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Posted by: Sabrina Rubakovic | June 12, 2011 | 4 Comments |

Mismatched shoes. Shoes that don’t fit. Dust, dirt, everywhere. Stained clothes. The unfairness of it exacerbated by the cuteness of their smiles.

A lust for life expressed in the way Monar shakes those hips to Shakira; in the beauty of the picture Adham draws symbolizing Egypt; in the looks of pure joy that cross their faces when we pull out their craft folders.

The amount of effort it takes for them to attempt standing in a single-file line. Trying to fathom what kind of chaotic life they must have led for this elementary task to pose a challenge.

Today, Monar was not participating in art class. I urged her to try drawing. She said she would on one condition—if I watched her so that she could sketch a portrait of me. Amused, I sat down and she commenced her work. Focused, she drew my perfectly circular face, lopsided eyes, nose in between my eyebrows, and a twisted smile. Above, she wrote in Arabic and English “I love you,” and underneath, “Allah.” “Allah,” she said, pointing up at the sky.

She embodied the realization that despite everything, these kids have faith. They have hope for a bright future. What breaks my heart is the little chance of them attaining the future they deserve.

And so I am frustrated. I am frustrated that we are only here for two months. I am frustrated that I can’t speak Arabic well enough to more fully interact with them. I am frustrated that Egypt does not provide opportunities for social mobility. I am frustrated  that they do not have families, and may never have them.

Most of all, I am frustrated that even if I gave them everything I could, that wouldn’t be enough.

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Responses -


Thank you so much for sending your article. I enjoyed the first one, but your article entitled “Frustration” was enjoyed more. It had so much emotion and feeling.
I hope that you will have time to see and enjoy Egypt while you are there.

Doug Hanson

Do not underestimate the power of your being there. And keep smiling.


Out of all the NGO’s that we worked with last year, I think our group can agree that Ana Al Masry was the most frustrating. I cried many nights out of the frustration. What were we really doing there? Where we really making a difference? Is our presence alone really that great of a benefit? All of these questions ran through my mind alll the time. I even almost convince myself that by getting to know us they were benefiting.

However, I know it isn’t enough. Duke spent at least 4000 per student last year. An US citizen can live in Cairo with all the commodities you can think of for 500 per month. (Ask Cosette). How long do you think one of this kids can live with 500 dollars? In a place where you can get a filling sandwich for a pound on the street. A pound which is now valued at 1/6th of a dollar.

It honestly in my opinion be more beneficial to the NGO to receive the money. But Duke is trying to teach you something. Its an investment towards your personal development. So that one day. We can make a change, and prove that the money was also not misused.

It also brings questions of what does Duke really want from Duke Engage. Increased number of applications, donations from alumni?… But this is a discussion for another time.

Sabrina–thanks so much for being so open and expressive about the genuine frustrations you’re experiencing. This post captures those feelings so clearly.

Fernando: Your questions are really important and I really do hope we can find a space to have the discussion about this when you’re all back in Durham in the fall. For my part: We want you all to (metaphorically) buy the civic engagement/social justice one-way ticket. To drink the proverbial kool-aid–to come away with a deep, lifetime commitment to working with others to make life better, more just, more livable in your communities–our global community that is this ever-shrinking world.

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