Community service and charity have often been tied to materialistic measures in our collective unconscious. You think donations, Ramadan packs, clothes, blankets, and a zillion other money-oriented means, that are definitely needed and vital for the community. Breaking the stereotype, the non-governmental organization Mashrou El Saada chose another path to serve the community using just a paintbrush.
The team chooses an area that is undeveloped and underdeveloped then they assess the district, village or building based on the level of impact their intervention will have on both its citizens and its surroundings. It is very important to them that the community is active, and that they have the initiative to change their own state for our projects to sustain and to have real impact. We have talked to Salma El Lakany, the organization’s PR Head to tell us more about this energy boosting initiative.
- What inspired the idea of using color therapy in different districts in Egypt?
It was mainly the psychological deficit in the community and the need for colors to change lives. Walking down the streets of Cairo and especially “Darb Saada” where we did our first project, our founder Hashem Raafat was inspired to change the living conditions of the people with colors and a paintbrush and that is how it all started. We believe in the power of coloring for humanity in impacting the wellbeing of the people of undeveloped and underdeveloped areas and in colors being a starting point for further human empowerment and urban development in the areas we uplift.
- How did the districts or the neighborhoods you entered first react to the idea?
They were accepting to the idea, but were shocked that people from outside the area would take the time and effort to revive their own areas. They even started to paint with us and they offered us tea and food as their way of saying thank you.
- Why do you think art is crucial to the people of the villages you paint?
Colors and art affect the well being of the soul and mind of the people. It changes the perception of their own space and environment, they start believing in their own potential which is exactly what we aim to unleash. Each color we paint has a certain meaning and objective. For example our project in the Non-governmental organization I the Egyptian, Arabic for Ana El Masr, for the street children was meant to increase the connection of the children with their space that constitutes their home, their school, their play area and everything in between. And accordingly, we chose the colors. We also integrated the children’s own doodles on the walls of the building we revived, so the art was by the children for the children. In Heissa Island in Nuba, it is different, what we do has to represent the culture of Nubia and to reflect their own identity. The patterns we use are Nubian patterns and every year we learn more about how the colors can be more authentic to them. It is important to note that the impact of the project in Nubia is not only on the wellbeing, but on the revival of the island as a whole as it impacts its economic status through attracting tourism to the island.
4. Your mission stated that you collaborate with different stakeholders to empower the women and the youth of the villages, how is that?
We partner with different organizations such as social enterprises, non-governmental organizations and others to work on conducting different human empowerment activities based on the people of each project. For example, in Heissa’s Aswan project we have partnered with Taqat business to conduct a brass making workshop for the women of the island. We also collaborated with Marwa Fayed’s Toy Run for a toy-making workshop. We do this with the hope of diversifying their sources of income. We have also partnered with the Doodle Factory to conduct an art session with the children, and their doodles will be used to create lifestyle products. A percentage of the profits will go to the uplifting of the island’s primary school. We are also working with ZDS Architects and Aten as well as Handover to enhance the island’s youth center and transform it into a cultural center for the island.
- What kind of challenges do you face to keep the project going?
Funding or getting the materials we need is challenging. Yet, somehow we find loyal supporters that help make our dreams come true.
- You recently painted El Abbasseya hospital. How was the experience and how did you convince the administration?
The General Secretariat of Mental Health and Addiction Treatment actually approached us for this project in celebration of the World Mental Health Day. They wanted us to paint a small wall in the hospital, but we loved the cause, it was very relevant to what we do. And hence, we put more effort into it. It was a great experience engaging in the ‘See them Accurately’ Arabic for “Shofhom Sah” campaign to break the stigma on mental health. It was a great experience collaborating with different partners from different age groups to make this project happen. We had volunteers from CDC MIU, Rotary and Rotaract Club of Cairo Nile Valley and CISV Egypt. Yet, it was challenging to find a design that would fit the users, it took us a lot of time back and forth to reach the final design.
- The Egyptian community service culture heavily relies on materialistic needs either Ramadan packs, blankets, etc. Did you face any critiques based on this? And how did you manage to convince the people with color therapy?
Not critiques, but maybe shock and then change in mindset. There is always the question of “do colors really have an impact?” which sometimes takes time to explain. We try to explain how although it is an intangible impact in comparison to giving financial support, the impact of colors on a wall lasts beyond anything materialistic.
Mashrou El Saada aims to reach and revive every undeveloped and underdeveloped area in Egypt and join forces with new generations who want to create change through a paint brush.
For volunteering, message their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mashrouelsaada/