Getting into a partnership with 10 NGOs working in Sohag… It might sound like an easy task, actually it wasn’t as easy as much it was an interesting one!

The journey started virtually; collecting data about NGOs in Sohag. The search process was not easy since many NGOs do not have websites or online profiles. Our directory  and network of NGOs were helpful.

Before starting the implementation of such a big project, started by assessing the status of the preselected NGOs was necessary to make sure that they’re matching the project’s criteria. We started the journey to Sohag with an intense schedule to visit all the shortlisted NGOs. We enjoyed travelling all around Sohag to meet interesting people, from Tema, Tahta, Ekhmin, Al Maragha, Sohag to Dar El Salam. The trip was truly fruitful.

The real hot weather of Upper Egypt was one of the highlights. To facilitate moving around the big governorate, we’ve rented a car whose driver; Hatem, helped us a lot as a Sohagi insider to schedule our visits based on the geographical distribution of the villages and centers of Sohag, but again that did not stop us from getting lost some times (I mean, it’s Egypt afterall!). But even getting lost was an advantage with Hatem. Losing our way in Tahta’s tough sandy roads forced us to roll up the windows. To our surprise, Hatem’s taxi had an A/C that he had to switch on. If we knew that from the very beginning, I am sure it would have made our trip so much easier.

NGOs in Sohag:
The gap between NGOs in Sohag was significant in terms of, financial, organizational and human resources. Some had really interesting portfolios but were lacking the on-field experience. They are either quite well established and structured NGOs, or unstructured NGOs that are 100% volunteer-based run by unskilled management with no retention plans, no or hardly any experience in health projects, nevertheless reproductive health projects. That made our job challenging to some extent because although we were glad to see a lot of enthusiastic volunteers, the scope of our current project does not include the comprehensive capacity building to NGOs but it did encourage us to include this as part of our future plans to find a way to build the capacities of these NGOs as we have done it before in Menia and Cairo.

But any ways, it was a good start; we were encouraged and happy to meet many young people full of enthusiasm to change their community; like that NGO we visited in Tema. It is run by a group of volunteers who managed in only a couple of years to join different initiatives and many awareness campaigns. It’s really sad they do lack the resources to do a faster progress but we do believe they will do it soon. All of them were volunteers and they were truly committed.

How the community there perceive our project?

We noticed that people are familiar with reproductive health projects and they find it helpful. Many confirmed that the situation is improving and some changes are happening but slowly and gradually, and there is still a lot of work to do to notice a real change; especially that most of the previous projects used the same interventions which can be easily enumerated in casual seminars, home visits and medical convoys. We have also noticed that reproductive health projects were concentrated in some centers/cities only and did not cover all. For example in Dar El Salam, you can barely trace major actions related. So we decided to take this as our challenge, either to find out the reasons that could stop us from working in Dar El Salam and the closer centers around, or we will leave our imprint there.

So far what we have come to know is that Dar El Salam has a bit of different situation, it is kind of isolated: far from the center, the villages within are not very close to each other, vendetta feud problems between families that have been there for ages… but at the same time, the need for some awareness on reproductive health is crucial to them.

Encountring  real stereotyping dilemma

People who are not familiar with the development field in Egypt or have not been to the South have some misconceptions about life and the people in Upper Egypt, thanks to Egyptian series! That motivated us to share some interesting observations with our readers. Stereotyping about women’s situation there that some people still believe women are not given the chance to continue their education, but we met many smart and well educated girls there. Many girls there are allowed, with exception to some villages and families, to join community actions and join universities and to even do post graduate studies.

We were impressed by how girls there are interested in the development field. We have met a couple of highly motivated girls in different places in Sohag. In the very small Tahta village , three amazing girls, fresh graduates in their 20s; who attended a lot of different trainings including reproductive health. They were very cooperative and offered help even if we would not work with their NGOS. We had a lot of insightful discussions with another young girl who just completed her PHD in Arabic Literature and runs an NGO herself to serve people of Maragha, her native village, although she has been living most of her life in the city of Sohag.

There are other stereotyped beliefs that we will be sharing along the way :)

Soad Hamed and Sandy Raafat