Poverty and ignorance are doomed combination. Creating change through art might sound unusual, but Azza Kamel, a creative genius decided to give the development scene in Egypt a vibrant twist founding “Alwan wa Awtar”, a conducive environment that enables children in marginalized areas to develop their artistic sense, intellectual/creative abilities and self-awareness through arts and non-traditional learning techniques.
Can you talk to us more about how you started Alwan wa Awtar? What inspired you to start the organization?
I was a volunteer at the earthquake “Zelzal District” in El Mokattam and I used to work closely with women who are breadwinners. Through my work, I realized that their lives are very difficult, both financially and socially so I decided to start with their younger generation. Art is considered a language. I talked to the kids, and I realized that they don’t get the chance to get exposed to any forms of arts in school or outside and that’s when it happened. The kids then showed interest in the guitar, and the musical instruments which made me realize that art can be used as a vital method of development.
Why do you think arts and outside of school activities are important to the formation of the children?
Art is very important for everyone, for the kids especially, they have a lot of energy and in the less-privileged areas, they use it in a destructive manner. Yet, art absorbs all this negative energy and transforms it into a positive one. It also gives them an opportunity to express themselves and their self-confidence when they showcase their work. It makes them feel that they are truly worth it, which is great!
How do you feel now that the organization is still running without you in the picture?
The foundation was never me, it was always the team and the children we work with. I am still in the picture. But at the beginning, I was executing things myself. A month ago, I decided to take a supportive role instead of an executive one. I’m there with the experience, but I also want to give the opportunity to the youth to put their input.
What kind of challenges have you faced to start the organization and to keep it running until this very day?
Endless challenges! Art is not a priority. Parents would rather give them private lessons. I think it didn’t take much time until the parents realized we’re using it as a tool to develop the children’s skills and not just to make them artists, which also happens. Our main target is the journey that the child goes through and what he learns. I think the parents realize how the kids developed widen horizons and it impacted his overall life and in school, which is basically what the parents want. Kids started finishing their homework just to go to the foundation!
What do you think of the development field in Egypt? What are we still missing?
The development field is so important because it supports the government and honestly the country has a lot of needs. Yet, we still cannot do a major difference. We’re in need of more foundations, and more space to work without limitations.
You established your organization 14 years ago, what changed since then?
It’s too much different! We started with one apartment and in 3-4 years we had 10 and opened in different locations. The number of children increased remarkably. We also work on different programs not just arts, we added education, self-learning, youth program and job market preparation. We work depending on the needs of our community. And hence we have the flexibility to develop.
What are the trials and tribulations of starting an NGO in Egypt?
There’re a lot of factors that could depress you. When I started the organization, a lot of people kept telling me why arts? It’s not that important, find something of more use. But I believed in what I am doing and I had a team who believed with me and we realized the need for our project. If you have an idea and you want to implement it, go for it. When a person believes very much in a cause and has the confidence to do something, he/she should try. We learn from our mistakes and there’s nothing wrong in failing. But if we don’t, we’ll regret it. So, stay patient, make a lot of mistakes and learn from them because this is what makes a person do the right thing.
Pay a visit to their Webiste http://www.alwan-awtar.org/en/what-we-do to know more about their amazing work!