“I am a lot of things”, she said right before she sat down for our conversation. This fierce young photographer proved throughout the interview that she has walked through hell and come out alive. Elham Ashraf Alfy is a 19-year-old girl whose residence is the Banati Foundation, a shelter that provides education and care for girls who have been orphaned or abandoned by their parents.
“Ever since I was 2 and my sister was 1, we were left at an orphanage in Port Said. At first, I had no idea who my parents were but when I grew older my mother started paying us visits and when she moved to Cairo she took us with her and submitted us to Banati Foundation”, Elham tells.
“I deserve to eat, I deserve to live, I deserve to have a mother and a father”
“The first time I met my father I was around 15. I was always curious to try out the feeling of having a father but when I met him and spent some time with him I didn’t experience the link that people always talk about. My sister and I never blamed him when we actually met him. I think I just didn’t want to ask why he was never there because I had a feeling that no answer would ever be a good enough reason”, she says.
And yet even on her own this young and promising photographer was able to build herself up, “When I first joined Banati I had no idea what I was good at. I was just another socially awkward, uncertain, indecisive, and aimless person. I didn’t even know what having a talent felt like. Whenever someone would ask me to do anything I’d just say that I don’t know how to do it so that I could escape the whole situation. Gradually my supervisor pushed me into photography, and I learned I was gifted when people would call me up and ask me to take photos of them or when they’d praise my work even when I didn’t see what they saw in me”, she tells.
“Then the foundation started submitting my work to several galleries and competitions, but it only felt real once I started winning medals and certificates. And when my photos were showcased and sold in a National Geographic gallery it was the best feeling in the world,” Elham adds.
You would think that that is it for this ambitious dreamer but it is not even close. “I started playing football at around 15 years old, I play both attack and defense. My team and I are going to Norway this year to participate in a football tournament there. I also sing in a choir and study business. I have been down lots of roads, something that I love, but I do know that I want to be a police officer,” she says.
” If people find a female officer at any checkpoint, they are very likely to speed through and not stop just because she is a female.”
“I believe females are just as qualified as males if not even more. We just want to classify jobs according to sex because that is how our society functions. If people find a female officer at any checkpoint, they are very likely to speed through and not stop just because she is a female. Before we ask females to be confident and follow their passion, we have to learn to respect them,” she states.
“My colleagues and I participate in stands organized by various initiatives and we speak out for other children’s rights. ‘I deserve to eat, I deserve to live, I deserve to have a mother and a father’ is what we say. We also support women’s rights,” she tells.
Elham’s voice hasn’t only reached us but also Egypt’s Shura Council with the Banati Foundation sending her and some of her colleagues to represent other children in several visits to the Council.
This multi-talented bucketful of energy learned what it is like to feel home when she was first surrounded by her friends and supervisors, “We only have each other and so we’ve learned to complement each other’s needs. My friends at the foundation consider me their mother and they come to me for advice. And I call my 26-year-old supervisor ‘mom’ because I think that the comfort that she gives me definitely earns her this title,” she explains.
“They have taught us that one day we’ll leave and then we’ll have to face the outer world but they have prepared us well for that day.”
“Even though my mom now wants to take us back, my sister and I don’t feel ready yet. I like my mom but I think I am used to spending time at foundations ever since I was young. I am a bit more attached to people at the foundation considering that I grew up with these people whilst only seeing my mom once a year,” she adds.
“They have taught us that one day we’ll leave and then we’ll have to face the outer world but they have prepared us well for that day. My mother got married at around the age 12. I assume she left us because she couldn’t bear the responsibility. A child delivered a child, what else can we expect? I would never do this and I would never leave my kids no matter what, I will be their friend, help them differentiate between right and wrong, support them, ingrain confidence in them, I will be there for them,” she concludes.
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