Located in downtown Cairo, the American University in Cairo (AUC) balances a strong commitment to academics with a concern for the region’s needs for practical applications and professional specializations, providing its students with an unrivaled English-language liberal arts education and the qualifications required to succeed on a local, regional and international level. AUC is an independent, non-profit, non-sectarian and multi-cultural establishment with a distinctive academic program, a world-class faculty and a tradition of innovative and rigorous multidisciplinary study. American University in Cairo’s website>>
This ambitious project, launched by the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement, provides English and Arabic courses to AUC’s maintenance personnel, security guards, lab assistants and drivers. Student, faculty, staff and alumni gain volunteer experience as teachers and learn the importance of social responsibility, while at the same time helping AUC staff acquire language skills that will last a lifetime.
“Imagine what it’s like for staff that have been here for years and can’t understand the signs or conversations around them,” said Barbara Ibrahim, director of the Gerhart center, at a meeting for volunteers. “They feel like outsiders in their own workplace. We want to give them the skills they need to be able to engage with their environment.”
The program is a rejuvenation of a student-led initiative started by AUC student Yasmina Abou Youssef in May 1997. “I saw that there was a need on campus and I began to match volunteers with workers. When President Gerhart learned about it, he was very encouraging…. It was a very rewarding program, but very informal, and it was clear that it needed institutional backing to last.” In Spring 2006, for example, 51 volunteers — 36 students, five faculty members, six staff members, three alumni and one non-AUCian — signed up to teach two classes every week, each lasting for one hour. The student volunteers taught in pairs, and classes were held throughout each week during regular working hours. A total of 142 workers signed up for the classes, mostly for English lessons.
“The key challenge faced by the American University in Cairo is to foster active citizenship and civic engagement in an environment with limited ‘democratic space’. Doing so in the current political environment in Egypt without being perceived as an instrument of US foreign policy presents the university with an added level of sensitivity. To date most of the university’s civic engagement activities have focused on voluntary service by students and faculty members. However, there has been some experimentation with formal service-learning courses that connect students’ classroom learning with community service experience. With increasing pressure for democratic reform now manifesting itself in Egypt, there may be increased scope for other forms of civic engagement.” Read more of AUC’s Institutional Profile>>