St Andrew’s is the old Church of Scotland building in the centre of Cairo, but it has for a long time been an international congregation with a minister appointed by the Lutheran Church in the States. In fact, the buildings are used by 10 different congregations, mostly from the refugee community. St Andrew’s is also home to the StARS programme, which does amazing work with refugees, providing legal, educational and psycho-social help. I had volunteered to help with an English programme, thinking I would be involved in one of the conversation classes meeting at the church hall. But instead I find myself travelling to the south of Cairo, to a densely populated area which is home to many of the Oromo people, refugees from Ethiopia, and there in the community centre (basically a few rooms on the ground floor of a tenement building) I teach English once a week.
I had never heard of the Oromo, but to my surprise I discovered that they are the biggest ethnic group in Ethiopia. However, they have faced years of discrimination and even persecution. Their plight recently came to the world’s attention at the Rio Olympics when the silver medallist in the marathon, an Oromo, gave a freedom sign both when crossing the line and when receiving his medal. Just a few days before I had watched on television disturbances in Addis Adaba which had led to the death of scores of Oromo protesters. Religion-wise, half the Oromo are Christian and half are Muslim.
I catch the metro every Wednesday to Hadayek Maadi, after which I take a tuk tuk, a small open cab, to the centre, where my class of 12-15 women gathers. They have an age range of 20 to 60. I am starting from scratch, so have begun with greetings but am now on to the alphabet and numbers. Some are quick, but others are slightly slower (illiteracy is certainly an issue in Egypt: I am not sure about Ethiopia). It is all a new experience for me, and I will have to brush up my own English grammar, but the class is really appreciative, and there is a lot of laughter. And they keep coming back!
I am helped by Salehadeen (Saleh for short), who is an Oromo and who has excellent English and acts as my interpreter. He is the gentlest, most pleasant young man, but he had been imprisoned in Ethiopia and on his release had had to flee for his life. If he hadn’t come to Cairo, he is convinced he would be dead. While in Ethiopia he was discriminated against for being Oromo, but ironically in Cairo he is discriminated against for being from Ethiopia – the Ethiopians are building a dam on the White Nile which the Egyptians fear will restrict the water flow on the Nile! I am also helped by Lujein, a personable young woman from Syria, who is on the psycho-social team at StARS. Like so many others she has had to flee Syria and start a new life elsewhere. Both Lujein and Saleh are fortunate in having found employment with StARS.
Postscript In previous posts, some photos taken at St Andrew’s have shown boarded up windows. This is because a bomb exploded last year outside a neighbouring building, and the blast damaged our windows. With a generous grant from the Church of Scotland, they are being replaced. The first three windows are almost finished, and we are looking forward to them being installed in the chancel before the end of October – inshallah.