Contributed by: Alexandra Ataya
(Based on the work of Al-Shehab Institution for Comprehensive Development, a civil society organization in Egypt. A more detailed paper about the project can be found here. For more information about Al-Shehab Institution please visit their website.)
Ezbet El Hagana is an urban slum area located in north-eastern Cairo, situated between two prestigious neighborhoods. The area is defined as an “informal settlement,” as people settled without formal permission on desert land belonging to the state. Residents include around 4,500 refugee families, mainly from Sudan and Somalia. Al-Shehab’s mission is promoting and developing slum and poor areas and empowering the residents of these areas to own their tools and resources, in order to be able to defend their rights.
1. Determine why you need or want people to get involved.
Al-Shehab Foundation bases its work in Ezbet El Hagana on the belief that determinants of ill health can only be improved through proper community empowerment and participation. This realization came soon after Al-Shehab began their activities within Ezbet El Hagana in 2001, when it became apparent that the community was heavily dependent on the aid and basic services provided by the large number of community based organizations (CBOs) working within it. In order to minimize this dependency, Al-Shehab focused on activating community participation and initiating a participatory process to help community members transition from being passive recipients of services to active participants capable of voicing their demands and holding people accountable both locally and nationally.
The Strategic Goals of Al-Shehab:
- To empower the most marginalized groups within the poor and slum areas.
- To alleviate all forms of discrimination and violence against minorities and to achieve integration between the individuals within the local communities.
- To provide access to the infrastructure for the residents of the poor and slum areas.
- To enhance the community participation of the residents within the poor and slum areas.
- To build the capacity of the institution to enable it to achieve its goals.
2. Identify those who need to be involved
Al-Shehab viewed community members as essential partners and collaborators for all projects and activities that were to take place. Between June 2008 and July 2009 an analysis of the social determinants of health in Ezbet El Hagana was carried out using both qualitative and quantitative methods. This formative research provided an opportunity for the community members to voice their concerns and opinions. The priority social determinants which residents recognized as being associated with ill health included: food insecurity, drug addiction, sanitation, poor housing quality, unemployment, insecurity, poor health services, violence, etc.
It was clear from the beginning that there was a need to recruit:
- Community members (for Committees and for volunteering)
- Local organizations
- Specialized departments (ex. Nasr City Education Department)
In trying to lessen the dependence of the community on welfare services, Al-Shehab began to redirect the community’s attention towards the resources that already existed within their community. Community representatives from each district of El Hagana, with the help of Al-Shehab, employed a social mapping exercise to identify the resources within each particular district. The social mapping exercise identified a number of important resources such as the CBOs operating in the area, the availability and quality of services, economic activities, community leaders, and formal and informal social networks.
Different committees comprised of community members were established to address specific concerns such as housing, education, and safe drinking water.
3. Reach out to those who can benefit and contribute
Al-Shehab acknowledged the importance of establishing effective partnerships with other civil society organizations in developing the overall capacity of Ezbet El Hagana’s community. The partnerships aided Al-Shehab’s community efforts by providing much needed technical support, resources, and know-how. Each civil society organization was efficiently utilized by providing certain services and/or trainings based on their level of expertise.
The participation and inclusion of CBOs operating within Ezbet El Hagana was also recognized as a necessity. Al-Shehab, with assistance from its partnered civil society organizations, began to work with a number of CBOs by providing them with the necessary training on how to properly implement a rights-based approach in their work. By doing so, Al-Shehab succeeded in building the capacity of the CBOs and redirected their general work method (mainly comprised of delivering basic services) to a more developmental approach. The transformation of the CBOs is quite evident in that they became an important support system for the community; the CBOs began to partner with the different community committees, advocate for the rights of the community to different stakeholders and government officials, initiate activities, and even raise funds for upgrading the school program.
4. Indicate core components of the effort to encourage participation and involvement.
Al-Shehab concentrated their efforts on equipping community members with the right capacity building tools, resources, and knowledge to empower them to become active participants in the improvement and development of their own lives, as well as realize, acknowledge, and act on their civil liberties and human rights. Accordingly, active community members were trained in advocacy, data collection methods, strategic planning, awareness campaigns (such as that of violence against women), community mobilization, and establishing effective partnerships with NGOs. Furthermore, Al-Shehab, in partnership with the community committee, conducted “community-based” campaigns that aimed at encouraging community participation by raising awareness on matters concerning civil and human rights.
