A Visit to Sadat City

A Visit to Sadat City

Sadat City is named after the former President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, who started to build it 40 years ago and hoped that it would become the capital city of Egypt. It never did, but it is one of a ring of new towns situated around Cairo, whose aim was to decongest Cairo.

About 80,000 people live in Sadat, and it is situated 95km north of Cairo on the Desert Road to Alexandria. The government offered ground to the Presbyterians to build a church, and they are in the process of doing so. However, at present they use a villa which was donated by a church member in Cairo, which has a flat for the pastor as well as meeting space downstairs.

There has, however, been no resident Pastor there for some time. The current Pastor is Medhat Fawzy, who graduated from the Seminary in May 2016, but he is resident in Giza, as his wife works near Cairo. Medhat is also my Arabic teacher, and I was delighted when he asked me to preach one Sunday evening in Sadat.

The Congregation in Sadat

Although I have preached several times at St Andrew’s, both at the English-speaking congregation and two of the Sudanese, this was my first invitation to preach in a Synod of the Nile congregation. I had to make my way to Giza (near the pyramids) by metro, and then use a tuktuk and a bus before catching the minibus for Sadat City.

The service started at 7.30 pm, as Sunday is a working day, and most members work. As the church is not central, a minibus picks up most of the people. That particular Sunday there were 15 adults and several children at the church, which I think was more than usual. The space reminded me of St Andrew’s Galilee, where I spent my previous 6 years, and it was very informal and relaxed worship. It was a very enjoyable experience, though when we returned to the bus stop at 9.45pm we had just missed a bus and so had to sit in an empty minibus, waiting patiently for it to fill up before it left.

By 11pm, there were still only three of us, and we decided to pay more just to get back to Cairo. It was 1am when we got back to the Seminary, but fortunately the guard at the gate was awake. Working as a Mission Partner in Cairo certainly provides opportunity for adventure

I Was in Prison, You Visited Me

I Was in Prison, You Visited Me

Qanater is a town on the Nile, north of Cairo, at the point where the river starts to divide, forming the Delta.  A barrage was constructed there in the 1850s (later improved by a Scottish engineer in the 1880s!) to control the flow of the Nile and improve irrigation. It was a popular place for people to travel from Cairo to enjoy the river, and there were a number of parks and gardens. By now they are sadly overgrown.

qanater-3Qanater is now the site of a complex of prisons, one for women and two for men. One of the male prisons is specifically for international people – men from different countries who for one reason or another find themselves in prison.

I had travelled there with a group from All Saints Anglican Cathedral, which has had a prison ministry for a number of years. There were 12 of us in the minibus, including Father Samuel, who had worked for many years in churches in Libya, but who had to leave because of the worsening situation there. They go every week and visit the women one week and the men the next. Mostly it is the international prisoners who are visited, as they don’t have family in Egypt and so have fewer visitors.

The group brings groceries for the prisoners – rice, pasta, cooking oil and some hygiene items, which the prisoners are able to use. There would be about 60 international prisoners on the visiting schedule, but the group would only see about 10 each week. Some of the prisoners are jailed for crimes, but others are refugees or migrants who were found without the proper papers and have been imprisoned.

I spoke with someone from Ethiopia, who was in the latter category and who just wants to return home to Addis, where he worked as a ‘wedding decorator’. Like most of the prisoners we visit, he was Christian and was able to wear a big cross round his neck. His English wasn’t very good, but was better than his Arabic. We chatted for perhaps 20 minutes in a visiting room, after which we all stood in a circle and said a prayer. It was good to have the chance to visit, and I look forward to going back again.

StARS Part 2: Now I can Dream

StARS Part 2: Now I can Dream

Whenever I go through the gates at St Andrew’s, there are always people there. Many are waiting – waiting to see a counselor or a lawyer, eager to get some advice.  Children are inevitably playing football, and it is always good to see the mixture of ages and nationalities. Football seems to unite.

