The sarcasm falls within the contradiction of mentioning the word “peace” recently; as it usually comes within the context of war. The first image that comes to ones mind are pictures of rockets, bullets, dust and destruction. I come from a troubled region, which has faced too many wars in the recent years, and which is barely calm. A region that used to be known for its magic, civilization, culture and beauty, has now become always tied with wars and violence.
Living in a harsh political atmosphere for years lead me to loose any will to follow the political affairs or to even hear the news. The worst moment came when, during the revolution in Egypt, friends died on the streets. Watching the best years of your life being wasted because of people, who only care about authority and power over the rights of citizens, kills your dreams and takes your breath away slowly.
At the early days of the revolution, we thought that we had nothing to lose; we believed that we were living the worst situation possible, and that it was probably better to die than to continue living in those circumstances. We were wrong. After three years of going out to the same streets, calling for the same rights, screaming to be heard, it seems that little has changed.
After Mubarak stepped down, most of the Egyptians felt that they finally owned their country. Quoting one of the Egyptians who was jumping out of joy in a video that was taken on 12th of February 2011, “only today I feel that this land is mine” he said. This simple sentence described it all. Most of the people were happy. People cleaned the streets after the days of revolution, and everyone had positive attitudes, showing love and respect for themselves, their country and each other.
However things changed quickly and we watched our dreams being taken away again, more brutally. We continue to demand to be heard; yet no one cares. Whenever trust, expectations and hope of a better future have been built around a possible leader, that person betrays the people when they gain power. It’s like being back where you started, at point zero again. And the continuous disappointments actually show that that it is even worse than that. You start to believe that there is actually nothing to be done at all.
I once read an article that tried to describe the condition that most Egyptian youth suffer nowadays, it defined it as: “Post Revolution Depression Syndrome”. I was one of the Egyptian youth who worked on three different activities and initiatives at the same time. I had a job for 9 hours a day, and when I finished work, I would run to meetings to organize cultural events, or even work on evening support classes for unfortunate children. I had all the energy of the world and nothing would stop me. But drained by the stolen dreams and fading expectations, I fell within that kind of depression.
I believe we are being kept alive to witness this in Egypt for a reason, even if we won’t understand it any time soon. But we exist for a reason. Maybe we can not change the situation we are in now, but we are capable of change. I wouldn’t claim that I now work on initiatives or social activities because I believe that I will be able to change something in Egypt. I am doing this because we have no other option. This is the best I can do. One of my close friends describes it perfectly: we have reached a stage of disappointment such, that there can be no more way down, the only way out is to get up again. Youth and children for me have been the only hope for Egypt, they are the change and they have all the power but only if they can keep the strength and the passion alive.
Deciding to keep away from chaotic political atmosphere and life, I have chosen to work on inner peace. I believe that if inner peace is accomplished, many of the outside problems would not even exist. If people have respect for their own rights and for other people’s rights, the world could become a better place. For me, this is part of the process for achieving peace in our societies.
My efforts have been focused recently on women’s rights in Islam, spreading culture and children’s education. My first involvement in the field of social development was by creating an initiative with some friends for educating unfortunate children. The project was called “Albedaya men hena”, which in Arabic stands for ‘the start is from here’. The idea was to work on the weekends with the children to help them in their studies with modern methods of education. We started by having 11 children. Now we have another branch in Cairo, which is helping around 30 children. Not being able to cope with work and building an NGO at the same time, and due to the organizational problems we encountered (as no one of the energetic team had previous experience with managing an NGO), our dream of creating this NGO had to pause for a while.
This experience gave me more reasons and power to learn and work on myself. I want to be able to revive this NGO again. I am working on obtaining a Master degree abroad now and I still keep the picture of the graduating children of “Albedaya men hena” to remind me always that I have an uncompleted mission with those children that I need to go back for.
I have also worked in other fields that I find important. It has been often claimed that the problem with women’s rights and status in Egypt is highly linked to the lack of right information. A friend of mine and I started an initiative to educate Muslim women about their rights in Islam by promoting educational entertainment, and other creative and innovative methods to reach our goal. It may seem a bit odd to say we try to teach Muslims about Islam, but this is the case. There are misinterpretations about our religion that we want to help clarify. For example, the information and explanations given to Muslim women do not tell the whole truth about their rights, and focus instead on selected messages and interpretations about Islam.
I believe these fields of education are necessary sources for spreading a culture of peace, respect and love. And I will continue to try to initiate a positive change for myself, the people that surround me and my country. I hope that the youth who might read this know that they should never give up. Even when life gives you no reasons to try further, just continue doing what you can and keep trying to work for peace. You never know whom you can help or inspire. I will quote a slogan that has been raised in Egypt since the early days of revolution: “Despair is betrayal”. Do not let them disappoint you; continue trying.
Story: Saja Elgredly (25) is a full time student at City University London in the UK. Her passion is to contribute to a positive change and this pushed her to be an active member in a number of social initiatives for her community’s development. She is a cofounder of ‘Albedaya men Hena’, an initiative for educating unfortunate children, and has worked in the ‘refqan’ awareness campaign for promoting women rights in Islam. She is currently studying to complete her on ground experience with academic understanding of the field she is interested in most – communication and development – and dreams to make use of it to benefit her country (Egypt) and the rest of the world.
Artist: Claudi López