there are shelters that could use your assistance in caring for and playing with the cats and dogs they've rescued. There are so many needs, so many different needs, that whatever your skill or talent or gift is, you can find a way to use it to benefit others. There's a long list of charities in your packets if you want to see some of the options. {Each participant in the seminar received a packet from the embassy's human resources office; that's what I was referring to there.}

One other opportunity for an immediate, short-term project: the Maadi Women's Guild is an organization that supports several local charities through grants. The charities have a need and apply to the Guild for funding to meet that need. A lot of the money for those grants is raised at the annual Christmas bazaar. The planning for the Christmas bazaar is starting now, so if you want to help with that--especially if you have experience with similar things, but even if you don't have experience--I can put you in touch with the woman who's organizing it.

Volunteer work, by definition, isn't paid with money. But it's so worthwhile. You can meet some great new people, have some fun, and also know that you've done a good thing.


  1. Once again your writing is impressive - I hope your talk and blog encourage others to volunteer their services.

  2. how cool... that is awesome that you devote so much time to this cause. i am sure those children, and especially babies appreciate it.

  3. My thing is working with babies too.


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