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Egypt: A Class Project That Became One of Egypt's Biggest Charities

Resala volunteers teach reading to blind students

Resala volunteers teach reading to blind students – photo from Resala

It was the year 1999 and Sherif Abdel-Azim was back in Egypt after finishing a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering in Canada. He taught Engineering Ethics to students at Cairo University, and he also spoke to students about the differences between charity organizations in Egypt and Canada.

Sherif Abdel-Azim

Sherif Abdel-Azim

Abdel-Azim and his students decided to set up an informal charity group called Resala (Mission). They began offering services to students of the university as well as to the general public – such as teaching free courses and offering aid to orphanages and hospitals.

One year later, one of his students suggested they should build an orphanage. One of her relatives donated land for them to build it on. From this moment they decided to register as an official charity organization – also called Resala [ar].

 

Eleven years later, it's one of the biggest charity organizations in Egypt, with more than 50 branches all over the country, tens of thousands of volunteers, and different activities that vary from blood donation and orphanages, to fighting illiteracy. They help blind people with their studies by recording books for them on cassettes, and they refurbish used clothes and give it the poor.

And much more.

Last May, TEDxCairo invited Sherif Abdel-Azim, the founder of Resala, to give a speech about the organization, stories he witnessed there, and about volunteerism in general [ar].

 

In 2008, Ashraf Al Shafaki, a blogger who volunteered with Resala, wrote a blog post about their annual initiative to collect used clothes for charity and fundraising:

During the month of Ramadan last year (2007), Resala aimed at collecting 100 thousand pieces of used clothes from people in Egypt through its 7 branches in Cairo and 2 branches in Alexandria. At the end of Ramadan last year, Resala exceeded its goal and actually collected 200 thousand pieces of used clothes!

He then wrote how Resala raised the bar in 2008 by announcing they would collect 300,000 items of clothing. Yet again Resala exceeded their goal and actually collected over 1,000,000 items of used clothing in less than 30 days.

Resala volunteers classified, washed and ironed around half a million (500,000) pieces of donated used clothes. The rest of the one million pieces of donated clothes will be sold with very low prices to needy people in poor districts all over Egypt through small 3-day exhibitions held near their homes. Prices for each piece vary around 50 cents and $1 with a maximum of under $3 for the most expensive used clothes pieces. This practice gives the opportunity for poor families to take their time during the exhibition and select and choose what they want in any quantity they need. It gives them the feeling they are buying the clothes with their own money.

The revenue from the used clothes sales are channelled into the various activities of Resala, along with the donations collected for the cycle to go on and on.

A Resala computer training workshop.

A Resala computer training workshop. Photo by Telecenterpictures on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-SA)

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