My year (ten months, to be exact) in Egypt is sadly coming to an end. I had back to the States this Wednesday. I just finished my last full week of work. While I definitely should have blogged in the beginning about what I was going to be doing here this whole time, I guess by writing about it at the end, I have a much clearer idea of what I actually did. Here it goes:
The Resettlement Legal Aid Project at St. Andrew's Refugee Services
Since September '09, I've been a legal intern at the Resettlement Legal Aid Project (RLAP). Our office works with refugees in Cairo, helping them apply for resettlement to other countries. Most of the refugees that we work with are Iraqi and Sudanese but there are also Somali, Ethiopian, and Eritrean refugees who are clients at the office.
Unfortunately for many of the refugees here, Cairo is not a durable solution. Refugees are legally not allowed to work which means that they have to work in the informal economy. Many of them are verbally, physically, and sexually harassed on a daily basis by Egyptians who call them racist and derogatory names and beat them without being provoked. Our office helps refugees with the most dire and urgent cases (such as extreme medical or protection needs) apply for resettlement through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or, for Iraqis who have worked with Americans, the International Organization for Migration (IOM). If their application is successful, the refugees get resettled to another country (usually the US, Canada, or Australia).
In the office, legal interns get to do a bunch of different things. We interview refugees to see if our office can help them with their case (the UNHCR and IOM have strict criteria that refugees have to meet in order to be considered for resettlement). If they do have a case, we do longer, more in-depth interviews about their lives in their home countries and in Egypt. Afterward, we write up testimonies for them that gets submitted to UNHCR. During this process, we also give them advice on how to strengthen their cases, help them get pscyho-social treatment, and generally aid them in any way we can.
It's been a wonderful experience. The staff and other interns of the office are amazingly kind people and the refugees themselves are incredibly strong, loving people who deserve so much more than they get. The job has definitely been challenging. There have been so many awful stories of violence, torture, rape, and death. And it feels terrible when you have to tell someone that you can't help them. But there have been many success stories and seeing refugees getting to start new lives in other safer countries is a wonderful feeling.
The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights
In February, I began working part-time for the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights (ECWR). ECWR is an NGO run by Egyptian men and women. The organization has a number of different programs and campaigns that support women's rights in Egypt. This year, they have been focusing on monitoring the parliamentary elections in Egypt--making sure that female candidates are being represented accurately and that women are going out to vote. ECWR also publishes studies, such as the sexual harassment report I referred to a few posts ago. The organization holds protests and generally tries to better civil society in Egypt.
At ECWR, I do a bunch of different things. I help research and write memos about a variety of topics such as divorce or religiosity of Egyptians. I write articles for the monthly newsletter on events that ECWR participated in or on current events in the world related to women's issues. I also get to edit articles and letters that have been translated from Arabic into English. It is incredible how bad some translations are. Oftentimes, I just highlight a whole paragraph in trackchanges and comment: "I have no idea what you are saying. Re-translate."
That translator was later fired. I got to field resumes for new translators which was great. Egyptians put a lot of strange things on their resume. Religion (though that's not too shocking); glamour shots (ok...I heard they did that in Europe too); height and weight (just strange). My favorite quote from a resume I looked at said, under the heading Travel Experience, "I have been to Saudi Arabia, and I am willing to travel further."
Anyway, working at ECWR has been great as well. It's neat to see how a medium size Egyptian NGO functions. My co-workers are super friendly and energetic. At lunch, there is always an entertaining lecture on how important food is and why all work should stop when it's time to eat. Plus, it's great to meet similar-minded Egyptians who are passionate about improving their country.
In general, RLAP and ECWR have been incredible experiences. Plus, as an intern, I get a lot more leeway with vacation time (along with Egypt's seemingly endless amount of public holidays) which is how I got to go on so many exciting adventures. So there you have it...I actually did work here and wasn't playing the whole time.