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How training brings Syrians, Sudanese closer in Egypt

CARE International organized an event reflecting its efforts to end gender-based violence and help Syrian and Sudanese communities integrate into Egyptian society through psychodrama.

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — Egyptian, Sudanese and Syrian youth in Egypt recently worked together to produce a play conveying stories about racism, gender discrimination, violence against women and suppressing talent.

CARE International in Egypt, in coordination with the Soryana Center and Sudan House Club in Alexandria, held the March 12 special event, which focused on the two largest communities in Cairo and Alexandria: Syrian and Sudanese. The event, part of a CARE program on gender-based violence, was the product of a training workshop held March 7-11 in Ain Sokhna. Young men and women participated.

“This event is designed to rectify sociocultural-rights concepts in all Arab and Islamic societies, which are authoritarian when dealing with women and do not take into account Islamic teachings and Sunna,” Awatef Basheer Fadel, the head of the culture department at Sudan House Club, said in a speech to open the day's events.

Mayer Magdy Wadih, a CARE interactive theater trainer, spoke with Al-Monitor about the training and play.

“Psychodrama is the technique used in the training; it is a form of psychotherapy using role play. The objective was to help young people fulfill themselves and realize their personal potential and talents," he said. "Also, the goal is to train them in expressing themselves, accepting others and learning they are all human beings and cannot use violence against other individuals."

Initially, the Syrians and Sudanese formed their own groups and wouldn't sit together. "But they started socializing as we went along with the training," he said. “The play consisted of improvised messages delivered by the youths. There was no script, and they wrote their own songs. I was there just to help them finalize the ideas and add some words.”

On whether the training achieved its goal, he said that in the end, participants turned into one integrated group and those who were shy became bold. He noted that fear and unsociability are not traits of any particular community, but rather of some participants of the different communities.

Amin Ahmed, 20, a Sudanese actor in the play, spoke to Al-Monitor about how he first joined the training.

“I have been in Egypt for a year and a half. I was part of the Hard Base band in Sudan, where I sang rap songs for three years during culture weeks and concerts. When I arrived in Egypt, I found myself in an unfamiliar society and my self-confidence dropped. There were people who laughed when looking at me. I feared being in relationships," he said.

"I tried to rap, but people couldn't understand my accent. So I decided to write rap songs in modern standard Arabic to help them understand, and I am still writing. But I haven't recorded the songs because I don't have access to recording equipment such as a laptop and a microphone. During the training classes, I met a Syrian guy who raps, and we started thinking about doing something together. In fact, I get along with Syrians, because we live under the same circumstances. We are both away from home.”

Commenting on his experience in the interactive theater, Ahmed said, “It was beneficial for my personality and [social] development; it helped me boost my self-confidence. Now I know that I can do something, and do it well. This experience helped me and made me realize that I'm capable of integrating into Syrian, Egyptian and any other communities.”

Ghaith Otabashi, 14, a Syrian who appeared in the play, told Al-Monitor, “I was afraid of performing in front of an audience. Also, I was scared of dealing with Sudanese because I had this prejudiced idea that they're violent. This idea changed following the training. And now I want to enhance my acting skills.”

Zeinab Ahmad, 17, a Sudanese participant, told Al-Monitor, “It was my first acting experience. I was scared a little bit before the start of the show. I managed to overcome my fears while performing."

Ahmad said he used to see Syrians as racist and arrogant. "This idea, however, changed during the training.”

Mustafa Abdullatif, a gender-based violence project coordinator at CARE International, told Al-Monitor, “70% of the project actually addresses Syrians, while the other 30% addresses other communities.”

He added, "The second-largest community in Alexandria — following the Syrian community — is the Sudanese community. Based on that, our first activity sought for the two communities to become integrated."

Sudan House Club's Fadel told Al-Monitor she learned about CARE International through the General Federation of Nongovernmental Organizations.

"Our cooperation with CARE International is based on their financial support for our activities. Sudan House Club’s financial situation is hard, as it only receives funds from some Sudanese businessmen. The House Club needs to be developed. For instance, there are no musical instruments in the music room." The club also needs to attract "the younger generation,” she noted.

Commenting on her experience with the "excellent" Syrian community, she said, “I noticed that [Syrians] are coherent and compassionate with each other. There are those youths who I thought were sisters, but I found out that they are just friends. Family ties are very important for Syrians. They are firmly connected, probably because they fled the war and live away from home."

She added, "We — the Sudanese — do not feel estranged in Egypt, because the Sudanese community has been in Egypt since 1965. There are only some Sudanese refugee families in Alexandria. In fact, we only feel like strangers here when we deal with authorities in terms of passports, for instance — particularly since a new law regulating foreigners' residency was enacted," which increased fees. "At the end of the day, we are an immigrant community and have poor financial capabilities; we do not have shops and restaurants like the Syrians do."

A Jan. 31 report published by UNHCR, the United Nation's refugee agency, said there are 117,591 Syrian refugees in Egypt. However, Hussein Osama, the chairman of the Sudanese community's High Council in Egypt, told the Arab Workers News Agency in May that there are more than 1 million Sudanese in Egypt. Osama told the same news agency that the council provides migrants with support and care, education, housing and health services.

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