Egypt - "If you find poorer than us, get out of here and go help those in need."

EN - Tuesday, 07 April 2020

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This sentence, Father Athanasius has told me dozens of times when we walk with him in the slum of 15 May.

At the detour of a chaotic path made of limestone blocks, waste of all kinds and threatening rats, the Father guides me through the endless maze of the streets of the trash city of 15 May, to the meeting of the Coptic Christian families living in a shanty without a roof ; he also guides me during our donations of food or at his hospital construction site; yes, his hospital was his idea! Because he didn't want to see the children of his slum die because of lack of care, nutritional deficiencies, or bitten by rats, suffering from extinct diseases in Europ.

"If you find poorer than us, get out of here and go help those in need...”  “We never left. "

And the situation worsens on a Thursday in March. We couldn't imagine the extent of the damage!

At first, sand storms from the southern desert, then a strong and threatening storm. A year of rain fell on Egypt on the evening of March 12

The next morning, our two volunteers present all week in the slum call me. Water broke into their house making it wet and uncomfortable. They want to hasten their departure.

I answer yes! It will be a life-saving decision. Six hours later, the canal and different limestone holes drop under water pressure. Four torrents of water, mud, and waste run down towards the slum destroying half the slum in just 20 minutes.

2000 cabins made of sheet, wood and bricks are destroyed, 90 % of the herd of animals are dragged from the mud, and 4 persons died and 20 disappeared in the preliminary summary.

Few days later, the toll is heaviest: 14 dead and 20 people are missing.

sos chretiens orient enfants chiffonniers bidonville du 15 may egypte

The poor inhabitants of the slum of 15 May didn't have time to flee, they had nowhere to go. Some have taken refuge in Father Athanasius's church, but most of them, ragpickers and pig breeders preferred to keep their precious flocks and trashes.

Three days later, as the rain stops and after the intervention of the army, we are allowed to go to the spot.

With two volunteers and a very close Egyptian friend of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient, we hit the road toward the garbage city, heavyhearted and scared about what we are about to find.

"If you find poorer than us, get out of here and help those in need..." We will never leave again... I said to myself when we arrived.

The main road has been wiped out of the map. Instead, a small lake and dead animals are all over the debris.

sos chretiens orient egypte bidonville 15 may urgence sanitaire

Indescribable vision: the smell is unbearable, the bodies are already rotting, the waste has spilled all over the slum and contaminated everything.

People have taken refuge in the church and wait for food aid. They didn’t get the opportunity to have a shower or go to the toilets. They had almost nothing and now they have lost everything.

When we arrive in front of the church, tears roll out of the eyes and cries tear the silence of the post-disaster. Today, we bury Oum Mina, "Mina's mother", she was 70 years old and she was swept away by mud. Her body was not found until three days later.

Her husband screams, tears up his clothes, he won't drop his wife's coffin until after Father Athanasius's intervention!

The ceremony is taking place in an overcrowded church. The Coptic prayers rise to heaven at the same time as the incense and crying of the faithful: Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison.

That day we came to help one more time. But we feel useless. A derisory help for those Egyptians who have lost everything to their children or wives...

A suitcase full of clothes, a tank pump, 60 kilos of food, hygiene products... we couldn't give much given the magnitude of the drama and already the call for lockdown begins in France and gradually in Egypt.

The army is taking over here, and our volunteers are repatriated to France. From now on, we can no longer go there directly but we continue to act as much as we can.

With your donations and prayers, we continue to send aid, via our local employees and Egyptian friend, to respond to health and food emergencies at the slum of May 15

I dare hope that heaven will help our brothers of the slum. I remember my first time here: the slum is located in a bowl between a waste, a cemetery and a limestone career. On that day, a day of December a little before Christmas, the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated the slum, giving the impression that it has been placed gently in the hands of God.

We have never left ...

Jérôme Cochet, head of mission in Egypt.

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