01.08.2010 -

Bouthaïna Abdelwahed Abdelsalam, making dreams come true in award-winning rural Egyptian literacy scheme

©Bouthaïna A. Abdelsalam

A 24-year-old mother of two, Bouthaïna Abdelwahed Abdelsalam is a development leader with the Females for Families programme in Abu-Ashur, Egypt. The Governorate of Ismailia, which runs the programme, has won the 2010 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy for its individualized, needs-based approach to literacy and development. Bouthaïna told EduInfo about how the success of Females for Families has given confidence to the whole Abu-Ashur community, to women in general and to her in particular.

When did you start working with the Females for Families programme?

I started in January 2010. First I had six months’ training as a development leader in Ismailia, then I returned to Abu-Ashur to work with 10 families. There are seven people on average per family. 

Can you give us examples of children returning to school because of the programme?

Hossam Hassan Mohamed Hussein, a local boy, was 10 years old and had lost both parents at a young age. Instead of going to school he had been working to survive. He lived on the margins of society, he smoked, and was considered to be beyond help. The community adopted him and financed his return to school. 

Another 10-year-old boy, Karim Hamad Mohamed, had left school at the age of eight after his father died, to work to support his mother. The community contributed to his mother’s keep, to let Karim stop working and return to school.

The children needed preparation for school. As part of the programme I organized home literacy classes for Hossam, Karim and other children like them. All in all I personally managed to get 24 children aged between 10 and 15, to either go to school or return to school.   

The Females for Families programme puts great emphasis on health. Did this produce results?

Well, in the case of one woman, Oum Nabil, it probably saved her life! Oum was one of a convoy of 212 women which I organized to travel up to Ismailia hospital to do check-ups, including mammograms. Oum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily it was caught at an early stage and she responded well to treatment.

Information campaigns were a big part of the programme - especially for women -  around childbirth and also family planning, which increased as a result. But we also communicated and held workshops on other aspects of community life that could be improved, from understanding the effects of pollution to the importance of keeping children in school, the need to learn new skills, how to start a small business…

Did people find employment because of the programme?

Yes - through the literacy and microfinance training structure. One woman, Souad Mohamed Ahmed, got a small loan and bought three sheep and three goats. Today she has a herd of 50 animals and runs a business selling their products: milk, cheese and so on. She is doing very well!

Another local woman, Haja Swassan, was left with two sons and a daughter. After her husband died she needed an income. She had lower secondary-level education. Through the programme she was able to find a job with the Ministry of Health. I consider Haja one of our best successes. Also, her daughter now works with us on the programme! 

Females for Femilies helped family members with paperwork and administration. What were the most requested services?

Obtaining identity cards for women. In rural Egypt many women have no official existence, so this was the greatest demand. Job applications came second. Access to utilities was a big issue – overall, we managed to get water and electricity supplied to 180 houses. We also got construction permits for seven bakeries. The Governor of Ismailia was extremely helpful.  

What is your greatest achievement since working with Females for Families?

I set up a health dispensary for the community where none existed before. I am proud of that.  

Have female development leaders got the same education level?

About half of them have been to university, like me - I have a Bachelors Degree in literature. The other half have completed early secondary education.  

Has the image of girls and women changes because of the programme? And how has your own life changed?

The programme has given me a new role in society and increased my self-confidence. It has changed the way people see me - even my own children! I am proud to be of service to my own and other families.

I have a message for you from my community. They asked me to tell you that they believe: “We can do anything now – we can make any dream come true”!



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