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One little Syrian girl was content to swing on a tyre hanging by a rope from a tree, while her parents looked on, glad to find a moment’s peace, compared with the horrors they have doubtless experienced. All the people gathered at St Andrew’s have their own stories to tell, many of them heartbreaking. But at St Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS) we offer them a safe space and assistance.

 

Education
StARS has several main areas in which it works. The first is education, and that is where it all began. The refugee communities have difficulty gaining access to the Egyptian school system, and the few who do often encounter discrimination, and so there are a number of private schools for refugee children. At StARS there is now:

  • A recently established Montessori Pre-School with 20 pupils between the ages of 2 and 6, mostly vulnerable children from the different refugee communities, and this is taught in English and Arabic.
  • A school (primary/ secondary) with 253 pupils, which follows the Sudanese curriculum, with lessons taught in English. The school is very well regarded, and indeed there are 30 applications for each place. Breakfast and a hot lunch are provided, and pupils are also helped with transport. Most importantly, children from different countries are able to sit together and play together at the break.

StARS also has a big Adult Education programme, with about 2,500 people involved. The courses are primarily English language courses, but there are also vocational courses such as hairdressing and IT. Other courses taught include interview skills and C.V. writing – very practical! Since last year there has also been an emphasis on Educational Access and Capacity Building. This is especially aimed at training teachers from the Syrian community, who often come from a non-teaching background. They are highly educated, but are unable to find jobs in their own areas and so become teachers – StARS steps in to help provide them with basic classroom skills.

Psycho-Social
Another area which is expanding is Psycho-Social, which works to improve the situation a client might find themselves in, encouraging within them a resilience to cope. In 2013 there were 8 people in this department, but now there are 60, mostly from the refugee community. It is within this department that you find one-to-one counselling over a whole range of issues, though housing features high, as it is often problematic to find decent housing, and refugees are often exploited by landlords and charged higher rents. Sexual violence is another big area that Psycho -Social deals with. It also organises various groups such as sport, music and self-defence, and peer-support groups. There is also a medical officer and a network of doctors and pharmacists offering low cost treatment to refugees.

Unaccompanied Children and Youth
Psycho-Social also deals with Unaccompanied Children and Youth (UYC). These are young people under the age of 18 who arrive in Egypt without parents and who are at great risk of exploitation. StARS have been able to support 580, though there are another 400 on the waiting list. Many of the unaccompanied youth come from countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea, and because they are not Arabic speakers, the risk of exploitation is even higher. However, StARS runs a super Bridging Programme for UYC, which runs for two semesters of 5 months and which teaches  subjects like English, Arabic, maths and IT, and life skills. 179 are enrolled in this programme, and in it they are allowed to be normal teenagers.

One of them said; ‘Before I didn’t have hope, but now I can dream’. This programme has recently been shortlisted for a big international prize, so watch this space…!

StARS Part 1: Hope for Refugees

StARS Part 1: Hope for Refugees

I am so proud of the work that this little congregation does”, says Kirsten Fryer, the pastor of St Andrew’s. “Because we are here, thousands of refugees recognize St Andrew’s as a safe space, and hundreds worship within our walls. I truly believe that the work we do matters and is a reflection of our call to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”.

Kirsten is referring to StARS, the St Andrew’s Refugee Service, which has been in operation since 1979, when a group of members of the congregation saw a need to form a class to teach English to some refugees from Ethiopia. Since then the number of refugees in Egypt has rocketed, and StARS has grown from a handful of volunteers to an organization with 177 paid staff. Of the paid staff, 80% are from the refugee community. All staff, both international and refugee, are paid on the same scale, which is unusual.

It is estimated that there are 65.3 million refugees worldwide (November 2016), 40 million of which are internally displaced people. Over 50% of refugees come from three countries: Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan. Whilst Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iran and Jordan host large numbers of refugees, the number of refugees in Egypt has also increased as it is surrounded by countries facing war or internal tension –such as Libya, Sudan and South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen.

