The Air that we Breathe… Too much for Street Kids?

As you clicked on this link to open it and read this post, you breathed, right? You just did it again. And again, right there, you did it again. Breathing, it’s so natural, so taken for granted.

Today a little 1 day old baby couldn’t find those breaths, and she couldn’t get the help other babies are afforded to find it.

The thing is, after I got the news that she had died, I stopped to think what went wrong? What had I not done? What wasn’t enough?

I received a message this morning at 07.18 saying: “Nelly quick, we need help. We need an incubator for a baby born yesterday or she’ll die.” Thankfully I was up early because I had to go with a family member to hospital as they were getting tests, and I saw the message 12 minutes later at which point I started tweeting and posted a Facebook status asking people to put me in touch with a doctor or hospital who could help us. At 08.26, less than an hour later, a doctor and hospital had been identified, a few minutes later, the exact needs were identified and an ambulance was on its way. But the hospital the baby was originally at, had no support, so from last night this little human was struggling for her life, with no life support machine, no incubator, no nothing. They didn’t even have a pediatrician who could accompany the baby on her journey so she had to wait some more till that was arranged.

What was incredible was that in the 56 minutes it took to get a volunteer doctor and hospital, I got offers of donations from around the world, people I know and those I don’t know. The one’s who knew me said they knew I don’t accept donations, but if I made an exception for an emergency, they’d be happy to help. But Shariff and I could have sent the money. The money was an issue of course, because that’s the reason the baby was born at that hospital in the first place, but I realised today that money cant even help the poor. We couldn’t find an incubator – that was the problem!! A friend tried to call three private hospital emergency numbers, they didn’t pick up. One charity, we were told, could only accept kids of a certain religion. The only movement we were getting was from people who value life equally. Why do I say that? Because I’ve been told that the street kids who die shouldn’t be mourned because of the suffering that life would give them. I swear someone said that!!

But what went wrong? Till now, Nada’s mother doesn’t know her baby has died, she’s not doing too well after the birth and everyone is too worried to tell her. What will we tell her? Won’t she, like every other mother want to know who’s to blame? Who’s fault was it? Was it my fault that there was a 12-minute delay? Was it Egypt’s fault because it lacked a fundamental infrastructure that could really and practically help the poor? Was it mere negligence on part of the hospital? And that’s the point I want to make in this blog? Who will fight for Laila’s right to find out what happened to her baby and who let her down? Who will make sure the hospital admits to its shortcomings and mistakes that led to the newborn’s death? Who, in the midst of the political hysteria and taking sides will take time out to make sure that the basic right to life that was stripped Nada and Laila is investigated, understood, reprimanded, compensated? Though even that is not enough?

This baby’s mother was very special to me. She was one of the girls from the shelter I had previously written about. The only virgin girl at the shelter who had sparked the controversy of whether the girls should continue to be divided according to virginity. Her presence in the shelter had aggravated the girls there, most of whom bore the scars of their rape, not only in their spirits, but in the form of a fleshy piece of meat hanging from their cheeks, a result of a carving with a pen knife street girls get after their first gang rape. Laila had escaped that fate, but her presence at the shelter bought her even closer to it. The girls, having convinced themselves that the staff there had more respect and love for her because she was a virgin, had planned that a taxi driver and some street boys kidnap and rape her. We found this out just in time and sent her to another shelter telling her we needed help with the younger kids there. She, in her sweet nature was unaware of the conspiracy and unaware of the efforts made to protect her from it.

After I’d written a blog about this, an interesting thing happened. I got help not only for her, but also for the girls who had planned this attack; after all they too were children who had others conspire against them. A reconstructive surgeon offered his services, clinic and staff for free to help my street girls have the rape scars removed and an incredible lady offered to pay what was left from Laila’s fiancé’s debts so they could get married and she could find a way out of the shelter and off the street. I remember how Laila found a way to call me from Cairo after I had returned to London, to tell me she was getting married on that day and that she was thinking about me even though she knew it wasn’t me who had paid the money. This gesture of gratitude was not only characteristic of Laila, but of street kids in general, you do one thing for them and they would happily lay their lives for you in return; one of the many things they taught me.

