11 days on the Polish border with Ukraine

Two weeks ago, an American friend posted an appeal saying there was urgent need for volunteers in Medyka, a small village on the Polish border with Ukraine. A few days later, my husband Colin and I were on a plane to Poland. I had decided that I was not going to have expectations. I was going into the unknown. I don’t really know much about the history, politics or culture of the region. I don’t know anything about war beyond what I’ve seen in the media. I have never done relief work. But if someone thought I could be helpful, I really wanted to help.

The following 11 days were an enlightening experience, more regarding the functionings of relief agencies than anything else. By the time we arrived at the camp in Medyka, the movement of refugees out of Ukraine through Poland had slowed. By the time we left 11 days later, there appeared to be more Ukrainians returning home through that specific border (there are others) than there were leaving it.


Haunted by a Street Child

Ever since I’ve known Egypt, I’ve seen street beggars and street children. Story after media story has been written about them locally and internationally. They are so commonplace most of us don’t give them a second thought. The children come from broken homes, or have run away from home, or are kidnapped from home, or are simply used by their parents and extended families as a source of income. There are large gangs of beggars in Egypt. It’s an underground society. I remember an Egyptian movie made about them in the 70s or 80s that depicted beggars who played the role of a deformed person in need of money during the day who went home to a nice, fully furnished apartment in the evening.

In Egypt, we know all about the beggars and their underground society. Yet we continue to indulge them. And they are allowed to roam our streets freely. (more…)

Dirty Politics, Innocent Victims

Politics is a dirty business. And at no time in Egypt has politics been dirtier. I’ve attempted all my life to educate myself politically. I’ve tried to understand the different systems and to understand why politicians do and decide the things they do. I’ve always failed. I won’t start trying to understand it all now.

That’s why I’m not going to get myself into trying to analyze why Egypt’s current government has decided to refer 19 Americans and 24 Egyptians working on international, non-governmental projects in the country to criminal court. The 43 people are accused of “setting up branches of international organizations in Egypt without a license from the Egyptian government” and of “receiving illegal foreign funding.”

There is no doubt that there are reasons why this issue has come to the forefront of the Egyptian government’s attention at this point in time. What those exact reasons are is for someone else to speculate.

But having had worked with one of the US-based organizations accused in this case, I see it as my duty to put some facts on the table. (more…)