Many refugees make their way towards the coast around Alexandria to attempt to cross the Mediterranean, and numbers registered in Egypt are around 190,000. At St Andrew’s over 10,300 displaced people were assisted in 2015, but this year it has already risen to 16,500. There are a growing number of unaccompanied minors to help, and an ever increasing number of refugees from Syria.

Most of the refugees coming to Egypt are looking to be resettled elsewhere and so have to register with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees), who then interview families and, if approved, refer them to a country like Canada or the United States for resettlement. The United Kingdom is shamefully way behind other countries in the number of places it offers for resettlement.

In 2016 approximately 6,000 refugees in Egypt were resettled, but that is, of course, out of 190,000. In other countries, refugees can eventually become citizens of the country in which they settle. This is not the case in Egypt (except if they were to marry an Egyptian!), and so many refugees who have lived in Cairo for years are still deemed refugees and as such have to apply for a renewal of their permit to stay in the country every few months. Egypt does not allow refugees the right to work, and so refugees have to work illegally. They do not have any redress if anything goes wrong. Refugees do not have a feeling of security in Egypt and so are anxious to move on. The vast majority would prefer to go back to their home countries, but sadly that is not a feasible option in most cases.

Needless to say, this keeps the Legal Aid team at StARS very busy. It is made up of over 20 lawyers, often young lawyers from overseas who take a year out. They work closely with the UNHCR over resettlement, and review the cases of refugees whose applications for resettlement have been rejected by the UNHCR. Some cases are eligible to appeal, and in September alone there were 36 such appeals. The lawyers also work with those applying to be registered as refugees. Without refugee status, you are quite unprotected.  A number of Oromo from Ethiopia find themselves in this category; although they feel discriminated against within Ethiopia, their application to be considered as refugees is rejected.

StARS is an amazing organization, providing hope for so many people. The proceeds of the recent St Andrew’s Christmas Bazaar went to the Emergency Fund, which is used to help refugees in extreme need. As a member of St Andrew’s and one of the volunteers, I am honoured to be associated with it. To read more about it, visit the website.

Cracking the Glass Ceiling

Cracking the Glass Ceiling
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Anne Emile Zaki

At the side of Anne’s desk there is a wooden shield, presented to her this year by her old university as ‘Young Alumni of the Year’. It is quite an honour, but then Anne is a remarkable person. She is the kind of person who is constantly trying to break the glass ceiling which restricts the advancement of women in Egypt, especially within the Church. Anne was born in Egypt. Both her father and her grandfather were ministers, so the Church was very central to her life. She grew up in Cairo, but at the age of 16 was selected to study at an international school in Canada, which shows something of her calibre.

It was quite something for a 16 year old girl to leave home and family, but she did so. She returned to Egypt two years later, only to be offered a scholarship at Calvin College in the States. Here she read Psychology and Sociology, and met her husband-to-be, Naji, a Canadian of Syrian/ German Dutch extraction studying to be a pastor. After finishing her degree, she returned to Cairo to take her masters in Psychology at the American University in Cairo (AUC), with Naji who followed her to Cairo.

They married and settled in North America where Naji was a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.  Anne was happy being a pastor’s wife and began to study for her PhD. in Christian Education. Growing up in the Presbyterian Church in Egypt which did not ordain women, she had never considered ordination, but this was to change. She became more and more immersed in church work and was even leading worship and preaching, and it was Naji who eventually challenged her, asking whether she felt herself called to be a pastor. Anne began a period of discernment and came to the conclusion that biblically there was nothing to hinder her from seeking ordination.

She switched from her Doctorate to the M.Div. programme at Calvin Theological Seminary, a four year course for those seeking ordination. Anne had however still not decided what to do at the end of the course, whether to seek ordination or not. The years at Calvin were wonderful years, but also challenging, as she was now also a mother of four boys, and so had more questions about how motherhood fitted in with being either an academic or a pastor. It was only at the end of her 4th year that Anne eventually submitted her application forms to be ordained. However, she felt no peace, and two weeks later withdrew them.

