Egypt was in the news again recently but not for good reasons. Rioting in Tahrir Square and an attack on the U.S. Embassy compound over a movie made by a rogue and bigoted individual produced only bad results.
During my six years of living in Cairo some years ago when I worked for another NGO, I often traveled to rural, non-touristy areas where poverty was highest. Our programs ranged from getting girls into school to raising the income of smallholder farmers. In that era of Mubarak’s dictatorship, I was always under close scrutiny and security during all of my field visits. Six guards with AK-47s would accompany me – a policy applied to all foreigners working outside of mainstream areas of the country. The government’s rationale for my armed security escort was protecting me from terrorists (Egypt suffered a string of terrorist attacks in the 1990s), but I knew it was also to keep tabs on what I was doing.
If Egyptians today have a hard time understanding the freedom of speech that even hate-filled filmmakers enjoy in our country, I can understand a little. During 30 years of dictatorship, they enjoyed few real freedoms themselves. I always felt the projects that my and other NGOs ran in Egypt served two purposes. The first one was obvious: we were reducing poverty and its effects by getting girls into school, helping poor farmers earn more money, bringing clean water where there was none and the list could go on and on. The second purpose gets less attention but is just as important. We were making friends with people.
I feel the same way today, whenever I visit the many countries in which ChildFund works. Through the generosity of tens of thousands of Americans, we are able to help many children living in poverty worldwide. I tell people from Richmond, where ChildFund is headquartered, that many communities around the globe know that hope comes to them and their children from a city in Virginia called Richmond. They know that support comes from the hometown of their child’s sponsor as well.
When you help a mother or a father give her or his child a better life, it is not something they easily forget – even when a rogue film is trying to send another message.