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Young Women Tackle Illiteracy Through Tamkeen


“We used to be shy girls who withdrew from participating in community activities and didn't face our problems — in fact, we were never even aware of our own community’s problems.”

Tradition discourages Egyptian women, especially village girls, from participating in the public sphere. However, some young women, including the one quoted above, have decided to rewrite that tradition.

“We started to talk about our community’s problems,” said the girl, one of 60 young women who met to discuss issues in their small village of Tahta in the Upper Egypt governorate of Sohag.

The young women wanted to identify “the biggest problem… affecting the whole community.” Through their dialogue, they identified illiteracy — or more specifically, ineffective literacy courses — as the biggest challenge to progress in their village.

“We discovered that the literacy classes were taught by teachers with no skills and no capacity — this was the main reason for the ineffective classes,” said one of the young women who took part in the dialogue, which was organized by Nour El Mostakbal for Sustainable Community Development.

With this realization in mind, the young women decided that the best solution to the problem would be to offer training for teachers in collaboration with the Literacy Classes Department in Tahta.

At the start of the discussion, some of the participants were hesitant and started listing obstacles they anticipated. However, they were encouraged to press on by coordinators from Tamkeen, a USAID-funded project of Coptic Orphans that works with Nour El Mostakbal for Sustainable Community Development.

In the end, the young women decided to give their initiative a try.

“We selected three representatives to go and visit the manager of the Literacy Classes Department,” said one of the participants chosen for the delegation. “We started telling him about the problem, and our solution, and about how we wanted to volunteer to help. To our surprise, he agreed and gave us an official letter authorizing us to start implementing our proposed curriculum for developing the education process in literacy classes.”

Stories like this are rare in Egypt, especially in small villages around Sohag—arguably the poorest of Egypt’s governorates. But the very fact that a group of young women came together, recognized a community problem, proposed solutions, and made their voices heard is a sign of progress. Duplicating that success on a wider scale is the mission of Tamkeen, which is working with community development associations across Upper Egypt to lift up female voices in community life.

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Tamkeen builds the capacity of community development associations that support girls and young women in Upper Egypt through work with community development associations in Assiut, Minya, and Sohag.