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Anne with four of her students

Despite this, she still felt the call and, ironically, had a strong sense that the call would be fulfilled in Egypt (ironic because the church in Egypt did not ordain women as pastors at the time). It was, she says, like taking lessons to fly, when no-one had yet invented the plane! She wrote to the church in Egypt and received a pleasant letter back, appreciating the work of Anne’s father and grandfather, but stating the obvious – women were not ordained in Egypt! She wrote the following year and received a similar reply.

But… then came the Revolution, and while many other Christian Egyptians left the country, Anne, Naji and the family moved to Egypt. Suddenly the Church could not ignore her anymore. The issue of women’s ordination had to be addressed. It is a very contentious issue, and many remain opposed to it, more for cultural reasons than biblical or theological ones. At the last Synod meeting (the equivalent of the General Assembly) the argument became very heated and it was proposed, and accepted, that it depart from the issue (and not even discuss it) for ten years! This has been contested, and it may be that the issue will be re-opened. “As long as the discussion is on the table, I am fine” Anne says.

Anne has joined the staff at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) as a part-time worker teaching international relations. By now she is full-time, and teaches courses in preaching, communication, psychology, spiritual formation and worship. She laughs that she is trusted to teach future pastors, but not to be a pastor herself! Anne combines her role as a mother in her own family with the wider role of being right in the centre of the ETSC family, supporting and affirming all the students; male and female. She has also been invited to preach in many congregations across Egypt, and while she inevitably faces criticism, she also has many women approaching her to say that they too feel called to be pastors. Only time will tell whether Anne will be ordained or not, but she is certainly preparing the way.

Start of Semester

Start of Semester

The new semester is now well and truly underway, and suddenly there is life around the campus! It is wonderful to have the students back, and so far it hasn’t become too noisy on my corridor (my rooms are at the end of a corridor of eighteen students). Numbers have risen, and there are 11 new Master of Divinity (M.Div) students (5 of whom have previously taken some courses with us, but are now transferring to the M.Div with a view to being ordained), while over 70 new students have been registered for the Master of Arts in Theology (MAT) programme across our three campuses (Alexandria, Cairo and Minya). All in all, the Seminary has about 320 students, of whom almost 30% are women. This is despite the fact that the Synod of the Nile does not ordain women as pastors. In fact, numbers seem to be the highest on record. This will no doubt increase in future years. The Seminary is developing its distance learning programme, targeting both those within Egypt who live far from one of the existing centres, and also those in Arab speaking countries.

I have discovered that the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC) is a close-knit community, and I have been so impressed by the way the teaching staff relate to the students. It is like a big extended family. This was especially apparent at the Retreat which was held just before classes started. It was held at Beit El Salam, which is a church conference centre, obviously held in great affection by members of the church. It is situated an hour’s drive from the centre of Alexandria and it provided a good space for the ‘Retreat’ which was a mixture of worship and reflection, lectures and discussion groups, games and swimming in the pool. It was also a good opportunity to get to know the new students. All in all, an ideal start to the new academic year!

Unfortunately I had to leave the retreat slightly early in order to get back to Cairo to teach my English class at the Oromo centre, so caught a taxi into Alexandria to get to the railway station. In the taxi I automatically put on the seatbelt, but obviously was the first person in a long time to use it (In Egypt very few people use seatbelts) and I ended up with a dirty black band diagonally across my white shirt! I caught a ‘special’ train (‘special’ means quickest – two-and-a-half hour’s journey time to Cairo), and I was able to get to my class on time.

With the start of the semester, I find myself in more of a routine, with chapel services on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. In Zambia we had chapel every morning at 07.30, which I always felt got the day off to a good start, but here they are in the middle of the day. I suppose people are more awake! Meals are also part of the routine, and lunch is served in the dining hall from 14.00; again a good opportunity to connect with the students. Dinner is at 20.00, but then many of the students have classes well into the evening. This is especially true of the MAT students, who usually combine their studies with a full-time job. It is good to be part of the ETSC community – students and teachers, but also the admin staff and all the workers, without whom the whole place would grind to a halt.

Photo: Willem de Wit

 

Teaching the Oromo

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.