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Volunteer Tourism in Egypt

  • Travel Off The Radar/Christina Heyniger
  • 28 April 2011

This article was first published by our friends at Travel Off the Radar, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their blog.

[Several months ago] I traveled to Egypt with Dr. Kristin Lamoureux of The George Washington University to examine the potential for volunteer tourism in Cairo and Aswan and offer strategic recommendations for its development. Our trip was sponsored by the Cultural Programs office of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. We participated in a series of volunteer tourism workshops, consultations and media-outreach events across the country from November 2-4, 2010. The goal of the program was to energize people in government, the non-profit and private sector about how they might directly implement the concept of volunteer tourism in Egypt.

El Nafeza, a paper making centre in Cairo, Egypt
At El Nafeza, a paper making centre in Cairo, visitors can learn about the process and interact with the local staff

The benefits to a destination from volunteer tourism have been hotly contested for some time. Bloggers were recently debating the topic again after the Human Research Science Council published a report about how short-term volunteer projects do more harm than good. However, we believe there is still an important place for volunteer tourism, if carefully planned, monitored and managed. If this is accomplished, it can promote meaningful cross-cultural exchange and bring economic benefits to both tour operators and local people. On our trip for example, we learned from a representative of a prestigious international adventure tour operator that incorporating a meal with local Egyptians into an existing adventure itinerary had resulted in word of mouth marketing valued at $5 million additional revenues to the company.

A few of the organizations we visited, which offer some potential for volunteer tourism, are profiled below.

Making Paper in Cairo

El Nafeza is a paper-making center in Cairo, where it is possible for small groups of visitors to learn the paper-making process and meet and interact with the women who work there. The paper is made using an environmentally friendly process: agricultural byproducts including rice hay and natural fibers are recycled into the paper; all colors and patterns are hand mixed, matched and printed. Although not an official offering for tour operators, interested visitors can contact the Center to arrange a visit: [email protected].

Microfinance for Women

The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women is an organization that arranges micro-finance loans for small businesses. It was the first NGO in Egypt to identify women as ‘head of household’ and establish a micro lending program using a group lending methodology for this target group. Nermean Foad, a representative from the association, said they would welcome skilled business volunteers who might support their internal operations; additionally there is the potential that interested volunteers might work with the individual micro-finance recipients: [email protected].

 The Recycling School for Boys in Mokattam, Cairo
The Recycling School for Boys in Mokattam, Cairo, helps train those eking out a livelihood collecting household waste

The Recycling School for Boys

At the Spirit of Youth Association for Environmental Service/Recycling School for Boys in Mokattam, we learned about the Zaballeen community, whose people collect approximately 4,000 tons of trash each day from Cairo’s nearly 8 million people. The Zaballeen earn some money from the city and some from recycling projects with corporate sponsors, such as Proctor&Gamble. We met with Ezzat Naem, who grew up in ‘Garbage City’ and now leads a school funded by revenues from trash and recycling collection. For the full history, scroll to the second article here: ‘Garbage City Teaches Recycling’.

As explained on the group’s Facebook page, the boys at The Recycling School learn how to sort and safely recycle plastic shampoo bottles. They receive a small income every month from sending these back to the shampoo factories. Through the process, children are taught the principles of recycling and the importance of safety precautions such as suitable clothing, gloves and masks. They also learn about hazardous waste materials, such as those from hospitals; they are encouraged to share this information with their families so that the entire community can learn. A documentary called ‘Garbage Dreams’ was made about this community.

Although no formal program for volunteer tourists is in place, interested visitors can contact the community and inquire about volunteering with the kids or on other projects at the school: [email protected].

Nubia Museum

Further south, our team met with Ossama Meguid, Director of the Nubia Museum, and visited the Gharb Sehel village. The village and the museum are located in a region known to ancient Egyptians as the Kingdom of Kush; it encompasses southern Egypt and northern Sudan. Many Nubians migrated to the city of Aswan after Lake Nasser swamped much of their traditional homeland when the Aswan Dam was constructed in the 1960s.

Here, we toured the Museum and learned the role it is playing in developing community-based and volunteer tourism to the region.

Nubian villages are found near the city of Aswan, where community-based tourism projects have launched
Nubian villages are found near the city of Aswan, where community-based tourism projects have launched

Mr. Meguid has written extensively on the subject of tourism in the region; to read more click here, where we have re-posted his article: ‘Community Based Eco-Tourism Concept, Characteristics and Restrictions Gharb-Sehel Village, Aswan, Pilot Project’.

As Meguid notes, “Nubian villages surrounding the Aswan City urban area such as Gharb Sehel are a regular stop for foreign tour groups, on half- or full-day boat and bus tours of the Pharaonic, Christian, Islamic and modern landmarks of Aswan. The Gharb Sehel village represents the look and feel of a village of Old Nubia when compared to the government-built concrete homes in New Nubia.”

Although tourism is necessary in this region, Mr. Meguid argues eloquently for careful resource management and small group visitation. An article from the Somali press about the region is available here.

Volunteer Tourism in Egypt is still in its nascent stages; good people to start with if you are researching a trip to Egypt that stretches beyond Pharaonic bounds include Gateway to Egypt, Wild Guanabana and Ashoka.

For even more local travel opportunities, contact the whl.travel local connection in Egypt, with expert knowledge of accommodations, tours and activities, and lots of local hints.

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Africa, children, cities, Egypt, fine arts, human interests, local knowledge, Northern Africa, personal experience, poverty, responsible travel, voluntourism, women,

One Response to “Volunteer Tourism in Egypt”

  1. Sonja says:

    Just great when you see the results of such a long and hard investment of all those people.

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