Volunteering beyond any other experience: my AIESEC exchange programme.

“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Mother Theresa

I arrived Cairo ecstatic of my motive for embarking on this long planned trip. I had made up my mind the year before to travel to another country to volunteer in a global community development programme. I had volunteered and participated in community development projects back in Nigeria, but none came close in sacrificial grandeur as this. The closest however was when I was obligated under the Nigerian Law, as a university graduate, to participate in a community development service. I was attached to the Road Safety Corps. If I and my colleagues were not controlling the traffic at some busy junctions under the hot sun in Nigeria’s busy capital Abuja, we were at some primary school teaching brilliant kids about road safety ethics. You know, the look left, right and left again before you cross. Or look to your right, left and right again as the case may be. For the former task of being a traffic warden, I did dare not do it in Cairo. I thought Nairobi Matatus where the most reckless drivers, not until I met people who drive in the City of Cairo. Freaking crazy. Gladly, my volunteer work in Cairo was totally different from the ones in Nigeria. Resala, which is an Arabic word which stands for message, is the name of the NGO I volunteered with. It is the biggest NGO in Egypt, with over 27 branches across the country and some present in other Middle Eastern countries. The NGO coordinates community projects dealing with orphanages, donation of food items, selling of second hand clothes, recycling work and teaching primary school education in its schools. They have a lot of native volunteers. Some have been volunteering for the past 5 years, while others less than that. I felt a lot of admiration for those people who had volunteered for such a long time. I saw the compassion and kindness in these people who had given up their holidays to a service they gain no material benefits from. It is true that volunteers aren’t paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless. It was an inspiring act that made me question so many times I spent doing really nothing substantial to my life, when I could have actually added value to my life and somebody’s also. But seeing and hearing from these long term volunteers made a permanent impression on my mind. Group photo in front of Resala

Group photo in front of Resala branch office at El Hegaz Street, Cairo.

Behind, L-R: Ahmed, Amr, Ameriki, Ahmed.

Front: Myself and Abu Bakr on my left.

I started working with Resala with my forgotten understanding of Arabic Language. The little I learnt in Islamic Schools bac then I later came to understand was, Fusha, the classical Arabic of the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Book of Muslims. Unfortunately, not spoken but understood in Egypt. Theirs, was very much casual. Even with that, I had forgotten most of what I learnt, because of lack of practice. I felt so dumb in Cairo because I could not relate the way I wanted. At Resala, not all could speak English fluently, even with their basic understanding of it but prefer to speak to me via a kind human translator, Abu Bakr. Whenever the sign language or our poor Arabic and English failed to make any sense to both of us, we go looking for Abu Bakr. A very kind gentleman who really made me feel at home at Resala. Most of my work was in the clothing section. People normally donate their unwanted clothes, shoes, bags, etc. When the items reach Resala, it is the job of the volunteers to first of all screen the donated clothes, whether still useable or not. Those not suited for reuse are thrown away. Thereafter, they are sorted into sections for different ages, sex and times of usage (summer or winter). It was exciting to me.

preparing for opening

Volunteers about to start putting the clothes on display. Front: Ameriki

Screenshot (9)

Selling clothes to Um Salam and Um Sabr (both in black)

When all the sorting is done, on a scheduled day, we travel to a poor location of Cairo. There, we put the clothes on display, you know, like how they do in shopping malls. All designers could be available. From used Marks and Spencers to Dolce and Gabbanas. The first people who enter the ‘mall’ to buy the clothes presumably choose the best clothes. The idea of selling the clothes to the poor people was elaborated to me by the kind translator, my namesake. He said, the poor feel more valuable and maintain a higher self-esteem when they purchase the clothes, even though at peanuts prices. The costliest items cost 7 Egyptian Pounds (LE). However, some could go up to 10 LE, because of how new and genuine they are, especially ladies’ hand bags. I accepted and denied bids for certain clothes. It was really an exciting experience as I sold items after items to many people. I could have earned some bonuses if I was working in Sales department of Tuskys or Nakumatt I thought, due to the cash in-flow I brought. I felt a great sense of accomplishment as I left Cairo for Dubai late that evening. Resala was home to me during that short period. It was a great opportunity to work with kind-hearted people like those, whose only mission is to help others. Volunteering for community services or development projects should be a hobby to everyone, especially in Africa, where it is needed the most. It not only gives you a sense of accomplishment, but also makes your life more valuable. pose

Final pose with the volunteer team of the day.

Traveling to Egypt to volunteer for a kind cause is one of the most important decisions I am glad I have taken in my life. I had the opportunity to volunteer in the beautiful charity works conducted by the largest NGO in Egypt, Resala. The work increased my understanding of what kindness is. As smile is a universal language, so is kindness. I was also privileged to meet other beautiful people both from Egypt and around the world, which has added depth to my perception of living in multicultural environments. We have made compassionate and inseparable bonds while living together for a short period of time. Furthermore, being in the historic Land of the Pharaohs increased my love for history, especially when I visited the Pyramids of Giza, passed through the Suez Canal and ascended Mount Sinai, the purported mountain where Prophet Moses (A.S) spoke to God. The journey has been fantastic so far. Special thanks to AIESEC AAST in Cairo, Resala and everyone who was part of it.

This volunteer work was facilitated by an international student body, AIESEC JKUAT (in Kenya) and AIESEC AAST in CAIRO (Egypt). If you want to volunteer in any international projects and have no clue how to secure them, feel free to contact me for suggestions.

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4 thoughts on “Volunteering beyond any other experience: my AIESEC exchange programme.”

    1. Many thanks for your comment and interest. Yes, there are many opportunities and I am willing to help. First of all, let me ask you, which particular work do you want to volunteer for? Is it teaching, sports coordinator for kids, career mentor, field missions (helping refugees), building homes for less privileged etc Depending on your choice, we can come up with so many options. Currently, WHO is requesting for volunteers to help in fighting Ebola virus in West Africa, are you interested? Another important question is, is there a particular country you want to travel to and volunteer there? If there is, that makes it a lot easier to find an opportunity there. Volunteers are needed in Brazil for 2016 Winter Paralympics. Let me know your preferences.

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