Opportunities for all: Helping Cairo’s most vulnerable access essential winter items

Thursday 27 February 2014

By Nora Hassanaien, Emergencies Project Manager

 My alarm goes off at 5:45 am, and I manage to meet my distribution team, already wearing their bright-red Save the Children vests by 7:00 am. Despite the early start, the staff are buzzing. Today marks something new for the emergency winterisation project, as it will be our first distribution to Egyptian children who live at a local boys’ orphanage in Greater Cairo. The orphanage houses around twenty boys who survive on charitable giving from the local community.

 Our minibus whizzed the team through suspiciously sleepy Cairo streets and open highways until we reached five eager boys waiting at a gate. They were all dressed in their best gear and were excited to see us. In the corner I spotted a much taller boy, trying his hardest to play it cool while clearly fighting back a smile. From there we boarded a much bigger bus, rented by Save the Children, to take some of the team and all of the children to our supplier. Here I met Ahmad*, who is seven, Medhat and Saleem, both aged eight, and Mazen who is thirteen. They have been in care for varying amounts of time, enjoy Math, English, Arabic, Religious Studies and football - and seem far more excited about the outing itself than what they might buy. When I saw their beaming smiles and rowdy energy later that afternoon, however, they proudly showed me the new wooly jumpers, coats and trousers that the programme enabled them to buy for themselves.

Boys from a local orphanage enjoying their outing to the supermarket, where they buy new winter clothes with vouchers provided by Save the Children

 Back at our regular bus stop, I was privileged to meet Abu-Salam, one of the 13,000 Syrians we hope to support with the programme. I notice he is disabled so we sat while he told me how his family were rich back in Syria, but had to flee with just the clothes they were wearing after their area was bombed three times. This large family of ten: eight children, one of whom is severely disabled and others who suffer from trauma and depression, now all live in just two rooms.

 Abu-Salam began to describe their new life in Egypt and the brutality of winter. Despite the rooms being cramped, the cold ‘gets to your bones’ and is made far worse as a result of inability to afford essential household items or electricity. The vouchers will enable Abu-Salam and his wife to buy blankets and winter clothes for their children along with any other non-food item they might need. As the bus arrives to deliver his vouchers and take him to our supplier, he grabbed my hand with teary eyes, to thank us for the good treatment and respect he received from the team.

 Though speaking to Abu-Salam and other families at our distribution bus stop always reminds me of how the needs far outweigh the support we are able to give, knowing that Save the Children’s voucher assistance is able to help Abu-Salam and the orphaned boys meet at least some of their winter needs, and more importantly, feel cared for, makes all the late nights and logistical challenges very much worth it.

*All names have been changed to protect identity