Vincent Battle, Paula Al Sabah and Azza Kamel (7)

Amid a nation-wide campaign that critics fear will further restrict civil society organizations in Egypt, Azza Kamel, founder of Alwan w Awtar, was awarded the Innovation in Education prize presented by Takreem Arab Achievement Awards.  Takreem crowns the efforts of pioneers from the Arab world in a range fields, including medicine, art, philanthropy and entrepreneurship.

Sheikha Paula Al-Sabah of Kuwait’s Royal Family and Ambassador Vincent Battel, former American Ambassador to Lebanon, handed Kamel the award at a ceremony held in Marrakesh in November. “The trophy will be awarded to a truly remarkable woman… We believe that the arts play an important role in the cultural evolution of a people,” said Battel at the award ceremony.

For the past 10 years, Alwan w Awtar has been lending its space and its philosophies on growth and education to countless young people residing in and around Moqattam, one of Cairo’s central marginalized communities.

The non-governmental organization thrives on principles of participatory education and artistic expression, curating a range of activities that build character, promote artistic expression and ultimately complement the ailing system of public education in Egypt.

The programs target children and youth between 3-25 years old, offering them “access to artistic and cultural activities, as well as interactive educational activities that promote love of learning and self-development.”

In her acceptance speech, Kamel dedicated the award to the family of Alwan w Atwar, and to the community in which its activities roll out.  “These children are not just deprived of arts and culture, they are deprived of many other things, most importantly education… Alwan w Awtar cannot change the past of these children, but we strive tirelessly to change their future,” she told the audience.

“Civil society organizations are the backbone of a functioning society.  They exist alongside the government, supporting the government’s role and should not be seen as a competitor or a threat,” she told Community Times in an email interview.

“The state can not fulfill all our needs, and this is where the NGOs step in, as they engage with people on a grassroots level.  They play a major role in reaching out to communities that lack basic services and delivering the needed services,” she continued. 

Commenting on the new law, Kamel said: “I don’t believe that the state can succeed in minimizing the role of NGOs, even with the emergence of the new law.  The NGOs’ interventions and existence are very much needed and they have deep roots that can not be so easily weeded out.”