We are busier than ever, with people helped and new and ongoing projects delivered thanks to the hard work of our community volunteers, our trustee Faraj Fox, and especially our Co-ordinator Mohammed Khedr.
We have started a number of projects aimed at helping people to make or improve their living.
1500 Olive trees!
We completed the work started some time ago to provide young families in suitable areas with five or six olive saplings each. A further 85 families were given trees. Some people have combined their trees to make a bigger olive garden, saving on labour and water. The young trees took well following the spring rains, and already some trees planted have borne fruit.
Altogether about 270 families have been given a means of reducing their food costs and earning income from the fruit and oil, and this will increase as the trees mature further. We see it as a long-term investment in the community's future.
Olive oil social enterprise
Thirteen established olive growers were helped to improve their gardens in spring, thus maximizing their yield. We guaranteed to buy their olives at a good price, giving them financial security. The scale of the harvest enabled us to use an efficient commercial press at the Monastery to press the oil, which was then sold in Cairo for a good price. The small operational surplus was retained by the Foundation to support future projects.
We hope to increase the number of growers involved in future years, eventually including the families who received saplings. Meanwhile, small producers who want to remain independent can always use our community olive oil press to process small quantities - as 50 families from across the area have done this year.
Four young people (2 boys and 2 girls) were trained in Jebeliya metalwork techniques by the last man to inherit this traditional skill from his father. It is unique for girls to learn this craft. We hope to continue helping them make and market crafts in future. A further four young women attended training in Cairo on marketing handicrafts - an important skill now the EU-funded former handicraft project has closed. Meanwhile we learned that our project to teach felt-making to local women has brought benefits long after it finished, as women in areas we didn't work in have explained to us that they have learned the process from friends and relatives and use it to make warm clothes for their children.
A home-based service providing advice on all women's matters was set up in St Katherine, run by a young woman with legal training and a qualified nurse. It has proved very popular, with up to 60 women a month visiting from across the area. Among other outcomes, nine young women have been supported to set up adult literacy classes, for which they receive a modest government salary. The importance of this is hard to overstate in remote places where the absence of schools meant many people had no education. Bedouin people consistently rate education as the most important requirement for success in life.
Deaf and hearing children's group
Our research has highlighted very high rates of deafness in the Mzeina tribe and its genetic causes. A group of mothers of deaf children asked us to help them reduce their children's isolation. At a house in Wadi Marra we have established a place where deaf and hearing children can come together to play, socialize, learn and communicate. About 20 children regularly attend the group, paying a small daily attendance fee and receiving food as well as enjoying playing with their friends. Weekly advice sessions, for example about food and health issues, are offered to mothers. We aim to do further research into how the children and their families communicate using local sign language, and how the community and individuals can be helped to deal with this challenge.
Wells and water
We helped people to clear wells and replace pipes following last spring's torrential rains in St Katherine, and have focussed efforts this winter on providing blankets and plastic sheeting to keep people warm and dry. We have also helped the community in Wadi Kid rebuild its well.
Help with business costs
With our support a mechanic was able to set up a business in Wadi Esbai3a that now supports five families. On the same lines we provided tools for a mechanic to set up in remote Wadi Zeliga, where his business is now doing well. Our grant for a water tank to a widow in Dahab has enabled her to set up a laundry which now employs two other people, and she has used her profits to send her daughter to college - a double benefit.
We helped 50 children take part in celebrating Earth Day, and have co-funded a project to clean up the environment and support waste disposal, both in partnership with the St Katherine Protectorate.
We helped a further 300 children participate in a conference to celebrate St Katherine's Day and encourage tourism. We paid school fees for some 25 families, provided new windows for St Katherine's Primary School, and helped a group of 12 girls studying in Suez to weather a housing crisis and continue their studies.
Many aspects of our work are ongoing and continue from year to year, benefitting communities, families and individuals.
From its beginnings a few years ago, we have been able to provide 23 new families with a young sheep or goat produced by the animals we gave out last year. (There should have been 40 but for a fodder problem affecting many animals, recently resolved.)
An offshoot of the bank is our herd managed by deaf Mzeina men. The herd now supports ten families, and in a happy development is now providing milk for the deaf children's playgroup.
Our chicken-co-operative in el Wadi works seasonally and has continued to thrive this year, with new members joining and several women sending their daughters to college with the proceeds.
Drill and compressor
Along with our community olive oil press, the drill and portable generator are available to anyone to borrow. Normally used to fix wells or paths, it has been more used than usual this year (15 families) because so much reconstruction work was done after the recent floods.
The equipment we bought a few years ago has been in regular demand again. This year four people were rescued from the mountains, and it was of great importance during the rescue effort for the ill-fated hikers lost in snow. 12 local families also borrowed equipment to rescue lost and trapped livestock, saving much expense.
Ongoing welfare support
We continue to help individuals and families in hardship and need of medical care. We assisted the Monastery to distribute help to 75 needy families in St Katherine. We ourselves provided additional food parcels for 25 families in the wadis, and to people we met in the course of our work and who are brought to our attention by our community volunteers. We continue to subsidize the food bill of 20 widows each month. This year our Ramadan food distribution was the biggest ever, with 350 boxes from Toshiba al 'araby supporting 350 families, and 200 boxes from the Army helping 200 families. We also helped distribute sadaqa to the approximate value of EGP 200,000 in November from a group of wealthy Cairo donors.
In addition, we have contributed to the cost of medical treatment, diagnostics and operations, and signposted others to sources of support, helping hundreds of people.
Pictures by Mohammed Khedr and Hilary Gilbert