I couldn’t help compare the medical center we were in, the children’s pictures on the walls, the surviving children who came here no matter how rich or poor, no matter what class they were from, to the hospital little Nada was fighting for her life in. Can we not create a team of people who could dedicate a fraction of their time and hospital staff and efforts to taken care of these children as they give birth? Just like the reconstructive surgeon Dr. Hany Hamam who ended up a true part of our team and performed many procedures, not only on street kids but children who had been deformed by stray dog attacks. Laila was one of the “lucky” ones because she went there with a husband. The girls who’ve been raped get humiliated when they go there to give birth alone, usually used for training, as one girls said “because we know they’re doing us a favour, we can’t really say no to the 20 students they bring in to put their fingers in us to learn what it is for a woman to be dialated. You know, they have to learn and they can’t do that with daughters of real people (welaad naas)”. Can we not get together and have a place for these girls to go to give birth where they are treated with dignity and a respect for their life?

Though little Nada’s life was ever so brief, only taking with her the few breathes her tiny lung managed on it’s own, she was special in how she got people to work together from all sorts of backgrounds and places. She didn’t make it, but in a world where her breaths were not as valued as other baby breaths, then maybe this world didn’t deserve her after all.



Image from:

Because THEY are OUR Children – Egypt


To get involved:

Right so this is the dream:

We set out collecting for Hope Village street babies and then realised what potential humans working together outside bureaucracy can have  Continue reading

INTERVIEW: Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers – Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers

Egyptian Journalist - Nelly Ali. Credit: Sara Elkamel.

Egyptian Journalist – Nelly Ali. Credit: Sara Elkamel.

Nelly Ali sometimes carries a magic wand in her bag. She uses Twitter to fundraise for clothes for those kids (Cairo street children and mothers).

She’s a strong woman tirelessly fighting for the rights of street children and young homeless mothers to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological safety.

An International Childhood Studies PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London in the department of Geography, Environment and Development, Ali is currently working on an ethnography of street girls and child street mothers in Cairo, Egypt.

Her research interests are the prevalence of violence in the day-to-day life of street children and their experience of resilience, vulnerability, gender identity and sexuality.

Nelly Ali has recently been volunteering at Hope Village, a shelter for young street mothers in Cairo, where she developed deep relationships with the girls. She has been writing and tweeting about their stories and fears, keeping a promise that she would put a human face on the “problem” of street children and mothers living on the city’s streets, swiftly marginalized by society. Nelly Ali is a dreamer, and she now shares her dreams with the girls at Hope Village.

In an interview with Future Challenges, Ali speaks of the challenges she faces, and the hope that keeps her going in this battle for the rights of street children and young mothers.

FC: You are a strong advocate for street girls and young street mothers in Cairo. When was the moment you decided you would fight for this cause?

NA: I started by doing my PhD research. My fieldwork was with street kids in general and so I found an NGO that would let me work under their supervision – it’s hard to just take to the streets as the kids are managed by a whole community of street adults that don’t take kindly to researchers. It was during the fieldwork that I got to know the street girls and realized that very little academic or social work was being done with this marginalized group of young women and as I built my friendships with them, I realized that I was being read and listened to about other issues I was commentating on, on Egypt at the time and so I took this opportunity use social media and blogging as a channel to which they could be heard.

FC: As an anthropologist, how can you explain the ailing situation of street children in Egypt today?

NA: The children have developed their own language, terminology, defense mechanisms, dress codes, survival strategies and society seems happy with the “otherness” this creates. It was interesting too to learn how the government upon being offered 17,000,000 LE for the street kids “problem” they did not consult a single NGO that works with street kids and instead decided they would build a city where they would move all street children to. This highlighted how marginalized this group of kids are, how they are perceived as a threat to society and also highlights that their situation worsens by mainstreams perception and lack of understanding.

FC: Can you describe the plight of street children in Egypt, particularly girls and women?

NA: This is a really hard question to answer in just a few words, but I’m going to try. I think it would be useful to talk about the plight of street girls and young women in terms of the different stages of their life cycle, so to speak.

These girls come from families who have been violent to them in one way or another and have found no support at the time, before migrating to the street in an attempt of reconciliation and of course, where inappropriate, then a lack of appropriate alternative care.

Then they move to the streets; which are even harsher than their home circumstances at times where they are subjected to a whole new range of violence and abuse and deprivation. One extremely articulate street girl answered me, when I asked her why she wouldn’t go home if the street was worse: “you can forgive the street because it’s not supposed to care for you, but how can you forgive your mum and dad who are supposed to be nothing but love and care”. This really threw a new light on the issue of rehabilitation and why it is, often, unsuccessful.

Then the violence and struggle at correctional centers and institutions where the monitoring of staff is catastrophic and lacking to say the least.

