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Coloring in the Coffeehouse: Cahwa Engages the Children of Al Hussainia

9 June, 2016
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Twice a month, Asmaa Kamaly hits the local coffee shops of old Cairo. Unlike Egyptians who go there to sit back, smoke a shisha and discuss the issues of the day, the twenty-four year-old set up CAHWA on a mission to turn the Hysinia ahwas (coffee shops) into safe spaces for a new generation of underprivileged children.

The Al Hussainia area, located opposite Abou el Fotouh gate in historic Islamic Cairo, has plenty of ahwas which have developed a particular reputation: as hangouts for fotowat (thugs). The spot has become so notorious it was selected as the location for the film Fotowat Al Hussainia (Thugs of Al Hussainia). It is here that Kamaly wants to impact the lives of local children, many of whom are unable to access the education system and stand poised at the cusp of a tough adulthood.

"The idea was to introduce the adaptive reuse of one of the vibrant places in our culture using the participatory approach," Kamaly told BECAUSE.

While conducting her Masters in Urban Design for Revitalization of Historic City Districts, Kamaly and her fellow students students met up with their professor in a coffee house in order to fully get an understanding to the urban and social situation of the area. It is during these student discussions that the idea ignited, and Kamaly decided to begin connecting with local children and develop activities with them.

As the ahwas don't truly come to life until the evenings, the daytimes are good moments to pitch up and get active with the children. To gain the trust of wary, street-smart children, Kamaly partnered with a local resident of the district, earning her more trust as an outsider to the area. Taking it further, Kamaly has discovered a place where there are computers with internet and a billiard table.

"The children like to be in this place … That's where I started to socialize with them," she recalls.

With every workshop, the level of trust has increased, and by word of mouth the group has grown to an average of eight keen regulars who join Kamaly to write, colour and draw.

"I focused on the children under twelve years old because they are not completely lacking in hope, and they are the generation that could have the greatest impact later on," she said.

Some of of the children are currently obliged to work instead of going to school, either to support their families or because the school fees are out of reach. As a result, Kamaly is currently focusing on teaching them the basics of writing, as well as fun activities to keep them engaged. But the project is primarily about participation and social positivity, with educational achievements an added bonus.

"They find the drawing book and colors are more fun to communicate with. When they are drawing or holding a crayon, and most importantly respected, they start to act nicely," she highlighted. 

As a next step, she is looking for opportunities to formalise the project in order to reduce risk. Since NGO worker Aya Hegazy of the Balady Association For Street Children was detained under numerous charges she denies, Kamaly wants to ensure the project has a strong legal status. Funding, awareness and more people to join her team are also a key goal. 

Kamaly's vision is to leverage the vibrant role of ahwas at the centre of public life, and to spread awareness to the area's most influential actors of development: the locals and their children themselves.

Image courtesy of CAHWA.

Tags Because ahwas social enterprise coffee Hysinia participation community initiative urbanism children CSR