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Volume 44 Number 3
Edited by Susan Wolfe
This article describes a project that was completed in Cairo, Egypt with funding from a SCRA Mini-Grant.
Written by Amy Carrillo, Seham Kafafi, and Omar Ezzeldin, formerly at The American University in Cairo
As community psychologists, we are committed to demonstrating values such as diversity and social justice with a focus on psychological sense of community, collaboration, and highlighting community strengths. However, “talking the talk” can be very different from “walking the walk.” Three of us who worked on a community initiated cultural event will briefly share what we did, how we did it, and the benefits and challenges of working with community partners.
Amy Carrillo, Assistant Professor (American)
When I initially planned to engage the community (represented by the Nuba Mountains International Association’s Executive Committee), I anticipated implementing a Photo Voice Project with Sudanese youth living in Egypt. I had seen Photo Voice presentations at the SCRA biennials and was drawn to this creative approach to data collection that offered the possibility of minimizing the language barrier. After locating a sample training manual, I was optimistic that the AUC team would be able to use this methodology to share the experience of Sudanese youth with others in Cairo and beyond.
Contrary to my expectations, when the AUC team, three undergraduate students and I, approached the Nuba Mountains International Association, they were not interested in Photo Voice but rather requested to work on a cultural event. The research team’s initial reactions were “What do we know about planning cultural events?” And “What does this have to do with research?” However, we agreed to collaborate with the Association and took our time in determining the best research approach.
Most of my work has focused on underrepresented or marginalized groups and in this way, a cultural event celebrating the Nuba Mountain people of Sudan was a great fit. The Nuba Mountains committee explained that the cultural event was not just about showcasing their cultural heritage but an opportunity for the community to come together, an unusual event in the cramped city of Cairo. Additionally, the community was hoping to spread awareness concerning the situation in the Nuba Mountains, an issue of social justice.
The NMI called the event “Nuba Day” and 8 of the 13 tribes represented by the Nuba Mountains Association prepared to present their tribal dances and traditional songs in their mother tongues. The American University in Cairo provided a space on campus for the event, and we received a SCRA community mini-grant covered the expenses of renting a sound system and preparing costumes. The event was held on April 26, 2013 and fell victim to its own success, ending early due to the overwhelming number of attendees.
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Reflecting on this community collaboration, developing trust was the biggest challenge but also the most rewarding lesson I learned. As a supervisor engaging in the unfamiliar tasks of planning a cultural event, I relied on my team’s diverse skill set to implement the event. Additionally, in navigating the ups and downs of event planning and the event itself, I learned how important building relationships with the community can be especially when the stakes are high (1,000 people need to be dispersed) and how rewarding it feels to know that others consider you and your reputation in their decisions (the NMIA considered my reputation at AUC in choosing to end the event early).
I can honestly say that Nuba Day was one of my most meaningful accomplishments. The American University in Cairo campus that is typically home to wealthy Egyptian youth was hosting hundreds of Nuban refugees. The campus space that I saw as a safe space for me and my students in the midst of an often chaotic and uncertain political transition period had become a safe space for others. As I observed the giant circle the community had created, I marveled at the sense of community they all shared. Their strengths of organization, collaboration, and care were evident throughout the event. Through collaboration, our team and the NMIA were able to put a few of our community psychology values into action and really “walk the walk.”
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Seham Kafafi, Undergraduate Student (American-Egyptian)
Upon completing a course on the psychosocial issues of immigrants, I was deeply motivated to help the thousands of immigrants that are living in unfair conditions in Egypt. Like other refugees who flee their homes, high hopes for a better future are left withered.
After meeting the community, I was excited to begin to put my little experience in community psychology into a full on practice. However, that excitement instantly clashed with my feelings of anxiety. Our colleague who was also participating had to translate from English to Arabic and vice versa, and I felt that this would take away from developing my own personal relationship with the community members of the Nuba Association. Once we finalized the idea for a cultural event, I was excited because I had experience planning events in my university. I felt I could greatly contribute.
The event was a struggle to plan largely due to budgeting issues and finding funding. We were four researchers, and it was hard to imagine that people would find our event appealing enough to put thousands of pounds (Egyptian currency) into a cultural event for a minority group. With the country’s numerous economic problems, investing in a group who were not of Egyptian decent did not necessarily appeal to people. Had we been part of a larger organization it would be possible. However, this budgeting issue was resolved about 5 months later after we applied and received the SCRA grant. Another struggle came in upholding our word to the Association in making the event happen. We had difficulty finalizing a location on our campus. Other student run activities had priority over our event. We preferred this option of having it on campus though because using the facilities was going to be for free. The more we delayed, the more I cringed at the thought of them losing hope in us as researchers.
The year’s worth of work came to an end on the day of the cultural event. And it seemed that the emotional rollercoaster and arguing with various stakeholders was completely worth it. The children, youth, parents, and elderly that attended the event were enjoying the performances that other Nubians had organized. I felt happy as I approached them and played with the little children. And I had positive interactions with the adults who approached me. After the event came to a close, the Association and the researchers discussed various issues that had occurred, but very fixable. The most crucial thing that everyone took away from the event was establishing a connection between the university and the Association. Right now, we are coming up with ways to ensure this connection stays intact despite the future plans of myself, and the other researchers. This will be the key to secure long-term development of the Nuba Mountains Association.
Omar Ezzeldin, Undergraduate Student (Egyptian)
I wouldn’t call myself a typical psychologist, I am double majoring in both psychology and international law, and I work as a part timer in business, advertising and trainings. I have always had this image of being a psychologist in mind that I will end up in my own clinic or office. Never did I think that I could combine my passion for mingling with people, the energy that I gain from creating events and festivals with the deeply rooted interest in psychology that I have grown as an undergraduate student. The opportunity to be part of the Nuba mountains project came by chance in a time when I most needed it. I had several career concerns then as I grew up realizing I cannot be a typical clinical psychologist, I needed some on-ground action in my life. And there I was, meeting with a group of refugees and realizing that maybe what they need at this point is what I do best, festivals.
I came into this research thinking I would spend it in a lab, reading things and living the life a researcher I had in mind. As a matter of fact, it was an escape from the many events I had coordinated in my undergraduate years. However, the way it ended was that I learnt a lot about the theoretical research part in practice, but more importantly, I knew that research is not only lab oriented anymore.
This project made me know a lot about myself. I know that I get euphoric when it comes to other cultures. One of my best moments is when I listen to folk music in an event that I helped put together. I learnt from my team mates that the world is bigger than my bubble of events and student activities.
The hardest process for me was to always remind myself that I was a community psychologist in this project not an event organizer, so it had to be what the community wants not what I want to achieve, this resulted in a lot of confusion during the planning phase, but it all paid off well upon seeing the community happy in the day of their festival.
To fully understand community psychology’s values, we must live them. Like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe so eloquently put it “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” There are exciting opportunities to engage in community initiated projects in any setting. We hope that our story has inspired you to create your own.
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