And then to the challenges they face when they fall pregnant, lack of antenatal care, humiliation at the hospitals they go to give birth in, lack of support with the paper work and the huge emotional and practical responsibility of having a child when they are children themselves.

FC: You are a volunteer and project manager at Hope Village, a day-shelter for young mothers in Cairo. What are the biggest challenges you face at the shelters?

NA: The biggest challenge is fighting the feeling that I just want to take them all home with me! But there are more challenges of course, treating them all fairly, listening without surprise – remember these kids have more experience in their small number of years than we have in a lifetime. One of the greatest challenges is standing around helpless as a parent of one of the children comes in to take his/her son/daughter and we know they will bring them back in a very bad state, but we have our hands tied by the laws which allow abusive parents to take their children away to beg with them for instance.

FC: Encountering the agony of homeless children day after day, you must often be overcome by a desire to stop. What keeps you going?

NA: I need to keep going because I realize on the days I don’t tweet and blog about them, no one is. When I went to speak to the girls about my research, I told them I had no questions for them, all I would report on was what was important for them that the world knew, the stories they wanted others to hear and know. If I stop that, all they will have are the sensational stories and numbers and statistics that totally dehumanize them. Many other things keep me going, the way they hug and kiss me when I come in through the door, the same girls that flinch at the slightest gesture from a stranger.

FC: In one of your articles, you revealed the story of Taghreed, a girl who ran away from her abusive father and now lives alone with her baby on the street. You wrote she only dreams of issuing a national ID. How have your dreams as a person changed, in light of the unorthodox stories you encounter everyday?

NA: Yes, definitely. I’m glad you asked this question because it’s been playing on my mind for a while. I was wondering recently where my “future plans/dreams” were and couldn’t find any… I realized that after working with the girls I have started to dream “collectively” so to speak, every dream is for a group of people, for families, for nations, etc. I find this really interesting and I am still figuring out what it’s about.

It isn’t just my dreams that have changed, though. Working with the street girls has changed me as a person. I try and write in all my bios now “I go to university to teach and I go to the street kids to learn”. They have taught me the most important lessons in friendship, love, maternal matters, struggle, resilience, resistance and they have also taught me the power of dreaming, that without holding on to dreams, you wouldn’t have the way to carry on.

I feel like I am so privileged to live these girl’s lives with them for many reasons. One of the things I’ve learnt is that once you start living for a cause, your personal problems aren’t an issue anymore, you learn to let go and be far more reasonable, forgiving and willing to compromise – you are armed with the “bigger picture” through their stories.

FC: If there is one human right you are fighting for, what would it be?

NA: The right to sleep with both eyes closed: the right to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological safety.

FC: Let’s dream for a minute. If you had a magic wand, what would you change/fix in order for those street children and mothers to lead normal lives? 

NA: I love magic wands… do you know that I actually carry one in my bag often! If I had one that would work for the girls, though, I would wave it at two things, the first would be their parents to push them to the street and the other at society who cannot embrace their misfortune.

کودکان خیابانی در میدان تحریر :نویسنده نلی علی /ترجمه آزاده ارفع

خیلی از کودکان خیابانی دقیقاً می دانند که تو چه چیزی می خواهی از آنها بشنوی. به تو نگاه می کنند؛ سخنانی بر لب می آورند که به دلت بنشیند ؛ در یک چشم به هم زدن داستانی را برایت نقل می کنند که برای شنیدنش به آن جا آمدی . آنها خیلی زیرک هستند. این راز بقای آن هاست.

یادم میاد خبرنگاری به من گفت که چگونه از حرف های یک دختر بچه خیابانی حیرت زده شده است. دختر مورد بحث به خبرنگار گفته بود به تظاهرات خیابانی ژانویه 2011 پیوسته زیرا خواهان دگرگونی های سیاسی و اجتماعی در کشور است. من دختری را که خبرنگار مزبور درباره اش صبحت می کرد می شناسم . برای او دگرگونی سیاسی معنائی ندارد به این دلیل ساده که اصولا» درکی از معنای دگرگونی سیاسی ندارد.من ماه هاست که این دخترها را می شناسم. آشنائی ام نه یک آشنائی کوتاه نیم ساعته برای انجام مصاحبه بلکه آشنائی طولانی است. هنگامی که می رقصند برایشان کف می زنم، هنگامی که در گروه درمانی صحبت می کنند با علاقه به حرف هایشان گوش می دهم، با آن ها مشترکا» به داستان ها و اتفاقات خیابان می خندیم و هنگامی که به خود شان آسیب می رسانند، زخم هایشان را پاک می کنم. من با آن ها به طور واقعی زندگی کرده ام و به همین علت احساس کردم می توانم از «تکرید» یکی از دختران خیابان به پرسم که آن ها واقعا» برای چه به میدان ها می روند.

