In one of Zelzal district’s long streets, exists a cozy heartwarming bubble that is one of the spaces of the non-profit organization Alwan wa Awtar. It’s where you’ll find children enthusiastically drawing, dancing, acting, or even critically challenging the methods of their instructors. Registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Alwan wa Awtar is an organization providing an after-school haven for children to develop and enhance their livelihood skills through the arts.
“From the moment I joined Alwan wa Awtar, I knew that I am in the right place. As if I was lost on my own and then found my place to stay,” says Alwan wa Awtar’s Monitoring Evaluation and Learning Officer, Lamia Serag El Din. The organization accepts children regardless of their social class or financial ability and determines their payment accordingly.
“It’s about making a human-being function in a holistic manner. And the arts are the entrance for all of this through either performances, drawing, painting, or other forms,” she adds.
Alwan wa Awtar was founded in 2004-2005 by Azza Kamel who is considered the Godmother of the organization. For Lamia, the after-school activities are crucial for the kids, especially the arts as a medium for exposure and expression. Hence, they dedicate time for different types of arts to involve everyone. “In Egypt, and not only in less-privileged communities, kids do not have access to things other than what they learn at school,” Lamia adds.
Focusing on character development, the organization focuses on different sets of skills: identity and self-discovery, social, intellectual, and self-learning skills. Participants come with complete freedom as the program is not to like school where students are bound by a fixed curriculum to pass the exam. That’s exactly why Lamia states that they did not really have a hard time with recruiting the children as their project sells itself. “The system sells itself especially for children who have only the school, private lessons, the street or TV. As soon as people learn about a place that offers something different than what they’re used to, especially the interactive games, they come,” Lamia explains.
Yet, some participants are not able to commit to the cumulative activities of the program due to their involvement in either private after school lessons or work. Accordingly, the organization created non-cumulative walk-in sessions to accommodate everyone’s needs. The children’s schedules were not the only aspect that the organization had to situate, convincing the parents and responding to their concerns about their work was also another issue. “They were worried at the beginning when they did not know who we are and what we do. But as soon as they talked to us, we gave them the answers,” Lamia says.
Lamia points out that the mothers in specific used to come more with a lot of questions initially about the organization that later turned into more of a scheduled gathering for the moms called ‘A3det Setat’. They share their experiences, learn new skills such as cooking and crochet, chat about issues with their kids and more. The organization uses this to develop the mothers too by helping them understand their relationship with their kids, which inevitably makes more room for the instructors to give them any relevant feedback or input.
“It makes a difference, because when you influence the mom, the entire family will automatically be impacted,” she adds.
Questioned about girl’s participation, Lamia clarifies that the ratio is almost 50:50. She also takes pride in their participatory approach to adapt and improve their programs to the extent that they installed a new one for the elder teenagers who could not stand to leave. After they graduate, their participants come back as volunteers to help with the younger kids.
Lamia leaves a takeaway tip for all the people working in the field of community service and human development, “Every little bit counts. We might do a lot of things that we think the children will forget as soon as they get outside. But after a while, you will eventually see it. Do not be discouraged with the lack of an immediate impact, just keep doing what is right.”
Alwan wa Awtar depends on grants and consulting services for funding. But you can still get involved either by volunteering to help or by directly donating through their Website: http://www.alwan-awtar.org/en/content/who-we-are-history