El-Ayaisha is a small village of 16,000 in Qena, Egypt. Most working residents are farmers. The majority of well-educated young men immigrate to other provinces or cities looking for job opportunities.
Like other rural areas in Egypt, people in El-Ayaisha believe in female gentile mutilation (FGM) and have very traditional perceptions about women’s labor. They perceive women as housewives only, and they are excluded from social work. In addition, they do not give women their rights or share of legal inheritance, as they are viewed as inferior to men.
The Valuable Girl Project aims to elevate the status and perception of girls and young women in villages like El-Ayaisha by working on three areas: encouraging young girls to stay in school, fostering tolerance among Christians and Muslims, and building a spirit of volunteerism through the Valuable Girl Project community initiatives.
In this case, the girls of the Valuable Girl Project focused on improving perhaps the most important area of the village: the train station. The El-Ayaisha train station is a vital public service which serves hundreds of people on a daily basis as they commute to neighboring towns and villages in the pursuit of work, school, and various public and private services that are lacking in the village. The platform lacked basic services that are necessary to accommodate passengers’ needs. There was no shelter, no restrooms, and no seats where people can rest as they wait for the train. The platform was totally dark, and people had to pay close attention and count the stops so they didn’t miss their station in El-Ayaisha.
The girls decided to improve the station by equipping the platform with some seats and shelters to allow passengers to rest during the harsh midday hours. They met with a parliament member of the nearest large city to get his recommendation on the proposal and submit it to the proper authorities. Egyptian community development projects often get caught up in mounds of red tape, but the MP and regional railroad ministers were so impressed with the girls’ initiative that they were able to get the necessary approvals in just one week.
The girls invited community leaders to discuss their station renovation plan. They also communicated with different age groups on the El-Ayaisha community Facebook group to mobilize and build consensus among people to support them and participate in the project. In the end, the girls received a great deal of support from the community. People felt a sense of ownership of the project. The initiative also received many contributions: a builder donated his time to build the shelter and the seats, a truck driver moved building materials to the site free of charge, and merchants donated concrete and necessary materials to paint the seats and the shelter.
Incredibly, the official railway authority did not stop there. The railway authorities decided to do a complete makeover to the ticketing office, restrooms, painting, and entrances and exits.
Life in villages like El-Ayaisha can often feel hopeless for young girls, of whom little is expected other than to be married and raise children. But even in the remote places of the world, young girls can band together and accomplish great things. That is the goal of the Valuable Girl Project: to unlock the potential of girls across Egypt.