While the political crisis in Egypt has been widely reported around the world, the social and economic impact of these changes on poor families and children has received less publicity.
Father Ibrahim Faltas, a Franciscan from the Custody of the Holy Land, describes the harsh reality he witnessed on a recent visit to Egypt: “Some areas in Cairo and Alexandria have turned into a big open-air market," he said. "On every corner, along the streets, on the pavement… women, children and men become sellers of fruit, vegetables or other goods in order to survive the daily poverty." Fr Faltas said dirt and litter is accumulating day after day on the streets, creating very unhygienic conditions.
He said: "The electricity is disconnected at least four times throughout the day, both for private residences and for commercial activities. And there isn’t always water either!”.
The Friars from the Custody of the Holy Land are present in Cairo, where they have a monastery in the neighbourhood of Musky. Here they offer their help to the population, serving the most destitute families and their children. Fra Vincenzo Ianniello, an Italian friar that has been living in Egypt for a few years, said the Friars in Musky are providing on a regular basis: medical and educational assistance as well as the supply of food and clothes. They also offer support for extra expenses: surgery, shelter, marriages and unexpected events. Every Tuesday they distribute 'Sant’Antonio’s bread' in the poor neighbourhoods.
Each summer, a camp is organised for 40-50 children at the seaside. Fra Vincenzo said: "We try to organise excursions throughout the year for the children and young people in the neighbourhood. We also contribute to the educational expenses of the students and those attending university, and assist with the upkeep and rent of apartments for those families who cannot afford it."
The Friars of Musky have now decided to open some refuges in overcrowded and extremely poor areas of Cairo that have a total lack of services.
As Fra Vincenzo Ianniello explains: “with the staggering increase in population that has taken place in the last few decades and the ill-functioning services, there is a total lack of access to food, to health services, to transport and to education in many parts of the city. We have decided to open these refuges in areas in the periphery of Cairo, where there is no access to drinking water, electricity, sewage or bread ovens.
"With the opening of a shelter for children we have offered our cooperation to the government in order to support the children and the families that live in these areas. However, we need the support of entities, associations and private citizens who can help us to solve some of the problems that are limiting our intervention“.
The number of children that attend the shelter situated on the upland of Mukattam varies, between 40 and 60 children at any one time, whereas the staff consists of two teachers, a janitor and a person that deals with general maintenance.
“We try to offer these children at least one hot meal a day" – explains Fra Vincenzo - "as well as course-books, notebooks, pens and pencils, and help them to keep a reasonable level of hygiene. Moreover, medical assistance is an important aspect and, with the weekly presence of a doctor, we try to make sure there is a constant control of the health of the children, of the surrounding environment and also of the teachers and the staff.”
The Franciscan Friars in Cairo are supported by ATS pro Terra Sancta. If you would like to donate to their work, please see: www.fmc-terrasanta.org/en/help-us.html
Source: ATS pro Terra Sancta