Through hands-on training, community committees began to employ different methods of data collection, formulate new projects, mobilize their local community in advocating for their rights, and at times collaborate with lawyers from Al-Shehab to bring their grievances to the local councils.
Al-Shehab is aware that the degree to which individuals would want to and/or can be involved often differs. They explored different means and ways in which all community members regardless of their background, gender, age, and nationality could have a chance in participating in one way or another; whether it is through actively joining and working within an established committee or by merely stating their personal opinions during a public meeting. One strategy that Al-Shehab employs to involve a variety of participants and secure an opportunity for the more disadvantaged within the community to voice their opinions is conducting public meetings on the main streets of Ezbet El Hagana.
5. Use particular sources and influential persons and organizations to reach the specific groups you hope to involve.
Al-Shehab devised strategies that would encourage the participation and involvement of as many community members as possible, paying specific attention to the participation of certain marginalized groups residing within the community, such as women and refugees.
Violence against women and the marginalization of women within the community is a pressing issue that Al-Shehab has been confronting from the start of their work within the community. As a means to ensure equal participation and involvement of women in the ongoing activities and public debates, Al-Shehab devised three strategies that would help lessen discrimination against women. First, Al-Shehab implemented a two year program aimed at addressing violence against women within the community. The program provided legal counseling, as well as psychological and medical services for victims of violence. Furthermore, more than 330 local volunteers, including both men and women, received training on ways to address violence against women and provide awareness campaigns targeting the greater community. A manual detailing important information regarding legal rights as well as other services provided by the government and NGOs was compiled and distributed throughout the community.
A large proportion of the women in Ezbet El Hagana lack official documentation such as birth certificates and National ID cards, which invariably limits their rights as recognized citizens and prevents their access to educational and health services. To counter this serious problem, Al-Shehab strengthened the capacity of the legal aid unit in Ezbet Al Hagana and helped issue official documentation to 7,000 women. An awareness campaign regarding the importance of registering young girls was also simultaneously taking place.
The third activity directed towards the empowerment of women is training and developing the computer and internet skills of young female graduates. These skills will not only help the young women secure jobs but also empower them to become active participants within public spheres.
Through the establishment of community committees, community members are mobilizing their peers around imperative issues. The indirect role that Al-Shehab has adopted within the community of Ezbet El Hagana serves a number of important purposes. For one, it succeeds in satisfying their primary objective, community empowerment. Secondly, it allows the community to confront issues that they themselves deem important. And lastly, it may assist in furthering the acceptance of certain messages and planned actions within the community since they are being delivered by their peers and not by outsiders.
6. Create an atmosphere that fosters continued participation by staff and volunteers.
The success of the first community committee, established to address poor housing issues, has proven to be a valuable asset in encouraging greater participation and support from the general community. In fact, the achievements gained through the work of the housing committee inspired the formation of two other committees: the right to education committee and the right to safe drinking water committee. Furthermore, the accomplishments of the housing committee generated greater trust and belief in the capabilities of the community as well as that of Al-Shehab.
7. Plan for involving new generations of people and organizations.
With the Egyptian revolution which ended in February 2011, Egypt is entering a new era, one that promises social, political, and economic change. Al-Shehab recognizes the opportunities that this drastic change may present for communities such as Ezbet El Hagana. As such, they conducted public meetings discussing the new political and social environment that Egypt presently finds itself in and how the community should respond. Furthermore, Al-Shehab organized meetings between the community committees and newly formed political parties in which the community was given the opportunity to voice their views and present their demands for real social change. As democratic aspirations grow high in Egypt, Al-Shehab has made it a point to encourage the community members of Ezbet El Hagana to believe in their power as a strong constituency. Thus, the committees compiled manifestos that outline the structural and social causes resulting in the community’s poor standard of living. The manifestos will be sent to prospective parliamentary and presidential candidates in an attempt to obtain their signature and thus hold them responsible for any future lack of action and/or initiative on their behalf.
Al-Shehab is also training and organizing female domestic workers so as to be able to establish an NGO which would advocate for their legal protection as well as improve their social and economic conditions.