دو نفری در لاک مصاحبه کننده و مصاحبه شونده رفتیم: «تکرید» با خوشحالی دستگاه ضبط mp3 را در دست گرفت، آن را روشن کرد، و از این که می تواند کمی بعد افکار خود را دوباره بشنود سرشوق آمد. از من خواست برایش یک دستگاه ضبط مشابه بخرم تا خاطرات روزانه خود را در آن ضبط کند زیرا نه خواندن بلد است و نه نوشتن. پس از آن، من در موقعیت مصاحبه قرار گرفته و دختر چهار ماهه او را در آغوش گرفتم ؛ نوزادی که تنها چیزی که یادگرفته لبخند زدن است.

هر کس داستان های دختربچه های خیابانی را از من شنیده بلافاصله گفته من لابد باید خیلی قوی باشم که توانسته ام زندگی با آن ها را تجربه کنم و به داستان هایشان گوش بدم. هر بار که من این داستان ها را می شنوم از لبخند های این نوزادان آه از نهادم بر می آید. آری، هیچ چیز به اندازه این لبخندها قلب مرا به درد نمی آورد. تاب بستن لبخند برگرد لب های این نوزادان ، بزرگترین تجلی نابرابری میان ما می باشد، نشان از آن دارد که در آغاز این لبخند ها به طور دردناکی شبیه هم هستند، اما در ادامه برخی از این لبخندها ارزش بی همتائی پیدا می کنند زیرا زندگی با همه قدرت در صدد درهم شکستن آن ها بر می آید و لذا از آن ها جز یک لبخند، هیچ چیز دیگری باقی نمی ماند.

«تکرید» شروع به صحبت کرد ودر باره انقلاب گفت ؛ درباره این که چگونه کودکانی که در میدان «رامسس» (Ramses) می خوابیدند به میدان تحریر نقل مکان کردند. او این نقل و انتقال را به عنوان یک مهاجرت توصیف کرد. تو گوئی تکه زمین سبزی- که سبز هم نیست ولی قاعدتا» باید سبز باشد- که بر روی آن گذران می کنند شهری است که به آن ها تعلق دارد؛ شهری با شهروندان کودک، کودکانی فاقد شناسنامه، فاقد سرپناه، فاقد خانواده بیولوژیک ومحروم از حمایت.

«تکرید» می گوید روزی یکی از کودکان دوان دوان به نزد آن ها در میدان «رامسس» آمد و خبر داد که میلیون ها نفر در میدان تحریر جمع شده اند. دو نفر از کودکان خیابانی که با هم ازدواج کرده بودند( ازدواج و تشکیل خانواده در میان کودکان خیابانی از سن چهارده سالگی شروع می شود و با آنچه که ما با آن آشناییم تفاوت دارد) تصمیم می گیرند که این فرصت بزرگ برای دزدیدن تلفن های موبایل را از دست ندهند.او هنگامی که به این جا رسید خنده اش گرفت و گفت باید دید که عکس العمل خبرنگاران درباره دلائل واقعی رفتن بخشی از کودکان خیابانی به میدان(تحریر) چه خواهد بود.

در ادامه اضافه کرد: البته همه بچه ها برای دزدی به آن جا نرفتند. این را برای خنده گفتم! مدت ها مردم به ما می گفتند که خیابان بد است و ما باید خیابان ها را ترک کنیم. اما به یکباره همه به خیابان ها ریختند، به میدان تحریر ریختند بنابراین ما هم از میدان «رامسس» به میدان تحریر نقل مکان کردیم.مردمی که آنجا بودند با ما صحبت می کردند، به ما غذا می دادند، با ما شوخی می کردند و برخی نیز تلاش داشتند به ما خواندن و نوشتن یاد دهند. ما حتی در آن جا در کنار کسانی که بوی خوب از بدن شان به مشام می رسید، خوابیدیم. ما هم به آن ها کمک کردیم. وقتی که غذا تمام می شد ما به آنها می گفتیم که از کجا می توانند ارزان ترین غداها را تهیه کنند. ما به آنها بهترین راه فرار از پلیس را نشان می دادیم. برای این که بازی آتاری (Atari) بازی مورد علاقه ما می باشد.از قیافه من متوجه شد که این جا را درست نفهمیده ام و توضیح داد : ما به ماشین پلیس آتاری می گوئیم و تمام روز در حال دویدن و مخفی شدن از آن ها هستیم .ولی برای همه ما روشن شد که پلیس میدان تحریر با پلیسی که ما می شناختیم متفاوت است ؛ آن ها وقت شان را با دودیدن به دنبال ما تلف نمی کنند؛ آن ها راستی راستی شلیک می کنند.

