'There was such a heavy weight on my shoulders, it was a struggle,’ explained 30-year-old Iayee Sobhy, from the village of Hares, Behera governorate, Egypt.
With a wife and three children to support, life became increasingly difficult when the sugar company he worked for closed down following the popular uprising that began on 25 January 2011.
He said, ‘I was very sad. I felt insecure and unsafe and at the same time I had my family to look after.’
With no means to earn an income, he was unable to buy food for his family or medication for his ill father.
Moreover, with President Hosni Mubarak’s refusal to leave office came an escalation of violence that made it almost impossible to travel in search of work. Iayee’s situation was not unique.
‘No one could go outside the village. It was too dangerous. We feared for our safety,’ he explained.
Improving the community
Christian Aid partner Coptic Orthodox Church Bless (COC Bless) responded with an innovative cash-for-work project.
By employing people for 10-15 days on projects identified by the community, the work provided a much-needed income for the likes of Iayee, while at the same time ensuring vital community work was carried out.
The most striking improvement in Hares was the laying of underground piping to replace an open and hazardous irrigation channel. The channel had been a source of pollution for many years, running directly outside the front doors of many homes.
Iayee recalled, ‘The ditch was full of waste and dirty water. There were mice and rats.’
The project also supported the community in finding their voice. They lobbied the government and local companies for resources. As a result, the water board provided an engineer to help with the pipeline.
At such an uncertain and anxious time for the members of this Coptic Christian community, the project helped restore a sense of pride and dignity.
Safer and cleaner
While others helped clear the ditch and lay the piping, Iayee planted trees and painted newly erected street lamps.
‘I was so pleased with the project. It improved the environment, made it safer and cleaner for everyone,’ he said.
Although not a solution to long-term unemployment problems, at a time when many Egyptians were dejected and depressed, struggling to support themselves and their families, cash-for-work was vital.
The stark reality
It’s been two years now since ordinary Egyptians took to the streets and secured an end to Hosni Mubarak’s near 30-year dictatorship, but many of the stark realities remain.
‘I thought it would be a good thing; that life would change and improve. There are no jobs, life is expensive. It’s had a bad effect on us,’ explained Iayee.
People are still anxious and afraid. Egypt may have an elected president and parliamentary elections are due in early 2013 but, as the process around developing a new constitution has shown, many are uncertain of what President Mohamed Morsi’s Egypt will look like in the long run.
What will it mean for the minority Coptic Christian communities like Hares? For families like Iayee’s?
Hope and progress
Yet despite such uncertainty, there is continued hope and definite progress. Many of Egypt’s poorest people are becoming increasingly aware of their rights, participating in political processes and intent on gaining power over their lives.
Moreover, Christian Aid partners, including COC Bless, are continually adapting their work to the changing situation. Their work on literacy, women’s rights and helping the poor and marginalised to have a voice has never been more important.
Find out more
Photo gallery: Egypt two years on
Podcast: Solidarity in the struggle
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