I traveled on a Discovery Adventures Tour in Egypt in March 2012, and felt a bit daring in doing so! Since January 2011 protestors in the famed Tahrir Square of Cairo have brought about dynamic political change. It has been called the first social media revolution. But despite the fact the movement has been peaceful and almost Ghandian, there have been some governmental reprisals and travelers have been nervous about visiting. I found myself telling family and friends not to question my choice of going to Egypt! I knew it would be extraordinary and it was.
My preference is to always travel with a mission. This trip was no exception. I had the great fortune of meeting up with Planeterra’s independent researcher, Laura Carroll after my archeology tour in Cairo, Aswan and Luxor. The next day the head of G Adventures office in Egypt Mohammed Fayed arrived. Known to one and all as Mo, this nickname gives you some sense of his light and caring spirit. With our team united in Luxor, we immediately felt bonded and ready to be social activists.
After enjoying the monuments of ancient Egypt with our phenomenal guide Said Attia Said, I was ready to learn more about the life of everyday Egyptians during their famed democratic transition. The world of tombs, mummies and enormous temples was suddenly just a backdrop for daily life.
When Mo, Laura and I visited our first Planeterra project candidate, the Luxor Community Education Center, I learned first-hand that local children in every village need a chance at better schooling or they will fall behind and possibly never get beyond the most basic grades. Public education systems have been poor in local villages and were getting worse during this transition time. Families who want their children to have a chance at life beyond the farm and incomes at just $1-2 per day, have to pay for extra help. Needless to say they cannot afford it. This rough community center just outside the wealthy town of Luxor in a village called El Tod, was established by a loving Belgian man Kris Huybrechts to help local families to educate themselves and their children. Still only partially constructed, the Luxor Community Education center already provides low cost pre-school education. Next steps are to build the first community library. This will become Planeterra’s first important project in Egypt. Every G Adventures passenger will be able to visit, have a nice falafel snack made by local villagers on the premises, and help to support the community library.
After visiting the Community Education Center, we walked right past the Luxor Winter Place Garden Hotel, a stunning old palace for the former King of Egypt before Nasser became president in 1952. I asked if we could see the hotel — a beautiful monumental structure along the Nile, and Laura quickly put us in touch with Mohamed Ali who works at the hotel by day as a manager, but by night works to improve the livelihood of villagers in his home village of Beshlaw, just 30 minutes away.
Mohamed gave us a tour of the luxury hotel which was impressive, and it was great to break the ice. He was quite nervous to show us his community center the next day. In the morning he confessed he had barely slept a wink thinking about the importance of Planeterra’s support and his hopes and dreams for the people in his community.
In Beshlaw, we met wonderful, expressive women, some wearing full veils, others head scarfs and all in the colorful attire of Muslim Egyptian women. It was hard to keep my eyes off of them. What I found refreshing was that in our organizational meeting, Mohamed made sure many of the women teachers and administrators took part. Looking at women, especially those with veils was fascinating to me. The expression in their eyes was radiant! The sparkle that came from deep within themselves was reaching me with extraordinary warmth. I was dazzled. Planeterra will support a Women’s Sewing Cooperative in Beshlaw to give local women a chance at a more decent living and funds to support their children’s education. It was clear that this is a community that can thrive with more resources, and their community center is at the heart of their beings. They all cared so much – and the opportunity to work with such committed local people is just an inexpressible gift.
By Megan Epler Wood