داستان ها و تحلیل های او در باره آن چه که کودکان خیابانی را به میدان تحریر کشید مغرضانه نبود.همه دلایل ، حتی دزدی تلفن های موبایل برای من قابل فهم بود و من همه این ها را با این واقعیت ارتباط می دادم که تازه شرو ع کرده بودم به شناختن کودکان خیابانی.

با این وصف، پس از سپری شدن دو سال، پاسخ کودکان خیابانی در باره این که چرا در انقلاب شرکت کردند، مرا شوکه کرد. کودکان درحال صحبت با همکار من عادل بودند؛ کسی که در هجده سال گذشته زندگی خود را وقف کار با کودکان خیابانی کرده بود. او به پائین نگاه کرد و به من گفت که نحوه صحبت این ها(کودکان) تغییر کرده و او نمی داند که چه کسی با بچه ها صحبت کرده است ولی قطعاً کسی بوده که با او تفاوت دارد. بچه ها در حالی که شیشه های کوکتل مولوتف در دستشان بود از کنار عادل دویده و از او می پرسیدند» زندگی من چه ارزشی داره؟ من می خوام مثل یک شهید بمیرم ، بطوری که خدا تمام اعمالی بدی را که در این دنیا انجام دادم بر من ببخشه. من می خوام بمیرم برای اینکه معنایی به زندگی ام بدم چرا که زندگی من هیچ معنایی نداره. من می خوام بمیرم تا تمام مردمی که در میدان تحریر هستند در باره من صحبت کنن و در مراسم تشیع جنازه من شرکت کنن. من می خوام بمیرم تا کسانی به یاد من باشند و قیافه مرا بر روی دیوارها نقاشی کنند. بابا من دیگر از مرگ نمی ترسم.»

رابطه کودکان خیابان با انقلاب در دو سال گذشته تغییر کرده است. با این وصف اگر فکر کنیم که بچه ها با آگاهی در خط مقدم جبهه قرار گرفته اند دچار نوعی رمانتیسیسم شده ایم .نمی توان برای افکاری که کودکان را به خط مقدم می کشاند آن ها را مقصر دانست.

در باره عمر پسر 13 ساله ای که کشته شد چه باید گفت. عمر با شلیک گلوله به قلبش توسط سربازان ارتش، که در پی حفظ خط فاصل سربازان با مخالفین بودند، کشته شد. آیا او برای دزدیدن تلفن موبایل به آنجا رفته بود؟ نه .آیا او به آنجا رفته بود برای آن که می خواست صورت کوچکش در تصویر های گرافیتی میدان های اطراف تحریر کشیده شود؟ نه. به عمر شلیک شد به خاطر آن که اون جا بود. به عمر شلیک شد برای آن که می خواست از خیابان ها خارج شود و زندگی شرافتمندانه ای داشته باشد. می خواست از خیابان هایی که اکنون محل زندگی بسیا ری از طبقات، مذاهب ، سنین و ایدئولوژی ها شده خارج بشه. عمر مورد اصابت گلوله قرار گرفت برای آن که در حال پیمودن این راه بود. ولی بیش از هر علتی عمر برای آن مورد اصابت گلوله قرار گرفت که برای کشتن او هیچ کس مورد بازخواست قرار نمی گیرد. قلب کوچک عمر هدف گلوله قرار گرفت به خاطر آن که بسیاری آن قدر زبون و ضعیف هستند که حاضر نیستند مسئولین را مورد بازخواست قرار دهند. این مقاله برای همه عمرهائی است که دستگیر و یا به گلوله بسته شده اند صرفاً به خاطر آن که در آن جا بودند، صرفاً به خاطر آن که جای امن دیگری سراغ نداشتند.

18 فوریه 2013

«نلی علی» کارشناس جغرافیای انسانی است که دکترای خود را در کالج بیربک(Birkbeck) در دانشگاه لندن می گذراند. او با دختران و مادران جوان خیابانی در قاهره کار می کند.