By Nudge Sustainability Reporter Mostafa Shahat
Azza Kamel is an Egyptian entrepreneur who succeeded in building an influential and sustainable organizations called Alwan wa Awtar or A&A (Arabic for Crayons and Strings), which teaches underprivileged kids who are excluded, isolated and live in slums arts and other forms of education using a stimulating and participatory approach.
Azza grew up in the United Kingdom until high school and came back to Egypt to pursue her bachelor study at the American University in Cairo specializing in business administration. Azza grew up in a family that taught her to treat people equally whatever their social level are. Her mom taught her to be kind and caring and when she was 12 years old, she used to visit a nursing home for elderly people without families to read for them. For the first time Azza experienced the joy of giving.
Azza was passionate to work in the development field; in 1993 she worked at UNESCO Qatar for 3 years as a program assistant, coordinating UNESCO’s various programs in the region. She then worked at the ICA (Institute of Culture Affairs) for 4 years as business development manager, which entailed writing proposals and defining the organizations image.
Azza: “During these work experiences, I didn’t really work closely with the community, my role was always a desk role. I was responsible for writing proposals (...) there was not much chance to work on the ground.”
There is always a turning point in each one’s life. In 2001, while Azza was working at ICA, she met an enthusiastic and motivated group of young people who started an organization called Fathet Khair that supports women with micro-credits to get them started on small projects in order to earn income for their families. One day, a group of French volunteers visited Fathet Kheir to hold an art workshop for kids. Despite the fact that the program exposed the children to very basic arts and crafts, the children loved it.
It was not challenging at all for the kids to understand the French volunteers without even an interpreter.
Azza: “Art is a universal language.”
After conducting a focus group of kids to see why they were so inspired and motivated during the program, Azza discovered that they don’t have any access to visual and performing arts in their schools or homes. It was the first time in their life to join an art program and the children were very happy with the simple activities and puzzles.
The idea of Alwan wa Awtar was developed and in December 2005, the organization was established using non-formal education methods to develop kids’ social skills and talents through arts (theater, painting, drawing, photography, musical instruments, creative writing, etc.). Azza and 4 volunteers started the organization with a small number of activities. Today, it has grown to host a community library, where kids are learning how to read through “activities around the book”, a non-formal education program as well as various arts workshops.
Azza: “All our activities are hands on, and the kid have to try things by his/her hand, so he/she can figure out what’s the best for him/her (...) Then he/she can realize his/her potential."
Azza has received many different international awards; she became an Ashoka fellow in 2009, received the UN women guild award in 2008, the Coming Up Taller award in 2009, Takreem Award in 2014 and in 2015 the Distinguished Alumni Award was given to her by the American University in Cairo.