There is not one cultural initiative in Egypt that would not want to paint itself as sustainable, organic and having a clear vision. But so many either try to accomplish too much or fail to have any real effect on the communities they operate within. Refreshingly, some, like Educate Me, have a clear vision and plan that cuts through the unnecessary to realise their goals effectively and efficiently.
The inspiration to start Educate Me occurred when founder Yasmin Helal was walking out of Darb 1718 in old Cairo. “Three kids asked me for money and I happened to have three school bags with me for an unrelated reason. I decided to give them to the kids.
A man then approached me for school bags for his children and I returned the next day, which is when he told me he had had to take his children out of school because of the expenses.”
After following up on his story, Helal agreed to sponsor the man’s children and send them back to school. “After that I went to a local NGO and figured out which way was best to penetrate the area and that is how we made contacts and started our own project, which we called Educate Me.”
This is how the initiative to finance kids to go back to school was born, but it has since expanded to include a focus on informal education as well.
To fully understand what Educate Me does, one must understand its philosophy. In addition to sponsoring kids to go back to school, Educate Me has five programmes; Ask, Cog, Know, Nurture and Play.
“We do not see education as a means to an end, like a job or college; education is something you do for your own enlightenment and benefit. Education is also not just academic; the world is not made of subjects you study at school,” Helal said.
After starting with character building programs and activities, the group, which had extended beyond Helal at that point, thought that instead of assuming, they would ask the kids what they wanted.
“We thought ‘who says that we give them is what they need?’ and we went and asked the kids, all between seven and 13 years old, what they wanted to do and developed more goal oriented programmes, such as Ask which is about them recognising a goal and mobilising them towards it,” said Helal.
“We let the kids pick between any of the five programmes instead of assuming. We understand that if they do Ask, it is a longer journey, which is why we integrated Play, because many of them simply come for that reason,” said co-founder Amr El Sanalekly.
Know is about exposure to things that are not in the kid’s immediate environment, through activities that promote interaction with the world, while Play is simply about releasing energy.
So far the kids and the people who work for Educate Me have been meeting on a weekly basis in a public garden in Zamalek where they can engage kids in any of those five programmes, but the founders say a more permanent place is required. “If we are to use things that requires consistency and or plan activities that use technology, the model needs a physical footprint and a location where we can meet not only weekly, but daily,” said Helal.
Both Cog and Nurture will begin on when Educate Me opens their community centre in January. “Cog is about developing cognitive abilities and what the kids want to learn, while nurture is about involving the parents,” said Helal.
Educate Me hopes to expand beyond the 200 children they sponsor to include 150 parents and 350 kids.
“We used to rely on PR to get the money out there, but now we have started dealing with a reliable donor base to get funding,” said El Sanalekly. Getting the funding is not the difficult part though, according to Helal; it is getting people to understand what Educate Me is about. “The biggest challenge is to explain to people our vision and philosophy. Everything is easier from there.”