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AUC students mobilize to feed poor during Ramadan

As the nation counts down to Ramadan in August, a group of students from the American University in Cairo has been channeling its efforts into providing the residents of Ain al-Sira with basic foodstuffs throughout the holy month.

The AUC students’ social initiative is part of the Alashanek Ya Balady (AYB) franchise system, which aims to revolutionize the concept of volunteerism, specifically by emphasizing volunteering in community development activities rather than merely donating to charity.

The system works through developing student-based organizations in which university students focus their volunteer efforts on various development projects in neighboring districts, working in cooperation with AYB.

In fact, the AYB began in 2002 as an AUC student club, and the two have been working together on distributing food during Ramadan ever since.

“We aim to create young social entrepreneurs and activists in universities, who build and manage development projects, lead teams, solve community problems, seek funding and sustain their organizations, as well as liaise with the government,” said Rana Zaki, AYB’s human resources coordinator.

Last Friday, more than 35 AUC students, along with other volunteers, turned up to pack 500 food parcels with rice, dates, sugar, samna, oil, beans and tea.

Mohamed Alaa, a 19-year-old AUC student, said that he and four other organizers had devoted their time to assessing the basic food requirements for Ramadan and selecting the best Ramadan package offers in the market. Other volunteers tried to reach out to their friends and acquaintances to collect donations.

“We sent mobile messages, circulated emails, set up a Facebook page and used Twitter to call for donations and volunteers,” Alaa explained.

Explaining why the development projects focus on Ain al-Sira, Alaa said that each university managing an AYB franchise works on promoting the livelihood of certain under-privileged districts. “It was the nearest poor area to the old campus when we first launched. We thought the short distance would encourage students to go there and provide help,” he said.

Despite the relocation of AUC to New Cairo, students have continued to carry out social development projects in Ain al-Sira in order to complete the major developments begun in previous years.

Ramadan packages are only a part of AYB-AUC franchise scheme.

“Eliminating unemployment is our main goal,” Alaa said. “We provide them with job opportunities and set up a fully-equipped educational center to teach Arabic, English, math and computing in an attempt to qualify people for finding work.”

AYB is the first Egyptian NGO to introduce the franchise system in community development and in NGOs in general. “The franchise system of AYB management is run as any franchise system in business,” said Zaki. “The goal of elevating the socioeconomic circumstances of the poor segment of society is what brings volunteers from all around the world together.”

So popular has the AYB approach proven that it has been adopted by a number of academic institutions across the country, including Ain Shams University, Cairo University, the German University in Cairo, the Academy of Science and Technology and Maritime Transport, and the Universities of Alexandria and Qanat.

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