My father was a pharmacist in Giza, Egypt, with a number of pharmacies dotted throughout the city. Growing up, he engaged me in discussions on public and current affairs and encouraged me to argue my opinions on what was happening in our community. He frequently took me to historical places around Egypt - recounting heroic and brave stories of our past - and ingrained in me pride in our country: a deep unwavering love for Egypt.
For me, poverty is about dignity. Poverty creates a feeling of inferiority for our fellow citizens in addition to the basic lack of crucial resources. Children – who have always been an inspiration in my life – end up watching the humiliation of their parents as they are unable to provide for their families, and lead a life of pain and adversity instead of one filled with laughter, smiles, and innocence. These are the marginalized children of Egypt - Egypt’s next generation - who I want to help.
But we cannot help these children, if we do not help their parents first. It is my belief that you simply cannot ask a parent to send their kid to school if they cannot afford basic needs. We must create jobs first so their parents are able to provide for them as they grow.
In Egypt, there are a number of traditional crafts that represent the deep cultural, and artisanal history of our great country. The elegant and detailed artwork of khayamia that emerged from the times of king Tut-Ankh Amun or the extravagant and precious beauty that emerges from inlaid mother of pearl that has been with us since the ancient times are just two of the crafts that represent the endurance of our great nation.
But these crafts are at risk. Despite the beauty and timelessness of these crafts, the artisans who create these crafts are often marginalized and often live in extreme poverty. Because of their status, they cannot access new markets to sell these timeless pieces and are discouraged to pursue this line of work because of the little return. Their children - the beautiful, smiling, innocent children - loose connection to this craft and the rich culture of our great country.
In my life I have always wanted to serve Egypt. As I saw the dignity of my fellow citizens lost and our rich cultural history wasting away, I could not sit idly by. So I decided to take action. In 2009, I founded Gebraa – a name that pays tribute to the god of the sun, Raa, and the god of the earth, Geb – in order to protect these crafts and empower the artisans, enhance their societal status, and encourage young people to pursue this dignified and noble livelihood. A hybrid business, we sell these crafts to local and international clients to create profits, and fund the activities of or newly formed NGO arm Karama, that aims provides community development and preserves the heritage of our nation.
With Gebraa, I have been able to pursue my two passions in life: Egypt and helping my fellow citizens. The road to creating our organization has not been easy, but it has been fulfilling. Hopefully, with passion and determination, we will be able to scale throughout Egypt so that the beautiful children of Egypt will grow to be happy, healthy and creative citizens in the future.
Rania Salah Seddik is the Founder and Managing Director of Gebraa, a hybrid social enterprise that links artisans of traditional Egyptian crafts to local and international markets. Additionally, they encourage youth of Egypt to learn these crafts and protect the heritage of their nation. Because of its support of the marginalized artisans, Gebraa was awarded the 2013 Egypt Development Marketplace. This is the first in a series of blogs on the challenges, inspirations, and the future of social enterprises in Egypt.