CAIRO: Ellan Street in Manshiet El-Bakry is usually busy: a mixed group of young university students and foreigners are gathered on the stairs of a first-floor apartment and the small courtyard of the old building echoes with conversations in at least three languages.
It is the headquarters of the first student-run non-government organization in Egypt: Better World NGO.
Minutes after their English lesson is over, students and teachers – all in their late teens and early twenties – were having an informal chat in front of the classroom, engaged in what seems like a busy cross-cultural talk.
Unable to resist the powerful global spirit coming from this apparently very international group, I decide to intervene and ask volunteers and students to share a word about their experiences:
Mina, one of the many students taking English classes at Better World, heard about the organization courses through friends. It was a free-of-charge opportunity to improve his knowledge of the language and decided to give it a shot.
Mina, a physical therapy student at Misr University for Science and Technology, said what attracted him to the center was the chance to be taught by native speakers. This, he continued, would help him improve his English in conversation , which he sees as limited to medical vocabulary only.
Started in 2003 and formally established in 2007 by Hany Amin, a fresh graduate of the American University in Cairo, Better World is the only non-governmental organization in Egypt to be entirely run by students. Its goal is to provide the young Egyptians, with technological literacy, life and occupational skills, and ongoing employment support, through courses, workshops and seminars.
In a nutshell, Hany describes the mission of Better World as serving underprivileged students and recent graduates from different universities by teaching them through courses the skills that would help them earn their living and curb unemployment rate as well as keep them away from drugs .
The most ambitious project of Better World, The International Center for Technology (ICT) offers 27 free courses to underprivileged Egyptian college students and recent graduates in a variety of subjects from English language to web design. Taught by students from Egypt and universities around the world, ICT courses are furthering inter-cultural understanding and cooperation , Better World members say.
Both Egyptians and foreigners benefit from the experience; students improve their language skills and find better work opportunities after, and for volunteers this is a chance to get to know Egypt better, said engineer Basem Zaki, company co-owner and a long-year acquaintance of Amin. Zaki had decided to support the NGO by providing the space for the organization and equipment for the computer courses.
Sarah Guthrie s experience as a volunteer English teacher from New York proved to be educational – for her. I have been volunteering a lot in other places, but the experience of being here is totally different .
Guthrie, who arrived recently to Egypt to take summer classes at AUC describes her Egyptian students as people of a different personality; they don t take things for granted like us, Americans, and they are very willing to learn .
And bridging cultural differences is exactly what Hany Amin, the founder of the NGO describes as one of the goals of Better World.
Hany came up with the idea after being selected as an Ambassador for Rotary International and traveled to Montreal. He started thinking about making a project that would have an effect on Egyptian society, a technology center in which human beings would work together regardless of background.
The cost of their success is hard work and hard work again, stresses Fady Sedny, a volunteer at Better World.
The effort always pays off when you see the fruit of your work and find out that people are benefiting from what you are doing, Sedny added with a smile.
This is the best part of the experience, agrees Better World s founder, aside from the friendships team-work in the organization fosters, it is when you see that students are happy with what they are getting, when they come to you and say thank you , says Amin.
With the organization yet to be registered with the government, the ambitious team of Better World is already drawing plans to open additional branches throughout Cairo and outside of Cairo, once the registration process is complete. The long term goal is to expand it beyond Egypt, through the volunteers who had already worked with us. Right? , says Better World s founder, turning to his new American colleagues, whom he teaches Arabic at the center.