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Cairo Update

Date Written:
  14 January 1999
  Eastern Christmas
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Greetings From Cairo,

Hi, it's been such a long time since I've written anything. Quite a busy time over Christmas, including an event which I can't talk about like this . . . but needless to say that everything is now OK. We trust that you all had a great time.

We've finally taken down the decorations; our Christmas was extended to a few days after the Eastern Christmas on the 7th of January. We entertained some Egyptian guest at the time. Hannah and Esther had loads of presents and their room is bulging all the more because of it. Hannah is carrying her new Barbie doll around a lot but she also sticks to some old favorites like Lego. Esther continues to put many things in her mouth including the new presents, but now she is becoming a bit more inquisitive- at least she gives them a good look before putting them in.

There were a number of special meetings over the Christmas season. One of which was at an orphanage I visited over a year ago in a place called "Helwan". The name itself means "Goodness" (I think!) in English but as in common with many Arabic names the place name does not match up the reality. In Helwan there is a lot of industry and many pollutants are expelled into the air. Unfortunately for Egypt there is never much wind to carry off the pollutants so it hangs in the air and gives respiratory problems or settles in the streets. It is said that Helwan is the most polluted place in Egypt, and possibly the most polluted in the world! I'd question the latter claim to fame but I'd certainly believe the former. Egypt as a whole always has pollution problems.

As I walked through the doors of the orphanage I was immediately surrounded and spoken "at" in a chorus of excited Arabic voices. These boys don't forget quickly- just when I thought that a year since the last visit would have addled their memories! I had to retire to a separate room at the orphanage to prepare for the party. I took two lady helpers who wish to get involved in children's work here. They are such a great help to take to meeting like this- as part of the programme I wanted to make balloon models for each child under the age of 12- about 35 with a total of 80 in the orphanage. By myself this would have been quite an effort to fit into a 30-minute slot with lots of other entertainment to go with it.

The boys were in a highly excited state from the outset of the party. Actually, I think that it's the only organised excitement they have in the year. Before my slot there were some organised games that dissolved into chaos as the boys' excitement took over control from their sense of fair play. The last event was a tug of war that initially kept the children together in close for about a minute whist the rope swayed to and fro. When it became apparent that one side was going to win most of the boys from the loosing side suddenly switched their allegiances and turned a dignified retreat into a crushing rout. Actually, you see this all the time with adults- it's called expediency which is really the tendency to rush to the aid of the winning side!

As the boys filed into the chapel I wondered how I was going to manage to do my slot- I've never performed to a group resembling a rabble on the terraces at a football match. But my worries were ill founded because they had taken out all of their energy in the previous activities which left me with a group of about 100 attentive children and helpers.

Afterwards the children were presented with their presents- a new set of clothes for the year! They looked overjoyed which wouldn't have been my reaction if I'd just received clothes for Christmas! Afterwards we had a party meal with was a giant order from MacDonalds: Chips, Coke, McFeasts and McChicken burgers for all children and helpers. I was really surprised because someone must have paid a LOT of money for it. The work of the orphanage is well known and I think that many local believers want to help out at Christmas time.

There was a big encouragement for another project here. I've written before about the street children in the City of Peace, a few kilometers out of Cairo. I went to see the project leader (Dr Showky) last week- he found out that I work with computers and needed assistance in entering the children's data onto his system. Unknown to him I went with a gift from our home church for the work. He's had many financial difficulties recently because they have a building program to extend the work of the project that involves building extra two floors on top of the already existing building. A few days earlier a key person involved in the day to day running of the children's program left under acrimonious circumstances, as far as I can see it was not Dr Showky's fault.

Dr Showky was telling me that he's had the urge many times to leave the project, but he knows that if he does leave the work will not last for more than one month. He is a doctor who is quite high up in the government sector, in fact he's one of the only Christian doctors who has reached the level of being able to close down bad government hospitals in Egypt. If he left Egypt to work abroad he would be able to earn a lot of money with his skills and training, but now he is earning less than $100 per month! He became silent when I offered him the money from our home church, then he shared about his recent difficulties and how this and another event the previous day had given him the confirmation to stay on with the project. I encouraged him in him role. He's a good administrator but recently he has only seen the paperwork, the faults that the builders have made, the personal acrimony and the financial worries. It has stopped him from seeing the children that he's helped and the delight in their faces as they've come to a safe and friendly atmosphere where they get washed, well fed and taught.

He forced me to agree to come more often to talk to the children. He could have spared the effort because for me it is a privilege to talk to these kids. They are probably the ones that have responded best in the whole of Cairo. Many have made commitments and have made a 180 degrees turnaround in their lives.

I hope to get round to sending these updates on a regular basis again-

Lots of love from all of us here,

Jason, Alison, Hannah and Esther

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It's a Fact!

Facts about Egypt:

  • Egypt's population is 66 Million

  • Egypt is four times the size of the UK

  • Only 3% of the land can be used for arable crops

  • Cairo has 18 million people and is growing by 1 millon each year.

  • Cairo is the Largest city in Africa and the Middle East

  • Official literacy rate is only 45%

  • A total of 11 languages are spoken in Egypt

  • Public Debt per person is $790

  • Average annual income is $630

  • Unemployment is estimated to be 17%

  • Religion: Approx. 85% Muslim and 15% Christian

  • Most Christians are affiliated to the Orthodox Church, less than 1% of the population are Protestant

  • There are an estimated 100,000 street children in Egypt


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