Egypt’s Street kids: making ends meet

Egypt’s Street kids: making ends meet

CAIRO: Dina and Salma wake up everyday before the sun peeks over the still Nile waters and make their way to what has become their defacto kiosk. In reality, what composes their little kiosk is a little table, cracks protruding the center with bread lined up in a neatly designed fashion.

By 8 in the morning, a few dozen passersby have purchased the now drying bread from the 12 and 10-year-old sisters. It gets the job done, says Dina, the older sister. She says they don’t have much of a choice at their age.

“We can’t go begging any longer, so we make bread and sell it,” she says, a slight smile beginning to form across her clean face. “We take good care of each other and we are saving some money.”

On a good day, the sisters earn as much as 40 Egyptian pounds. It’s enough to suffice, eat three meals and put some away for a later time.

“We want to buy a house and then make lots of bread and sell it in our own stand,” Salma says, pointing to the more established foul carts on the other side of the parking lot.

To date, the girls have saved around 1,000 pounds, they say. A far cry from buying a home, but a lot better than what they used to have to deal with, the two argue.

“We know a lot of kids who live on the streets around us and it they don’t have much. Nobody helps us,” Dina continues.

The sisters’ story is becoming all-too-familiar on Cairo’s streets where young children are forced to fend for themselves in the growing bustle of crowded alleyways and parking lots much like this one in the upscale Zamalek neighborhood.

For the girls, they are employing a pseudo business model that may be palatable for others to follow. They say the most important thing needed in order to “make it” on the streets is to find a “safe place away from people” to sleep and make a makeshift home. Without a place to rest, it is nearly unbearable to survive, Salma admits.

“We lived in other areas for a long time, but there we were beaten and harassed. If we were older, who knows what would have happened to us, but here it is easier because we have kind of been accepted by the other sellers around here,” she begins, “and that is very important to not feel unsafe.”

Across the way from their little table are two foul carts offering morning delights to men and women on their way to work. They pour the stirred brown beans into the white or brown bread, quickly wrapping the sandwiches in paper and stuffing them into a plastic bag. Dina and Salma are among the first in line, handing over two pounds to receive their four little sandwiches.

“It’s enough for now,” says Dina between bites. They are happy in their predicament. As happy as they can be.

“We were abandoned a long time ago and we came to Cairo because that is the only way to make money and get food,” Salma tells of the sisters’ journey from a village they say is near Helwan. “At first we ate garbage that people threw away, but then we started to beg and made some money.”

The two moved around almost daily, never sleeping in the same area. It was their safety mechanism and it proved successful. They have not experienced the sexual abuse so often handed out to street children across the country as a result.

One day about one year ago, the two unearthed a small rickety table still able to stand. By this time, they had been selling bags of bread in downtown in the early morning. “It wasn’t much, but it gave us hope that we could make a better life,” Dina admits.

Using their knowledge of the streets, Zamalek was an obvious choice to “settle down.” On the island, the sisters’ say there is more money and people are not against buying bread in the morning from them.

“I believe we are doing well because we came here. If others came it might not be so good, but because the police doesn’t like to see kids on the street around the rich people, we blend in better because we wash our faces and sleep away from sight,” Dina tells, pointing toward the Nile embankment where they have turned into their little home.

After the bread is sold, usually by around 10 in the morning, the two girls head “home.” Just beyond the prying eyes of any wondering gaze, the girls reveal a neatly kept area on the sandy slopes leading down to the polluted water of the Nile. Garbage is heaped on the edge of the water a few steps from where they lay their heads to rest.

Each girl has two blankets, both in decent condition, pillows and bundles of newspapers employed as beds. Covering the area are branches formed to make a fort reminiscent of the ingenuity of young kids using furniture and sheets at play time. Salma digs at the ground underneath her pillow and brings forth a steel tin. She takes the money earned from the morning’s efforts and tightly squeezes it inside.

“We have over 1,000 pounds now,” Dina reveals, “and our goal is to get enough so we can maybe go to school and learn how to do something and get real jobs when we are older.”

The question for them is whether they will be able to get an education without proper documentation, such as an ID, birth certificate and other papers required by the government in order to be an official citizen.

“We do need help because we are doing all this on our own and we don’t know what to do next,” Salma says as the two sit perched up on their beds, tossing tiny stones and pebbles into the water.

Muslim Brotherhood Parliamentary chief Saad Katatni’s office said that children’s issues are a becoming a major issue “that must be looked at in the near future.” They argued that in order to create a better society, the youth of the nation must be cultivated.

“We see street children as yet another sign that Egypt is falling backwards. Through our efforts, we hope that new legislation can be passed that will enable all children to move forward and create a better country. It is sad and despicable that there are so many homeless children on the streets,” the MP’s office argued.

They hope to put forth in parliament new bills that would enable organizations to establish means of working with children such as Dina and Salma. When pressed for further details, they said that “the idea is still being researched and developed” at the present time.

For the sisters’ they have accepted the need to work hard, eat and stay hopeful that a better future is coming.

“I think we will be okay, but there are others like us that are not so lucky. Something should be done to help people like us,” adds Dina.

For 12 and 10-year-old girls, they talk as if they are much older than their years.