Winter assistance in Egypt: Giving families a helping hand

Friday 24 January 2014

21 January 2014

Blog by Meg Pruce, Information and Communications Officer for Save the Children’s emergency response in Egypt

Photo Meg Pruce. Save the Children staff members help families onto the buses which will take them to buy essential items for winter

It is 8.30am and I am standing at a bus stop, waiting alongside a queue of other early risers. Though it may sound commonplace, this bus journey is not your standard morning commute, and for many of the people around me, the upcoming trip will go a long way towards helping them improve their day-to-day lives. Waiting in line are refugee families from Syria and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), as well as Egyptians living in the local area. They have been selected to receive vouchers, which can be redeemed for items to support them during the unusually cold winter months. Save the Children has organized the buses to transport people from allocated locations across Greater Cairo to our supplier supermarket, where the vouchers are valid.

The voucher assistance is Save the Children’s biggest emergency intervention in Egypt so far. We aim to reach over 20,000 people by targeting households most in need of winter assistance. The flexible voucher system allows families to have freedom of choice, as the vouchers are worth a set amount of money which can be used to buy any items up to that value. This means that people can choose whatever they feel is most needed for their families and homes.

Although Egypt escaped the worst of the winter storms that hit other countries in the region last month, there was rare snowfall in Cairo and other areas across the country (the first seen in over a hundred years, according to some news reports).  The nights in particular are often very cold here and living in under-equipped homes means vulnerable families are much more at risk from health problems.

Sitting at Save the Children’s specially-prepared bus stop, young mother Wafaa* bounces her seven month old baby Ahmed*on her knee while voucher registration takes place. The family are Palestinian-Syrian refugees who arrived in Egypt last March. Wafaa* hasn’t fully decided what to buy with their vouchers (one per family member), although tells me that new clothes for Ahmed* are high on her priority list.   

Photo Meg Pruce.  Wafaa* and baby Ahmed* at the bus stop waiting to be registered for their vouchers.

Nearby, Egyptian mother Fawzia* clutches her one month old son Amir*, who is lying asleep in his baby basket. She says she needs more covers to keep the family warm. When I chat with Fawzia* after her shopping trip, it is wonderful to see how pleased she is with her purchases - her trolley is piled high with fleecy blankets and pillows, with baby Amir* tucked in beside them.

Over the coming weeks, Save the Children will continue to distribute vouchers to families in this area and two other locations in Greater Cairo. Buses will be running on a near-daily basis to enable people to easily access the store and pick out the things they need. Speaking to mothers like Wafaa* and Fawzia*, accompanied by their little ones, certainly brings home the value of the project. I look forward to meeting other families at these unique bus stops as the project continues for the next two months.    

*All names have been changed to protect the identities of the people interviewed