Volunteer’s testimony in Egypt - The mission was like an electric shock.

EN - Friday, 25 September 2020

SOS Chrétiens d'Orient sends volunteers in mission throughout the year. Like Pierre-Marie, come and live an unforgettable experience in Egypt. Don't ask yourself any questions. The only limits are those in your mind.

Per day, the mission of a volunteer costs 33 € to the association. If you can't leave, support a volunteer on a mission, donate.

On Thursday 13 August 2020, the temperature is scorching hot as I left Cairo airport. Assailed by people offering me a taxi, I go to meet George, a translator for SOS Chrétiens d'Orient and Jérôme, the head of mission. From then on, a question will remain in my mind during my first week of mission: "What am I doing here?"

I must admit that my first days in Cairo were quite difficult, regarding my new environment and my new comrades. Fortunately, I almost forget my worries about the local food thanks to the friends I found in here.

I get the answer to my question in two stages: first, during a donation in the Matarya district, and then during my first night patrol. In both cases, I was confronted with unfiltered reality, pure suffering. My encounter with a one-eyed girl, suffering from cancer, was a revelation. For a person like me, who is used to free, efficient and systematic access to care, seeing a person without an eyeball, only with a piece of plastic shaped like an eye, badly placed on the face can be frightening.

And I felt the same feeling on a late evening car trip, when I gave meals to people sleeping in the street and to the ragpickers who work on the roads all night long. 

sos chretiens orient egypte volontaires en maraude

Bag after bag, I discovered another reality, far from the pyramids, the Four Seasons and the embassy district often praised by tourists. Cairo is also about single mothers with several small children in the middle of the night, emaciated bodies, worn out by the temperature, hunger, pollution, dirt and fear of others.

I distribute my last four meals to homeless people hidden in the darkness of a tree on the corner of a street. I can only distinguished a uniform mass and little by little several people appear: a woman opens her eyes in the darkness. I then discover a family of three young children, horribly thin and who can hardly speak any more. It was at that very moment that I understood that what I was doing in Egypt was useful. Since then, during each patrol, I thought about this Gospel according to Saint Luke: "Blessed are you poor ones, for yours is the kingdom of God". (Saint Luke 6, 20-26).

They have nothing, they give everything and seem the happiest in the world! We leave to give but they give us the most. Even in the most extreme poverty, they continue to give.

sos chretiens orient egypte volontaires monseigneur thevenin docteur adel ghali

Doctor Adel Ghali, a great friend of SOS Chrétiens d'Orient, is a perfect example of this. Living in the greatest simplicity, having given most of his own clothes to "his brothers and sisters", he acts as a true living Saint. After thirty years at the side of Sister Emmanuelle in the slums of Cairo, despite his 72 years, he continues to accompany us during our donations in the poorest neighborhoods of Cairo and during our visits to holy places in Egypt such as the Tree of the Virgin or Our Lady of Zeitoun, where, from 1968 onwards, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to thousands of people, Christians and Muslims alike, for several years. My meeting with the Doctor made me understand that he did not only give material things to the most destitute, but also Faith, love and comfort. A great spiritual encounter, is what I could say to better represent what I felt at his side.

Dr. Adel greatly contributed to the sense of pride I felt during my mission in Egypt. With Sister Maria, Mother Superior of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary and director of the Salam centre in the shantytown district of Ezbet El-Nakhl, they allowed me to enter into a project bigger than myself, the one initiated by Sister Emmanuelle in 1971 through donations of food packs.

sos chretiens orient egypte donation alimentaire ezbet el nakhl docteur adel soeur maria volontaire en mission

Thus, two days after my arrival in Egypt, I took part with the Doctor and Sister Cana in a donation of 120 food packs filled with non-perishable basic necessities. In spite of her age, no respite is given to him. Often getting angry at people who are too pushy or who try to get extra food, he turns to us and with a big smile says: “You have to get angry at people there otherwise they don't understand!” But we immediately understand that it is not anger but sadness that takes hold of him every time.

How can he explain to his brothers and sisters that some of them will not be able to have food? Or how can we protect those who are most in need from unscrupulous others?

Whether they are Christians by birth, converts, abandoned or have a large family to feed, they are all considered in the same way and treated with the same boundless love.

Well known by all the religious congregations in Cairo, Dr. Adel is also the one who has allowed us to get to know those who work in the shadows with exceptional devotion, especially in orphanages.

In these places where children are protected from the torments of the street, I discover innocent and laughing young people whom reality has not yet caught up with.

It's very hard to see a child on the street from the age of five, even harder when he has to work as an adult to help his family and finally heartbreaking when I realize that his chances of getting out of this infernal daily life are almost nil.

sos chretiens orient egypte volontaire cours de français chiffonnier

At Miss Marlene's school located in the slum of Ezbet El nakhl, a multitude of children of all ages, divided into different classes, can escape the harsh realities of this district of Cairo. This school, very dear to the eyes of all the volunteers of the mission, is like a lighthouse in the middle of reefs. After the French and liturgy classes, when we climb to the rooftops overlooking the shantytown, we helplessly witness a distressing spectacle: that of children in the middle of rubbish with their families, trying to unearth some precious rubbish that they can resell in order to eat.

By contrast, seeing all these children in the sisters' orphanages greatly boosts morale and gives hope to all those I have met.

This mission rise my awareness about French society and was also a bridge to an even stronger spirituality, thanks in particular to the meetings with friends of the association, translators, beneficiaries, my fellow volunteers but also to the presence of Father Hervé Du Plessis who accompanied us during my first week.

Often praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary to be my lantern on the path of life, I was filled with answers during this mission and I am animated by a desire to continue what I initiated during this month and a half of mission, as much by my attachment to this country as by the people I met there. Having met many of our Christian brothers and sisters in such poor neighborhoods that one would likely ignore when passing by, I feel motivated help them for a longer period of time and to share their lives for a few more weeks.

Pierre-Marie, volunteer in Egypt.

SOS Chrétiens d'Orient sends volunteers in mission throughout the year. Like Pierre-Marie, come and live an unforgettable experience in Egypt. Don't ask yourself any questions. The only limits are those in your mind.

Per day, the mission of a volunteer costs 33 € to the association. If you can't leave, support a volunteer on a mission, donate.