ugg office Egyptian students arrive
Youssef Khedr and Mustafa El Kashef are both from Cairo, Egypt, and yesterday was their second full day in the Berkshires. Along with 15 other Egyptian students and five teachers, Khedr and El Kashef will be living with eighth grade pupils and their families in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District.
“I want to know the differences and the similarities between Egypt and America,” El Kashef said.
The two week pilot program, called KIDmocracy, is a joint effort between Mount Everett Regional School in Sheffield and the Afro Egyptian Human Rights Organization, a pro democracy civil society.
Designed by Mount Everett social studies teacher Michael Farmer and political activist Enji El Haddad of AEHRO who worked together almost 20 years ago during Farmer’s “former corporate life” as a strategic planner at American Express KIDmocracy program upholds democracy as “the ultimate mechanism” in human rights.
Farmer added that the tone of the program was inspired by “Hotel Rwanda” a 2004 film about a hotelier’s courageous humanitarianism during the Tutsi and Hutu genocidal violence that erupted in 1994.
“This is the first of many KIDmocracies in the United States,” Farmer said. “We hope.”
For Aida El Kashef, an 18 year old filmmaker from Cairo who came along to document the event, the goal of KIDmocracy is “to get to know the people and not the government.”
For now, getting to know the people means a breakneck game of tag on the lawn at Baldwin Hill Farm. The American and Egyptian pupils circle up and chase each other, slipping and sliding on the damp grass.
“It’s accelerated group building,” Farmer said, standing on the sidelines. He added that the dance on Saturday night went extremely well there was a good mix of Arabic and American pop music and friendly hand holding among the girls.
“By the time class starts (today), they’ll be a team,” he added.
One of the onlookers is Azza Kamel, an AEHRO delegate. Studying for her doctorate in civics and curriculum planning at Cairo University, she says that “the implementation of democracy inside Egyptian schools” is of utmost importance.
According to Mount Everett social studies teacher John Hammill, Egypt is an Islamic Republic with a structure similar, “at least on paper,” to America’s three branches of government.
He added that the First Amendment freedoms of religion, press, speech, assembly and petition taken for granted by many Americans are “nonexistent” in Egypt, a place where dissent is “muzzled” and opinions are “vetted by the ruling party.”
Even young Youssef Khedr has a jaundiced view of Egyptian politics.
“Only people with money can vote,” he said simply.
The students and teachers embarked on a three mile walk around Baldwin Hill’s farmland, and they ambled along the dirt roads, in clots of threes and fours.
Fatma Mohammed, 14, commented that American girls were “friendlier” than she thought they would be.
In her purple suede Ugg boots and pink down hoodie coat, she could be any South County teenager. Where did she learn to dress like that? Are Uggs necessary in Cairo?
Mohammed smiled gamely and shrugged.
“We got information on how to dress beforehand,” he smiled.
“I thought they’d be different, but they’re exactly the same as us,” said 13 year old Laura Smith of Egremont.
After the walk, the students were bused back to Mount Everett’s parking lot. Terry Ferrara of New Marlboro was waiting in the minivan for her son Matthew and Karim Sameh, their exchange student.