DukeEngage Students Witness a Revolution in Cairo

Ten students spent last summer in Egypt during political unrest

While most Americans watched Egypt's unrest unfold on television from the comfort of their homes, a group of Duke students were able to experience the revolution firsthand.

Several undergraduates who were in Cairo last summer as part of DukeEngage, shared their experiences during a talk Wednesday at the John Hope Franklin Center.

Due to the unrest, Duke was only one of a handful of schools that sent students to Cairo, but with certain restrictions. The 10 Duke students who went there were required to sign a behavioral form, agreeing not to go out alone, or stay out later than 11 p.m. They also were banned from going anywhere near Tahrir Square, where the protests were centered.

Students worked with the nonprofit foundation Ana el-Masry, which helps street children. 

Many of the children Ana el-Masry helps were displaced, victims of broken families and child abuse. The children live there until they're 18 or 20 years old, and then go on to work at a Cairo Hilton. The Duke students taught English, creating bonds that went beyond a language, they said.

Students said the short length of their stay in Cairo -- two months -- made it difficult to leave the kids they had gotten to know so well.

"On our last day at Ana el-Masry, there were a lot of tears. The older kids were entirely aware we weren't coming back," said Samantha Tropper, a Trinity junior.

Students also worked with other nonprofits, said Ming Jiu Li, a Pratt junior who taught Sudanese refugees English, an experience that he called "eye-opening." Hearing about how the refugees were treated in Cairo made him see the depth of disparities in the country.

"They told us (that) sometimes people would throw rocks at them," he said. "We were all visitors in this country, and (yet, Duke students) were all treated differently."

Despite being banned from participating in any protest for the revolution, it was impossible to avoid, students said.

"We weren't there to study the revolution, but of course, being there, it seaped into every aspect of our lives," Sabrina Rubakovic, a Trinity junior, said. "Civil society is going to have great potential now that the revolution is over."

Visit the DukeEngage Cairo website for more information.